Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has been attacked in the contemporary political discourse for his articulation of Hindutva. Without understanding his views in totality and actions in entirety, one cannot understand the meaning of being Veer Savarkar, writes renowned historian Prof. Raghuvendra Tanwar in this series titled ‘Savarkar and the Incomplete Narrative of Independence Struggle’. This is the fifth and final Part of the series
Savarkar’s Hindu-Pad-Padashahi or A Review of the Hindu Empire’ was published in February 1925. In the forward Savarkar had noted:
It would be as suicidal and as ridiculous to borrow hostilities and combats of the past only to fight them out into the present, as it would be for a Hindu and a Muhammadan to lock each other suddenly in a death-grip while embracing, only because Shivaji and Afzulkhan had done so hundreds of years ago.
We ought to read history, not with a view to find out the best excuse to perpetuate the old strife and stress, bickering and bloodsheds, whether in the name of our blessed motherland, ‘of our Lord God’, that divided man from man and race from race, but precisely for the contrary reason of finding out the root causes that contributed to, and the best means to the removal of that stress and strife, of those bickering and bloodsheds, so that human being may be drawn towards human because he of being human, the child of that our common father God—and nursed at the breast of this our common mother—Earth—and wield humanity in a World-Commonwealth.
This work was a kind of a continuous process of thought that is noticed also in his classic work ‘Hindutva’ that was penned when he was at the Ratnagiri jail.
Clearly Savarkar was a changed man on his return from the Andaman. This comes out easily when we compare his views in the classic - India’s First War of Independence written almost 15 years earlier with what appeared in Hindutva. We have earlier taken note of his views in the context of Hindu Muslim relations. The experience in the Andamans and the manner in which his Pathan and Baluch Jail wardens had mistreated him had impacted him considerably.
Savarkar was a serious student of history. In the Andamans, he could not have missed on the legacy of the Wahabi Movement as many of the Wahabi activists too had been deported to the Cellular jail. One of the important take aways from Savarkar’s thesis on 1857 remains his admiration for Hindu-Muslim unity. Not surprisingly Savarkar makes no reference to the Wahabi goal of establishing an Islamic rule or even the fact that the Wahabis were not active in the 1857 uprising. By the time that Savarkar had returned to the mainland, the idea of Sir Syed Ahmed that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations had also caught wind. The roots of the two-nation theory as such had struck Indian soil long before Savarkar had come on the scene and are generally traceable among other things to the Aligarh School.
Is it not ironical to note that at just about the time that a delegation of Muslim leaders led by the Agha Khan were meeting Viceroy Lord Minto in Simla (1906) and pleading for separate electorates for Muslims, Savarkar in London was working on the draft of ‘1857’ in which Savarkar was recording his pride for Hindu-Muslim unity. The Morley Minto Reforms granted the request in 1909. When Savarkar was still in the Andaman, Gandhi had come out in support of the Ottoman Empire and its rulers in the form of the Pan Islamist Khilafat movement that was merged with the Non-Cooperation Movement. For Savarkar, it came as a rude shock.
Savarkar was shifted out from the Andaman in May 1921. In August the same year took place the Moplah massacre in the Malabar district of Kerala. Encouraged by the sentiment of the Khilafatists, the Moplahs a small community of Muslims massacred about 600 Hindus (by conservative estimates) and forcibly converted thousands. Details of the killings and the brutality shocked the world as the victims were skinned alive, half-dead victims were dumped and burnt, even pregnant women were not spared. In response over 200 Mophlahs were arrested and hanged. The reactions of Gandhi, the Khilafat leaders and even the Congress had dismayed Savarkar.
Savarkar wrote extensively, explaining that a vast majority of India’s population did not even know or understand what the Khilafat issue was about. As for the Moplah killings he warned that things in the context of Hindu-Muslim relations were bound to get worse. The brutal violence was initially thought to be passed off as a sequel to long standing agrarian distress and strained relations between Hindu landowners and Muslim tenants of the region. But to Savarkar and others it was the result of the inflamed Pan-Islamic passions that the Khilafat leaders had built with religious fanaticism. To Savarkar it also meant a call to the Hindus to ‘wake up’ and organise. If Muslim leadership in India could organise support and engage even Gandhi to stand in support of the distant Ottoman rulers, the Hindus could atleast stand up in their own defence in their own land.
