Veer Savarkar: The Misrepresented Hindutva Ideologue

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar fondly known as Veer Savarkar is one of the renowned faces of Bharat’s freedom struggle. Having spent many years in the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he had survived the cruel conditions therein and contributed towards Bharat’s independence from the British-raj. He had been a President of Hindu Mahasabha. He had expressed his strong views on the idea of Hindutva, a term coined by him to create a collective “Hindu” identity as an essence of Bharat. He had been against the partition of Bharat. He had strongly advocated equality among all the religions in Bharat. Many liberal and modern historians present him as an extremist and have tried to lessen his contribution to Bharat’s freedom. Reproducing below, a blog on how this great leader has been misrepresented for his stance.


History often becomes captive in the hands of ideological zealots and hero worshippers. The ideological campaigners distort history as much as the hero worshippers. Both of them don’t want to tolerate an opposing view, howsoever, truthful that might be. In the process the distortions that creep into history lead to tensions and imbalances, thus disturbing social harmony. In fact that has been story of Bharat’s history so far.

A classic case in modern times is of the great revolutionary and Hindutva icon, Swatantra Veer Savarkar, who spent as many as 37 years in jail and under prison restrictions from 1910 to 1937 for his legendry revolutionary activities against the British rulers. In 1923 while undergoing his jail term in Andaman Nicobar or Kalapani he coined and defined the term ‘Hindutva’. And after his release in 1937 he led an unsuccessful political movement to prevent partition of Bharat as president of Hindu Mahasabha. Savarkar baiters have often accused him of contributing to Bharat’s partition by what they see as his ‘divisive ideology’ that sought to create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. In the process they have gone to the extent of almost absolving the main architect of Bharat’s partition along religious lines – Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Savarkar’s legitimate grievances against a section of Muslims have been sought to be twisted to depict him as a non-practical, insensitive, anti-Muslim zealot.

Facts, which in Savarkar’s case are the biggest casualty, depict a different picture of him, however. In fact there isn’t a greater example of distortion of history by ideological zealots than in the case of this famous revolutionary. The manifesto of Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra as mentioned in the well-written work on Savarkar by biographer Dhananjay Keer puts the record straight. According to the book, Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra manifesto not only allowed full freedom to the religious minorities to practice their religion but called for the intervention of the State with all its force in case the right to practice religion of a religious minority was being hindered in any way. However, according to the manifesto, Hindu Rashtra won’t allow creation of a nation within a nation in the name of religious minoritism. Seen in the backdrop of the political atmosphere of minority appeasement that is sapping the energy of our nation today one can say that Savarkar had seen through this danger nine decades in advance.

Keer’s book gives another example of Savarkar’s balanced stance on the Muslim issue. In the early 1940s a group of Lucknow-based Muslims were so impressed by the Congress’s efforts to forge Hindu Muslim unity in the national struggle that they passed a resolution declaring that any Muslim slaughtering a cow would be considered an enemy of Hindu-Muslim unity and socially boycotted. When Savarkar read about it in a Mumbai newspaper he immediately issued a statement appreciating the Muslim gesture. He said: “If such gestures keep on coming from Muslims than Hindu-Muslim unity is possible.” In 1938 when press reporters started comparing him with Jinnah during his visit to Lahore Savarkar himself put the record straight: “Myself and Jinnah are not the birds of the same feather because I stand for equality and no concessions while Jinnah is for more and more concessions for Muslims and doesn’t stand for equality.” This statement of Savarkar’s virtually demolishes the smear campaign against him.

While addressing a group of Bharatiya students on the Dassera day in London in 1909 Savarkar had said “Hindus were the heart of Hindustan but just as the beauty of the rainbow is not impaired but enhanced by its varied hues, Hindus will look more beautiful across the sky by assimilating all the best from the Muslims, Jews and Parsi and other civilisations.” The great revolutionary Asaf Ali was present at this meet and so was Gandhiji . Significantly, Asaf Ali later said that it was one of the finest speeches he had ever come across. But in 1923 Savarkar came out with his epic work ‘Hindutva‘ warning about the dangers to Hindus from members of proselytising religions. The book is today a Bible of Hindu nationalists. After giving a precise definition of Hindutva it lays down a set of guidelines for protecting Hindus and Hindu religion from the aggressive designs on the part of the campaigners of converting religions. But it doesn’t advocate second grade status to religious minorities and in fact supports equal treatment for all religions unlike many Muslim countries where Hindus can’t build a temple or cremate their dead even today.

So the question is what forced Savarkar to come up with his Hindutva theory with in just 14 years of his 1909 speech? The answer lies in his study of the behaviour of the members of other religions that he did during his incarceration in Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar. He found that some of the Jail staff comprising Muslims along with Muslim prisoners were neck-deep into converting some of the gullible Hindu prisoners into Islam. Plus he had gained deeper knowledge of history now. He had read how in the 16th , 17th and 18th centuries the Portuguese rulers converted Hindu population to Christianity on the pain of torture and death in Goa and Konkan and how even a ruler like Mughal emperor Shahjahan, sold as a liberal by modern historians, had converted the entire family of the Bundela ruler of Orchha, Jhunjhar Singh, to Islam and forced his women relatives into his own harem as a mark of punishment for his rebellion. In fact there is unimpeachable evidence now to show as to how the builder of Taj Mahal used to devise strategies to convert Hindus into Islam through inducements and other means.

