October 27, 2019

To Make a Bigot into an Icon

THE BJP’s election manifesto for the Maharashtra assembly election has proposed that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the father of the Hindutva concept, be conferred the title of ‘Bharat Ratna’.  This is part of the ongoing strategy of the BJP-RSS combine to legitimise the Hindutva ideology and to create icons out of rabid communal figures such as Savarkar.  In order to do that, the RSS and the BJP are busy myth-making about Savarkar being a great freedom fighter and nationalist par excellence. 

It is necessary to debunk this myth-making and expose the designs of the Hindutva forces in this regard. 

Savarkar did begin his career as a revolutionary fighting for independence. But this phase of his life ended when he was sentenced to transportation for life twice and sent to the cellular jail in Andaman in 1911.  In the first year (1911) itself, he sent a petition for clemency to the British authorities. He did so again in 1913, 1917 and 1920. In these petitions, he promised to stop political activities against the British government; he also offered to work for the British government “in any capacity they like” (1913 petition).

This display of moral cowardice stood in stark contrast to the sacrifices made by hundreds of other freedom fighters lodged in the Andaman jail which included later-to-be Communist leaders like Ganesh Ghosh, Satish Pakrashi, Harekrishna Konar and Subodh Roy.  None of them could even dream of pleading for mercy and abandoning the struggle.

After coming out of jail in 1923, Savarkar kept his word and did not participate in any activity against the British rulers.  Instead, he took up the leadership of the Hindu Mahasabha to concentrate his efforts against the Muslims and to thwart any prospects for Hindu-Muslim unity.  Savarkar had published his booklet ‘Hindutva’ in 1923 where he was the first to set out the two-nation theory. He also defined Hindus as those who have both their pitrabhoomi and punyabhoomi within the territory of India.  Those who observed religions, whose roots were outside India, could not be termed as members of the Hindu nation. It is this bigoted view underlying Hindutva, which was later on embraced by the RSS under its second chief, Golwalkar.

To project Savarkar as a great freedom fighter, when actually he surrendered to the British and spent rest of his life in fomenting Hindu-Muslim discord, is to say the least, a travesty of truth. 

More sinister was the role played by Savarkar as the head of the Hindu Mahasabha.  His anti-Muslim venom was extended to Gandhiji. He was bitterly opposed to Gandhiji’s efforts at Hindu-Muslim reconciliation and his noble endeavor to stem the tide of communal violence in the last days of his life.  When Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhiji on January 30, 1948, the police uncovered the conspiracy which involved a group including V D Savarkar, Madhav Apte, V R Karkare and others. Savarkar was put on trial along with others, charged with conspiracy to murder Gandhiji. In the judgement, the trial judge acquitted Savarkar only because the evidence provided by the approver of his role could not independently be corroborated.

In 1966, a Commission of Enquiry was set-up under Justice Jivan Lal Kapur to inquire into the conspiracy to murder Gandhiji.  This came in the wake of reports and claims that the plan to murder Gandhiji was known to some persons. Justice Kapur heard more evidence concerning Savarkar’s role than the trial court of 1948.  On that basis, he concluded that, “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

It is such a person that the BJP wants to confer India’s highest award.  It is also meaningful that the BJP seeks to do so at a time when the Modi government is officially celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji.  The signal is clear – V D Savarkar is being put on par with Mahatma Gandhi. 

When the Sangh combine is aggressively going about glorifying bigots such as Savarkar, the Congress leadership is wilting under this offensive.  Dr Manmohan Singh stated rather weakly that, “we are not against Savarkarji, but we are not in favour of the Hindutva ideology”. He avoided commenting about the ‘Bharat Ratna’ proposal by saying that it was for the committee set-up by the government to decide.  The official spokesman of the Congress, Abhishek Singhvi, went further. He called Savarkar “an accomplished man who played a part in the freedom struggle” and “went to jail for the country”.  Such a mealy-mouthed attitude to a communal ideologue will only embolden the Hindutva forces to further conquer the secular-nationalist space. 

It would be a gratuitous insult to the memory of Gandhiji and our freedom fighters to honour Savarkar with a ‘Bharat Ratna’. 

(October 23, 2019)