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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Savarkar: the whole truth

By Ram Puniyani

The Milli Gazette Online

Name of the Book: Savarkar: Myths and Facts 
Author: Shamsul Islam
Publishers: Media House, Delhi
Pages 124
Price Rs. 120

During National Democratic Alliance rule, its leader BJP tried to project that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a revolutionary of extraordinary caliber and that his contribution has been ignored by the Congress so it has to be highlighted with vigor. It named the Port Blair airport in his name and it also put his portrait in the hall of Parliament. The word of mouth propaganda has been eulogizing him as the real Father of the Nation. Just before the Maharashtra Assembly elections a controversy erupted around him. With the change of regime at the Center, the new Petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyer replaced his plaque at Andaman's with that of Mahatma Gandhi. This again became a matter of controversy, the BJP-Sena alliance tried to capitalize on this for the elections. In Maharashtra in particular, Savarkar has been projected as the brave (Veer) revolutionary and efforts have been made to show that he was the guiding figure for all the great Freedom fighters apart from being a progressive person of sorts. Even Congress, whose minister, Aiyer had taken the bold step of catching the bull by horns, shivered and said that Aiyer's views are his personal. 

The Maharashtra Congress going by the electoral compulsions said that Savarkar was a freedom fighter and is a respectable person for it. One also recalls the committee which cleared that Savarkar's portrait be unveiled in the hall of Parliament, had some Communist leaders in it who did not protest against this proposal. Incidentally his close associate Nathuram Godse who murdered Gandhi, is currently being celebrated as a great nationalist by various Hindutva forces and a play praising him, "Me Nathuram Boltoy", (This is Nathuram speaking) has been a big hit in parts of Maharashtra and also is a favorite with the section of NRI's who have been flooding the RSS coffers with dollars to promote its divisive agenda. 

Many a social workers who have been evaluating Savarkar's role in an objective manner had to suffer the wrath of Savarkar's followers, including the intimidating things like their effigies being burnt. Aiyer's effigy was burnt as a warning. Many a myths have been manufactured around Savarkar. Though some scholars have done a remarkable job by publishing the facsimiles of letters written by Savarkar, while seeking his release from the prison, the complete evaluation of Savarkar, with impeccable evidence like the copies of his letters and extracts from his writings, has not been put forward in a popular way so far. Shamsul Islam, a Professor of political science from Delhi has filled this gap very aptly. This invaluable contribution to ongoing debate presents the true character of Savarkar in a holistic manner. Author has relied more on the writings of Savarkar to bring out the truth behind this 'pseudo legend'. 

It deals with various myths about him and shows that there was a major transformation in his life after being imprisoned in Andmans. He was an Anti-British revolutionary, till his imprisonment, who had talked about Hindu Muslim unity and had praised Bahadur Shah Zafar for leading Hindu Muslim kings in the anti British war of 1857; shortly after being imprisoned, he started seeking mercy from the British authorities with knees bent, in the most humiliating terms, like a total surrender.

There are various myths which have by now become a matter of folklore in general and more so in Maharashtra, the place where the politics of Hindutva took an aggressive stance after the publication of his book 'Hindutva or who is a Hindu' by Savarkar and later by the formation of RSS, which took this book's formulation about Hindutva as the base of its divisive politics. The myth that he spent most of his life in cellular jail has no basis at all as factually he was there for around ten years after which he was transferred to Ratnagiri jail, from where he was released in 1924. It is noteworthy that while he is being praised for his bravery and suffering, many revolutionaries suffered longer but unlike him did not buckle under the pressure of suffering. They are going unsung while Savarkar is adorning the hall of Parliament. Savarkarites have manufactured the answer to it that he wanted to participate in the freedom struggle so he apologized to the British as a matter of 'clever' tactic. Islam shows through Savarkar's writings that he did not participate in the freedom struggle after getting released and was critical of the national movement all through, to the extent of helping the British war efforts.

It is here that the myth was created that he advised Subhash Chandra Bose to go to Japan to seek Japanese assistance to get freedom from British. This claim gets exposed when we realize that it is during this time that Bose is forming Azad Hind Fauj and fighting the British, while Savarkar is assisting the British in their war effort. Now a time has come for them to manufacture a new argument to 'praise' his greatness in simultaneously doing two contradictory things, if at all he was the advisor of Subhash Bose. He was a firm ally of British when they were repressing the National movement by brutal methods. The argument that he stood firmly against the Muslim league politics is again far from true. As a matter of fact Hindu Mahasabha collaborated with Muslim League in formation of coalition ministries in Sind and Bengal, and Savarkar supported and appreciated this move of Hindu Mahasabha. 

As such collaboration with Muslim League is so 'logical' for Hindu Mahasbaha as both of these parties are on the same wavelength of political ideology. Both of them hold on to religion based nationalism, that religion can be the base of nationalism, was inherent in their politics, both of them did not participate in the freedom movement and both these formations were derivatives of the political formations founded by landlords and kings of princely states. So the Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha alliance is logical and not an aberration.

The most interesting part of Savarkar's writings which is presented in the book is about the King of Nepal. This monarch of Hindu Rashtra of Nepal is perceived by Savarkar as the one who is the logical ruler of Hindus all over the world. One shivers with the idea that had Savarkar's politics succeeded, today we would have the 'proud privilege' of being ruled by a king who has killed his brother's entire family for power and has muzzled the democracy. It seems we have been spared this torture by the maturity of Indian people who not only rejected Hindutva politics during freedom struggle but have again spurned its 'Shining India gestures' during last Parliament elections.

His efforts to eradicate untouchability many a times are projected as being equal to those of Ambedkar. The contrast can never be worse. While Ambedkar burns Manusmriti Savarkar upholds this as the core rule book for Hindus. At one point he assures the sanatani Hindus that they should not worry about temple entry of Shudras as Hindu Mahasabha will not let the untouchables enter the temples and will not let them come in beyond a point at which non Hindus are shown the 'No Entry' board. The 'brilliance' of this strategy is beyond words. Dalits are Hindus but like the non-Hindus they will not be permitted to enter the "Laxman Rekha" drawn by Holy Scripture called Manu Smriti. So much for his rationalism!

Role of Savarkar in Gandhi murder has been a matter of creation of another myth. Taking advantage of the fact that the court acquitted him in this case, it is being said that he was not a part of the conspiracy. As a matter of fact, he was let off only because the charges were not corroborated. Kapoor commission pointed out that Savarkar was a part of the conspiracy while Sardar Patel also said similar thing in his letter.

Well facts and truth are the first victims when politics based on emotions and myth rules the roost. The strength of the book lies in the fact that the author lets Savarkar speak for him, and has been written in the popular style of myths and facts. The book is full of interesting quotes and letters of Savarkar. It must have been a painstaking research to cull out these scattered writings to weave a complete picture. While very strong on facts and evidence Islam does not elaborate the ideological and political connections of Savarkar and his ideology. A suitable introduction would have enriched the worth of the book. Placing his ideology in the contemporary context would have broadened the visions of the readers. While the production of the book is overall satisfactory errors in copy editing are jarring to the reader. Overall, Shamsul Islam deserves appreciation for this much needed political intervention.

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