Ahistoricity of Savarkar’s Rehabilitation Project: Part -1

The article compares the claims with Savarkar's writings and records of his activities available in the archives of the Hindu Mahasabha in order to know the truth about Savarkar's being a freedom fighter.

savarkar
Courtesy: Counterview.net

An aggressive campaign to rehabilitate VD Savarkar (1883-1966) as great Indian freedom fighters is under way. He is being touted as a legendary Indian nationalist, freedom fighter who spent 50 years in the Cellular Jail [CJ]. Multiple mercy petitions of his are hailed as a ruse to secure freedom in order to work for uprooting the British rule, last but not the least, he is glorified as a rationalist who fought against the Untouchability.

Let us compare these claims with the writings of Savarkar and records of his activities available in the archives of the Hindu Mahasabha in order to know the truth.

Savarkar’s journey from Indian nationalist to Hindu nationalist

It is true that Savarkar penned THE INDIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1857 in 1907 in which he glorified the joint struggle of Hindus and Muslims in the 1857 rebellion. In this tome, proscribed by the British rulers, he underscored the fact that Hindus and Muslims “were both children of the soil of Hindusthan. Their names were different, but they were all children of the same Mother; India therefore being the common mother of these two, they were brothers by blood”. He went to the extent of praising the Jehadi spirit Moulvi Ahmed Shah in the liberation war of 1857. “The great and saintly Ahmed Shah had woven fine and cleverly the webs of the Jehad—the War of Independence—through every corner of Lucknow and Agra.”

However, Savarkar’s incarceration at the CJ brought fundamental change in his idea of India. His first official biographer, Dhananjay Keer corroborated the fact that while leaving the Cellular, he gave this mantra: “One God, one country, one goal, one race, one life, one language” which was later concretized as Hindutva. The reason for discarding commitment to an all-inclusive India and turning Islamophobic was provided by Savarkar himself: “A large number of the wicked warders consisted of Mussalmans…And the prisoners under them were mostly Hindus. The Hindu prisoners were persecuted…”

It will be interesting to know that Savarkar was the only one at Cellular Jail who presented the persecution at the hands of the warders as a Hindu-Muslim issue. Barindra Kumar Ghosh (known as Barin, younger brother of Aurobindo Ghosh) in his memoirs, THE TALE OF MY EXILE made it clear that Muslim prisoners too suffered at the hands of these Cellular Jail officials. ““In the Andamans it is they [warder, petty officer, jamadar etc.] who are in-charge of everything and have the authority…Ramlal sits a little cross-wise in the file, give him two blows on the neck. Mustafa did not get up immediately he was told to, so, pull off his mustache. Baqaullah is late in coming from the latrine, apply the baton and unloose the skin of his posterior—such were the beautiful proceedings by which they maintained discipline in the prison.”

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Barin was also witness to the fact that there were kind hearted Pathan warders who on many occasions “secretly brought out a dish of meat…I do not know whether any food prepared by the famous Draupadi herself could have been as savoury as that dish with suh a gusto did I devour it”.

The truth is that Savarkar used the persecution by the Muslim jail officials as an alibi to legitimize his abandonment of commitment to Indian nationalism. The renowned historian R. C. Majumdar who is regarded as a true ‘Bhartiya’ by the Hindutva brigade while sifting heaps of official papers relating to the Cellular Jail in the course of writing of his landmark book on the CJ, Penal Settlement in Andamans could not avoid commenting, “that the incarceration in the Andamans had produced a great change on the great revolutionary leaders [Savarkar, his brother and Barin] and their attitude towards the British Government and their view of destroying it by revolution or secret conspiracies had suffered a radical change”.

Savarkar preceded Jinnah in propounding two-nation theory

Savarkar and Jinnah

Muslim League [ML] under MA Jinnah demanded Pakistan in March 1940. Long before it Savarkar had laid down two-nation theory. In his book HINDUTVA (1923) he declared India to be the homeland of Hindus only and Muslims could not be part of Indian nationhood. He declared: “The root meaning of the word Hindu, like the sister epithet in Hindi, may mean only an Indian, yet as it is we would be straining the usage of words too much-we fear, to the point of breaking-if we call a Mohomedan [sic] a Hindu because of his being a resident of India.”

Muslim league under MA Jinnah demanded Pakistan in March 1940. Long before it Savarkar had laid down his two-nation theory. In his book HINDUTVA (1923) he declared India to be the homeland of Hindus only and Muslims could not be part of Indian nationhood. He declared: “The root meaning of the word Hindu, like the sister epithet in Hindi, may mean only an Indian, yet as it is we would be straining the usage of words too much-we fear, to the point of breaking-if we call a Mohomedan [sic] a Hindu because of his being a resident of India.”

Savarkar took over the leadership of Hindu Mahasabha [HM] in 1937. While addressing the 19th Session of Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in the same year stated: “As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India…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.”

Hindu Mahasabha led by Savarkar declared unconditional support to the British government during Quit India Movement

The Quit India Movement began on August 9, 1942 as per Gandhi’s call to ‘Do or Die’ in order to expel the British from India. The British rulers swiftly responded with mass detentions on August 8th itself. Over 100,000 arrests were made which included the total top leadership of Congress including Gandhi, mass fines were levied and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of civilians were killed in violence, many shot by the police and army. Congress was banned. It is not generally known that during these times of repression Savarkar announced full support to the British rulers. Addressing the 24th session of the HM at Kanpur in 1942, Savarkar outlined the strategy of the Hindu Mahasabha of co-operating with the rulers in the following words: “The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation [with the British].” He called upon HM councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies to offer “Responsive Co-operation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance…”

What it meant at the political front was unambiguous. HM and ML joined hands in running coalition governments in Bengal and Sind (and later NWFP). Defending this collusion between HM and ML against Congress Savarkar stated, “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 [sic] as soon as they came in contact with the HM and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr. Fazlul Huq and the able lead of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities.”

It is to be noted that Mookerji was deputy premier and held the portfolio of suppressing QIM in Bengal.

Part -2  can be read here

Link for some of S. Islam’s writings in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and video interviews/debates:

http://du-in.academia.edu/ShamsulIslam

Facebook: https://facebook.com/shamsul.islam.332

Twitter: @shamsforjustice

http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

Email: [email protected]

The author is a professor at Delhi University. Views are personal. 

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