Veer Savarkar birth anniversary: Legacy of man who popularised term 'Hinduvta' repeatedly dragged into political discourse

One of the debates that were dragged back into political discourse was that around the 'actual' braveness of Vinayak 'Veer' Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar was the founder of the 'Hindutva' ideology, which gained recognition in the period before India's Independence.

FP Staff May 28, 2019 14:04:16 IST
Veer Savarkar birth anniversary: Legacy of man who popularised term 'Hinduvta' repeatedly dragged into political discourse
  • In the run-up to the Lok Sabha election 2019, which concluded with a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its political and ideological allies, the campaigns run by top leaders of the NDA alliance and the Opposition often targeted the rival camp with painting the conduct of its founding fathers in a less-than-honourary light

  • One of the debates that were dragged back into political discourse was that around the 'actual' braveness of Vinayak 'Veer' Damodar Savarkar

  • Leaders of the Congress-led Opposition have often said that Savarkar — who is an ideological icon for the BJP and RSS — had apologised to the British for speaking out against the colonial rulers and asked to be released from jail

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha election 2019, that concluded with a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its political and ideological allies, the campaigns run by top leaders of the NDA alliance and the Opposition often targeted the rival camp with painting the conduct of its founding fathers in a less-than-honourable light.

One of the debates that were dragged back into political discourse was that around the "actual" braveness of Vinayak 'Veer' Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar was the founder of the 'Hindutva' ideology, which gained recognition in the period before India's Independence. The term Hindutva was coined by Chandranath Basu in 1892.

Leaders of the Congress-led Opposition have often said that Savarkar — who is an ideological icon for the BJP and RSS — had apologised to the British for speaking out against the colonial rulers and asked to be released from jail.

On Monday, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel raked up the controversial "two-state theory" theory that led to the formation of India and Pakistan, saying that it was Savarkar who had first proposed the idea and founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah "implemented" it.

Veer Savarkar birth anniversary Legacy of man who popularised term Hinduvta repeatedly dragged into political discourse

File images of of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

"Savarkar had put forward the proposal of dividing the country into two parts on religious grounds and Jinnah had implemented it. This is a historical fact and no one can deny it."

Speaking further about the demand of a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar, Baghel said, "He had fought for the Independence of the country and was put in Andaman and Nicobar jail. Not just once but he apologised repeatedly to Britishers and after coming out of jail he stayed away from the fight for the country's Independence. He had thought of two countries, this is also historically true."

In November 2018, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept a portrait of Veer Savarkar in Parliament... When the British ruled this country, when all Congress leaders were in prison, Savarkar wrote a letter to the British. He was not veer (gallant)," at a gathering.

The Congress president had also alleged that Savarkar had written that he would do anything for the British. "I apologise to you. I will not indulge in any political activities. Release me from prison. With folded hands, I will touch your (British) feet. Please release me from prison," Rahul had claimed Savarkar had written in the purported letter, adding that this was while Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, and Sardar Patel were fighting for India's freedom.

Savarkar's true legacy is a bone of contention between factions that pledge alliance to the 'Hindutva' ideology, and those who oppose it. The BJP and the RSS, while distancing themselves from Savarkar's unproved links with Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse, continue to adhere to the principles of nationalism and Hindutva as introduced by him.

According to some reports, the murders and one attempted murder of three British officials between 1901 and 1931, are used as examples of Savarkar's "revolutionary zeal to violently uproot the British rule, unmindful of the consequences".

According to an article in The Hindu titled 'How Savarkar Escaped the Gallows', author AG Noorani argues that Savarkar not only knew the conspirators of Mahatma Gandhi's murder but was also close to them.

"It is noteworthy here that Savarkar was also a co-accused in Gandhi's assassination but was later acquitted because a witness' account could not be independently corroborated," a Firstpost report notes.

However, analysts say that Savarkar's acquittal in Gandhi's murder case furthers the "Savarkar the brave" image. On the other hand, critics of Savarkar claim that he wrote multiple apologies to the British, "in bargain for his own freedom, not the country's". "He manipulated his followers to assassinate British officials, yet took care to conceal his links to the crimes he conceived. He did not hesitate to betray his acolytes, as he did Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Gandhi," Scroll reported.

Earlier in May, the newly-elected Congress government in Rajasthan announced that it would 'correct' the narrative around Savarkar, by changing his biography in the state's History textbooks.

State Education Minister Govind Dotasra, making the announcement, said that the biography would be changed to portray facts "in the right manner". Dotasra also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party for glorifying Savarkar for his methods and ideologies.

While the Congress government said that it was only reversing the changes that were introduced by the previous Vasundhara Raje-led government, the BJP, in Opposition in the state, claimed that the state government did not want to promote the country’s history, reported Firstpost.

On Monday, former Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani flayed the Congress government for affixing “son of Portugal” to Savarkar’s revised description in Class X social science textbooks, which was a modification made according to the findings of the government-appointed committee. Now, in the textbooks it is mentioned that Savarkar had described himself as “son of Portugal” when seeking clemency from the British government in 1910-11.

Some analysts, however, argue that the criticism levelled against Savarkar misses the nuance of his ideology, while also noting that he was on uncertain ground when defining 'Hindutva'.

"But Savarkar entered contentious territory while defining Hindutva. To him, Hindutva, which helped forge a uniform national identity, was predicated on individuals locating both their pitrabhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (holy land) within the territorial confines of the Indian state. This definition created a dilemma for India citizens of religious denominations that originated outside India—primarily Islam and Christianity," Livemint reported.

With inputs from agencies

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