After having read this medieval history what came as a last straw for Savarkar was the Congress’s trade-off with a section of Pan-Islamic Muslims in 1920 on the issue of Khilafat. While seeking the support of Bharatiya Muslims for the independence struggle the Congress did a trade-off and announced support to the Bharatiya Muslims’ Pan-Islamic movement seeking reinstatement of the Sultan of Turkey by the Britishers (who had unseated him ) on the ground that “he was the Khalifa of the Islamic world”. This move by Congress ignoring that it would sow the seeds of religious appeasement and strengthen pan-Islamism played a major role in pushing Savarkar towards the Hindutva theory. So what is seen as Savarkar’s Hindu supremacist view is actually a Hindu protective view based on organic thinking by a man who had seen the danger to Hindus in the face of threats from proselytising religions but still advocated equal treatment for all religions in his “Hindu Rashtra”.  In other words Savarkar’s efforts to protect Hindu culture and religion from the designs of the proselytisers have been given the colour of Hindu aggression which is a travesty of truth. The concluding paragraph of his book ‘ Hindutva ‘ nails the lies of his detractors: “When Hindus come to hold a position when they could dictate terms to the whole world, those terms cannot be different from which Gita dictates or the Buddha lays down . A Hindu is most intensely so when he ceases to be a Hindu.“

Time has vindicated Savarkar in many ways. About Pakistan Savarkar had said, “Till a state based on an intolerant religious foundation was Bharat’s neighbour she would never be able to live in peace“. The repeated aggressions of Pakistan on Bharat from 1947-48 to Kargil , the latest being the 2008 Mumbai attack and now the merciless beheading of Bharatiya soldiers, has proved Savarkar’s prediction correct time and again. Savarkar was always for strong military response to any kind of foreign aggression. When Pandit Nehru gave a knee jerk response to Chinese aggression in Tibet in 1950 and then came up with the Hindu-Chini Bhai-Bhai theory in the 1950s Savarkar issued a stern warning in 1954 saying that such kowtowing to China after its aggression in Tibet would whet its appetite and he won’t be surprised if China felt encouraged to attack Bharat and swallow its land in the time to come. He was proved correct eight years later when China attacked Bharat in 1962 and swallowed a large chunk of its land.

There are other interesting facts about him, largely unknown. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had met Savarkar in Ratnagiri in late 1920s and drew inspiration from him before embarking on their revolutionary activity. Even Subhaschandra Bose’s decision to leave Bharat and join Japan-Germany axis in World War II  was based on Savarkar’s advice that in international politics enemy’s enemy should be seen as a friend and befriended. The only leader who has lived up to an extent to Savarkar’s vision on foreign policy and national security so far is Mrs Indira Gandhi. And the only leader who can live up to it in future is perhaps Narendra Modi (of course, when he becomes Prime Minister.)

About the religious minorities Savarkar had said that they should get equal treatment but they shouldn’t be appeased as their appeasement would encourage them to come up with more and more unjust demands in the name of selective justice and at the cost of majority rights. Time has vindicated Savarkar even on this. The demands of at least a section of Bharatiya Muslim leadership , which wants to encroach upon the rights of the majority thus causing social disharmony, are unending even after six decades of independence. A recent statement of Maulana Ahmed Bukhari of Delhi said it all. He said, “Only a weak Government is in benefit of Muslims in Bharat as a strong Government invariably ignores Muslim’s demands and problems.” The statement indicated the insatiable nature of demands of a section of Muslims in a country where the Haj pilgrimage is subsidised but not so much the pilgrimage of members of other religions. More, the Bukhari view is the very antithesis of a strong and united Bharat as envisioned by all patriotic Bharatiya, moderate Muslims included.

On the flip side let us let us examine in what shape Bharat would have been today had Savarkar’s maxim of equal treatment for all – read Hindus, Muslims and Christians – would have been followed? Most would agree Bharat would have been largely free from the religious rancour that has hindered its progress in many ways. Even the rise of organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad lies in the appeasement of religious minorities by political parties. The greatest proof of this is the fact that VHP became an aggressive organisation only in mid-eighties after appeasement of religious minorities had crossed all limits in the country.

Unfortunately, Savarkar’s supporters have always taken a Hindu apologist view while defending him, praising him for his revolutionary activities but remaining silent on his views on religious minorities as well as complete nonviolence on which he held a completely different view from that of Gandhiji. While Gandhiji was for complete non-violence Savarkar was for non-violence and not complete-nonviolence. Savarkar advocated that an aggressor should be paid back in the same coin. So, in nutshell Savarkar’s supporters take an utterly defensive stance while defending him against onslaughts from his ideological rivals thus leaving him virtually defenceless on issues that concern the future of the nation and to which Savarkar’s thoughts provide a solution.

Significantly, while under prison restrictions in Ratnagiri town from 1924 to 37 Savarkar led the most powerful movement against untouchability in Bharat’s history apart from Gandhiji’s.  But there are a few uncomfortable facts about Savarkar which his die-hard followers try to brush under the carpet. For example when Sardar Patel was trying to merge the Princely states into the Bharatiya Union a virulently anti-Congress Savarkar, who had been wrongly implicated by the then Congress Government in the murder of Gandhiji  (before being acquitted)  and as a result was in bad mental shape, supported the movement of the Travancore Princely State not to merge with Bharat. This move went against his own advocacy of a strong and united Bharat. Clearly, the path to a bright future, whether in case of a nation or an individual, is embedded in drawing lessons from undistorted history. And that is the reason why removing distortions from history is the need of the hour.


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