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Published in the 16-30 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Savarkar debate

You have shamed a democratic-secular India, Mr. PM! 
By Shamsul Islam

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his maiden press conference in New Delhi on 4 August described Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as "a patriot and freedom fighter." He was replying to a question about the statement of Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer in which he was reported to have questioned the patriotic credentials of Savarkar. Prime Minister said: "As far as the Savarkar controversy is concerned, these are Aiyer's personal views and not of the government. It is an unnecessary controversy." PM Singh was at his philosophical best in defence of Savarkar when he said "though history gives us luxury of interpreting events in different ways, I do not think any good can be achieved by speaking ill of the dead." It was for the first time that a prime minister who leads a United Progressive Alliance government was commenting on the ongoing controversy over Savarkar. Earlier the parliamentary affairs minister in his cabinet, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had publicly announced that Aiyer's comments on Savarkar were his personal views and that the government did not "agree with him." In Maharashtra, it was not only chief minister Shinde who reacted angrily to Aiyer's opinion about Savarkar, another prominent Congress leader Adik wrote a front pager signed article for Shiv Sena’s Marathi organ, Saamna.

Veer Sanghvi, a well-known columnist, presented with such a scenario could not avoid commenting in one of his latest columns: "it is hard for anybody who subscribes to a Congress ideology or even, to basic secularism, to venerate Veer Savarkar. It is fine for those who disagree with that ideology, such as the RSS or the Shiv Sena, to honour him. And yet, Congress leaders are suddenly praising Savarkar."

It is atrocious to find Congress as a party and Congressmen coming out in defence of a person who not only betrayed the freedom struggle but also was instrumental in killing Gandhi who is the Father of Nation.

It is true that Savarkar began as a revolutionary who religiously believed in an all-inclusive and composite Indian nationalism. Though his thinking throughout remained ingrained in Hindu mythology, he initially believed that India's liberation depended on the united resolve of Hindus and Muslims. In his monumental work, The Indian War of Independence 1857, penned in 1907 in England, he warned against any feeling of animosity against Muslims. Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmi Bai, Nana Saheb, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Tatia Tope, Bahadurshah Zafar and Begum Zeenat Mahal were described as national heroes who should be emulated by every patriotic Indian. He demanded emulation of the spirit of 1857 when "Hindus and Mohamedans proclaimed that India was their country and that they were all brethren, the days when Hindus and Mohamedans unanimously raised the flag of national freedom at Delhi. Be those grand days ever memorable in the history of Hindusthan!"

But the difficult incarceration in Cellular Jail broke him completely. Convinced of the invincibility of the British rule, he started writing mercy petitions to his British masters. He wrote the first one in 1911 (immediately after his arrival in the notorious jail) and the second one in 1913. The latter petition addressed to the Home Member of the Government of India (November 14, 1913) apart from many other things said:

"Now no man having the good of India and Humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress... Moreover my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?"

During his imprisonment, Savarkar kept a safe distance from fellow political prisoners. He was released when Non-Cooperation Movement was at its peak heralding new milestones in the saga of Hindu-Muslim united march for freedom. The British rulers terrified by this development were looking for leaders who could dent this unity. Savarkar who had been working on his theory of Hindutva seemed to be a good option.

He was released from the Cellular jail in 1921 and then interned in Ratnagiri/Yeravda jails (from where he was finally released on January 6, 1924) on the condition that he would not indulge in any kind of political activity. However, he was allowed to publish his controversial ideas of Hindu nationalism titled Hindutva (1923), claiming that only Hindus had the right to be nationals of the country and Muslims and Christians could not be part of Hindusthan. He made an unconditional promise to the British masters "to serve the Government in any capacity," and this he fulfilled by becoming a willing tool in their hands to execute the Two-Nation theory.

Unfortunately, Congress today like the Hindutva brigade is attempting to white-wash what Savarkar shamelessly did in the second phase of his political life, when he was free. For an honest appraisal of his role, we must get acquainted with his words and deeds while he was a freeman, guiding the Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942. These are available in one volume: Hindu Rashtra Darshan published by the Hindu Mahasabha, Maharashtra.

Savarkar like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, believed in the Two-Nation theory. While delivering the presidential address at the 19th Hindu Mahasabha session at Ahmedabad in 1937, Savarkar said:

"As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India. Several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so... India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India."

Mr. Prime Minister, if Savarkar, an ardent advocate of the Two-Nation theory, can be considered an Indian nationalist, then who can stop Jinnah from claiming the same status?

Another fact that is impossible to overlooked is that when Congress was vehemently opposing the Muslim League in 1942, Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League ran coalition governments in Sind and Bengal. While defending this relationship Savarkar said:

"In practical politics also the Mahasabha knows that we must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind-Hindu Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League itself in running coalition Government. The case of Bengal is well known. Wild Leaguers whom even the Congress with all its submissiveness could not placate grew quite reasonably compromising and socialable as soon as they came in contact with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr. Fazlul Huq and the able leadership of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities."

Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Savarkar played a highly dubious and divisive role in the 'Quit India' Movement of 1942. While large sections of Indian masses faced immense repression and the country was turned into a jail, Hindu Mahasabha decided to co-operate with the British rulers. While addressing the Hindu Mahasabha session at Cawnpore in 1942, Savarkar thus outlined the Hindu Mahasabha strategy:
"The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation...which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance [helping the British armed forces], will also keep adapting itself to the exigencies of the time, resources at our disposal and dictates of our national interest." In fact, Savarkar was jubilantly thankful to the British rulers for banning Congress when he said, "As soon as Congress was removed from the political field as an open organization under the government ban, the Hindu Mahasabha alone was left to take up the task of conducting whatever Indian National activities lay within its scope." He also declared that he was not bothered, "of breaking up the so-called united front against the British Imperialism."

The present-day Congress leadership may not know but people of the country have not forgotten that when Netaji and his Azad Hind Fauj were working to liberate the northeast of the country, it was Savarkar who offered full military cooperation to the British. While addressing the 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, he said, "our best national interests demand that so far as India's defence is concerned, Hindudom must ally unhesitatingly, in a spirit of responsive co-operation with the war effort of the [British] Indian government by joining the Army, Navy and the Aerial forces in as large a number as possible and by securing an entry into all ordnance, ammunition and war craft factories. Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute."

Capitulation by the Congress leadership on the Savarkar issue once again proves that they are the best pals of Hindutva. In this case they are not only assisting the Hindutva gang in its project of establishing a person as a national icon who stood for a Hindu theocratic state but also betraying Gandhi and millions of other Indians who fought against the British rule and its cronies.
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