Savarkar was at the Ratnagiri prison at the time of the Mopallah massacre. He recorded his agony and mental repulsion in a Marathi novel ‘How do I Care’. In essence he said that the Hindus as a community had simply become indifferent to Islamic bullying and fundamentalism. He had given the name of his brother Babarao as the author of this volume.
Hindutva appeared in 1921 (Ratnagiri) under the pen name Maratha. The seminal work proved a defining point in the narrative of Hindu nationalism and nationhood. It would be a guide for the ‘Hindu Rashtravadis’. For the opponents of Savarkar and his ideas of Hindutva the work came to be cited as an example of the exclusivist mindset of Savarkar: a process of thought that had no place for non-Hindus, particularly Muslims in India.
Why has Savarkar, particularly his views in the context of Hindutva been the subject of such opposition. In the context of Hindutva it is important to understand that Savarkar was not the first to talk of seeking to strengthen the Hindu faith or appealing for it to unify and defend itself. In more recent times Swami Vivekanand and Swami Dayananda had preceded him. The great Tilak was a part contemporary in this context. The list of such Hindu revivalists is long and goes back to several centuries. The essential difference is that Savarkar talked of revivalism in political terms. In sum, if India was to retain its Hindu character and civilisational structure the Hindus will have to give up their ‘laid back and indifferent attitude and become combative, aggressive and proactive.’
Sampath in his brilliant biography of Savarkar notes: “...Vinayak extended the word Hindutva beyond religious adherence to mean a term of ethnic nationalism...Some found (and still find) the concept as a much needed reinforcement of Indian ideals and identity, while others criticised (and still do) it for political separatism...”
Hindutva and Hinduism
This paper does not seek to explain or deal at any length with Savarkar’s detailed arguments on the concept of Hindutva. The idea is essentially to see the broader picture and understand Savarkar and his views—was he truly wanting to see an India in which non-Hindus had little place or were second-class citizens.A few lines from Savarkar himself would perhaps place things in perspective.
“To this category of names which have been to mankind subtle source of life and inspiration belongs the word Hindutva, the essential nature and significance of which we mean to investigate into. The ideas and ideals, the systems and societies, the thoughts and sentiments which have centred round this name are so varied and rich, so powerful and so subtle, so elusive and yet so vivid, that the term Hindutva defies all attempts at analysis. Forty centuries, if not more, had been at work to mould it as it is. Prophets and poets, lawyers and lawgivers, heroes and historians, have thought, lived, fought and died just to have it spell thus! For indeed, is it not the resultant of countless actions—now conflicting, now commingling, now co-operating—of our whole race? Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, fraction, a part of Hindutva. Unless it is made clear, what is meant by the latter the first remains unintelligible and vague......What is the fundamental difference in the meaning of these two words would be clear as our argument proceeds. Here it is enough to point out that Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an ‘ism’ is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or system. But when we attempt to investigate into the essential significance of Hindutva, we do not primarily—and certainly not mainly—concern ourselves with any particular theocratic or religious dogma or creed. Had not linguistic usage stood in our way then ‘Hinduness’ would have certainly been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva. Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race”.
After he was free to travel and address meetings, Savarkar had begun to use the platform of the Hindu Mahasabha’s annual session to share his views at length. These Presidential addresses are important to fully grasp the essence of Savarkar’s thoughts.
“Let the Indian State be purely Indian. Let it not recognise any invidious distinctions whatsoever as regards the franchise, public services, offices, taxation on the grounds of religion and race. Let no cognisance be taken whatsoever of man’s being Hindu or Mohammedan, Christian or Jew. Let all citizens of that Indian state be treated according to their individual worth irrespective of their religious or racial percentage in the general population. Let that language and script be the national language and script of that Indian state which are understood by the overwhelming majority of the people as happens in every other state in the world, i.e., in England or the United States of America and let no religious bias be allowed to tamper with that language and script with an enforced and perverse hybridism whatsoever. Let ‘one man one vote’ be the general rule irrespective of caste or creed, race or religion. If such an Indian State is kept in view the Hindu Sanghatanists will, in the interest of the Hindu Sanghatan itself, be the first to offer their wholehearted loyalty to it.If India is not freed from foreign domination the Indian Moslems cannot but be slaves themselves. If they feel it to be true, if and when they feel they cannot do without the assistance and the good will of the Hindus let them come then to ask for unity and that also not to oblige the Hindus but to oblige themselves.’ A Hindu Moslem unity which is effected thus is worth having. The Hindus have realised to their cost that in this case seeking unity is losing it. Henceforth the Hindu formula for Hindu-Moslem unity is only this—‘if you come, with you—; if you don’t without you; and if you oppose, in spite of you-the Hindus will continue to fight for their National Freedom as best as they can!
