Savarkar: Revolutionary to Hindu Nationalist

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Savarkar’s life had different shades. It has a dichotomy between before incarceration and after incarceration. Before incarceration, he was a young revolutionary who’s fierce speeches inspired persons like Madan Lal Dhingra, which eventually led to the slaying of a scoundrel like Curzon Wyllie. After incarceration, he became a more sober strategic planner whose objective was to organise Hindu society.
This dichotomy can also be seen in his ideas for Muslims. Many instances prove that Savarkar believed in the peaceful assimilation of Muslim with Hindus. In his book ‘The Indian War of Independence 1957’, he admired the movement as bringing Hindu Muslims together. He contended that the animosity between these two communities was necessitated in the past when Muslims were aggressive ruler and invader, and Hindus were subservient to them. He added ‘, but the present relation between Hindu Muslim is not of rulers and ruled, foreigners and native, but the simplicity that of brothers with only one relation: religion. Savarkar held these two religions are children of the same soil Hindustan, and they are brothers by blood.
The second instance against the contentious image of Savarkar of anti-Muslim was when Madame Bhikaji Cama and Sardar Singh Rana attended International Socialist Congress held in Germany in 1907. Veer Savarkar conceptualised the first flag of free India for this congress. This flag had three horizontal stripes with equal width and three colours- green at the top (the sacred colour of Muslims), saffron at the middle (the sacred colour of Buddhists and Sikhs), and Hindu’s lowest strip Red colour. The top section had eight starts in a row, and the middle section had sun on the left and moon on the right. In the centre part, ‘Vande Mataram’ was mentioned. The flag was showing different faiths and different provinces of India.
The third instance which shatters Savarkar’s Anti-Muslim image was when he met Gandhi ji on 24th October 1909 in London. It was the occasion of Vijayadashami. The Indian community gathered to celebrate the festival. Vinayak, in his address to the people, went on:
‘Hindus are Heart of Hindustan. Nevertheless, just as the beauty of the rainbow is not impaired but enhanced by its varied hues, so also Hindustan will look all the more beautiful across the sky of the future by assimilating all the best from the Muslim, Parsee, Jewish and other civilisations.’
Savarkar speech was applauded by many people from the audience. Barrister Asif Ali, who was present there and heard the stirring speech of Savarkar, described him as being as ‘fragile as an anaemic girl, restless as a mountain torrent, and keen as the torpedo blade’. Later he addressed Savarkar as a most effective orator.
These pictures show how Savarkar tried to assimilate the two religions amicably. Then what happened in the dark confines of Port Blair’s Cellular that metamorphoses the revolutionary leader to Hindu nationalist? To get the answer to this, we have to see his experience at jail.
The jailor, David Barrie, to create discord between Hindus and Muslims placed Hindu prisoners under most bigoted Muslim warders and jamadars fanatical Pathans, Sindhis and Baluchis from Sindh and North-west. Atrocities on kafirs gave them a special thrill. Savarkar had to take a bath in near-absolute nudity, and this was delightedly watched by Muslim jamadar. Prisoners were not allowed to consult a doctor when they happened to suffer from ailments such as diarrhoea.
Hindus and non-Hindus were being discriminated against in jail. Hindus were not allowed to keep the sacred thread. It was cut off at the time of entry into the jail. But the same things were not being followed against the Muslim traditions. Muslims were allowed to sport their beards. This discrimination was to the extent that Hindu prisoners used to receive few or no religious holidays, but the same provisions were readily made for Muslim prisoners.
Hindu prisoners were subject to extreme labour and physical torture by Muslim jamadars. Several Hindus were converted to Islam with the desire to get a more comfortable life. There were induced by sweets and tobacco and less labour. The conversion of Hindu prisoners just needed to dine with fellow Muslims and take ‘Mohomedan food’ (possibly beef). Then they were given a Muslim name, and the so-called conversion gets completed. There was no reciting of the Quran or offering of any namaz for the conversion. Savarkar agitated on this coercive conversion and also made an official complaint against the conversion. Savarkar also made an attempt to reconvert them and brought them to Hinduism by the practice of Shuddhi (the process of purification).
While in jail, Vinayak advocated for a large Hindu organisation or unity movement. Vinayak came with the idea of a pan-India organisation coalition of Indic faiths of all castes- Sikhs, Sanatanis (orthodox Hindus), Arya Samajis, Jains and Buddhists.
Muslim warders and jamadars forbade Hindu prisoners from reading scriptures. They used to call pictures of some book, including Ramayana and Mahabharata, indecently and commented that it is their religious duty to disperse the gathering that read such books.
Savarkar magnum opus Hindutva was written in the context of the Khilafat movement. It played a key role in making the belief of Savarkar to organise a Hindu Society. This movement created a pan-Islamic feeling among Indian Muslim. And the support of Gandhi ji fuelled this feeling among Muslims. A nationalist leader Ambedkar mentions:
‘The movement was started by the Mahomedans. It was taken up by Gandhi ji with tenacity and faith and must have surprised many Mahomedans themselves.’
The sympathy of Indian Muslim for the Khalifa, the Sultan of turkey, reminded Savarkar of their foreign allegiance. The long history behind the sense of alienation and separatism among a vast section of Muslims was in the backdrop of Savarkar’s Hindutva.
Khilafat movement eventually led to tragic Malabar carnage by Moplahs. The blood-curdling incident committed by mass murders of Hindu families, brutal rapes of women in front of their family members, murders of pregnant women, desecration of the temple, cow slaughter, forcible conversions, pillage, arson loot reigned till the British troops take control. Gandhi ji described the Moplahs as patriots fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner they consider religious. Criticising Gandhi’s stand, Ambedkar wrote: “Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of Moplahs and the Khilafats who were congratulating them.”
On the contrary, Savarkar strongly condemned the barbarity of the Moplahs and the pusillanimity with which the congress reacted to this, just to save their movement. He wrote several essays from jail to aware Hindus about the danger and realities of the Khilafat and pan-Islamism movement.
So it was the Savarkar’s experience in the jail that led him to think about Hindu organisation. Before incarceration, he was a young revolutionary who used to run secret societies like Abhinav Bharat. He also led India House, which was the base of many Indian freedom fighters. But after incarceration, he became a Hindu nationalist. His jail experience distilled his Idea of Hindutva. The instances of discrimination between Hindus and non-Hindus in jail and the coercive conversion of Hindu prisoners’ metamorphoses a brash radical revolutionary into a more sober strategic planner whose focus was to organise Hindu Society. Khilafat movement and the Malabar massacre led him to concoct his Idea of Hindutva, which eventually made his figure anti-Muslim.