For truly Hindus are and cannot but be the mainstay of our Indian State! We shall ever guarantee protection to the religion, culture and language of the minorities for themselves, but we shall no longer tolerate any aggression on their part on the equal liberty of the Hindus to guard their religion, culture and language as well. If the non-Hindu minorities are to be protected then surely the Hindu majority also must be protected against any aggressive minority in India!”
Speaking at the annual session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Nagpur (1938) Savarkar had explained the concept and emergence of a Hindu Nation:
“The Hindu Nation is an organic growth and no paper-make makeshift ...It will be clear from this hurried peep into our history that ever since the Vedic ages, for some 5,000 years at least, in the past our forefathers had been shaping the formation of our people into a religious, racial, cultural and political unit. As a consequence of it all, growing organically the Sindhus of the Vedic time have grown today into Hindu Nation, extending over India and holding India in common as their Fatherland and their Holland. No other Nation in the world, excepting perhaps the Chinese, can claim a continuity of life and growth so unbroken as our Hindu Nation does. The Hindu Nation is not a mushroom growth. It is not a treaty nation. It is not paper-made toy. It was not cut to order. It is not an outlandish makeshift. It has grown out of this soil and has its roots struck deep and wide in it. It is not a fiction invented to spite the Moslems or anybody in the world. But it is a fact as stupendous and solid as the Himalayas that border our North...
...To us Hindus, Hindusthan and India mean one and the same thing. We are Indians because we are Hindus and vice versa.
Yes, we Hindus are a Nation by ourselves. Because religious, racial, cultural and historical affinities bind us intimately into a homogeneous nation and added to it we are most pre-eminently gifted with a territorial unity as well. Our racial being is identified with India—our beloved Fatherland and our Holy land above all and irrespective of it all we Hindus will to be a Nation and, therefore, we are a Nation. None had a right to challenge or demand a proof of our common nationality when some thirty crores of us Hindus are with it.”
In 1941 Savarkar addressed the 23rd session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur. Once again he talked of a Swaraj that was all-inclusive :
“Although we want Swaraj, yet that Swaraj must mean the Hindusthani Swaraj in which Hindu, Moslem and all other citizens all have equal responsibilities, equal duties and equal rights. Such a Swaraj would not even tolerate a particular community on religious grounds to get itself cut off from the Central Government, demand portions of our country which is the inalienable basic on which this our national Swaraj stands and any such aggressive claim on the part of a community would be immediately put down as an act of treachery by the united strength of the Central Government...
...And above all if we grant for the sake of argument that paying such a tremendous price for your racial honour and future you are handed over a Swaraj by the British on conditions laid down by the Moslems:- What kind of Swaraj and whose Swaraj it can possibly be?...
...Any independence which is achieved at price of admission of and the brittle basis of the principle of the provincial secession is bound to be like a house raised on the crater of a living volcano”.
To Savarkar the essence of Hindutva was broadly the essentials of Nationality. The problem arises when critics tend to pick out views and expressions from a total frame and attempt to pass such assessment as the total picture itself. A few lines from the Essentials of Hindutva would perhaps put things in perspective :
...The ideal conditions, therefore, under which a nation can attain perfect solidarity and cohesion would, other things being equal, be found in the case of those people who inhabit the land they adore, the land of whose forefathers is also the land of their Gods and Angels, of Seers and Prophets; the scenes of whose history are also the scenes of their mythology...
...We are trying our best, as we ought to do, to develop the consciousness of and a sense of attachment to the greater whole, whereby Hindus, Mohamedans, Parsis, Christians and Jews would feel as Indians first and every other thing afterwards. But whatever progress India may have made to that goal one thing remains almost axiomatically true—not only in India but everywhere in the world—that a nation requires a foundation to stand upon and the essence of the life of a nation is the life of that portion of its citizens whose interests and history and aspirations are most closely bound up with the land and who thus provide the real foundation to the structure of their national state”. n