Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883 – 1966) popularly known as Veer Savarkar is one such personality who has a controversial character. He was a poet, a writer, a social reformer, a historian and a philosopher. Veer Savarkar was the first political leader to set political independence as India’s goal against Britain in early 1900. Savarkar’s oratory skills earned him popularity among the Indians.
Vinayak organised a youth group called Mitra Mela (later called Abhinav Bharat Society) encouraging revolutionary nationalism. He was the first Indian political leader against the partition of Bengal and the rising Swadeshi Movement ( boycott of foreign goods) in the year 1905. Studying the history of the revolt from English as well as Indian sources, Savarkar wrote the book ‘The History of the War of Indian Independence in 1909’ on 1857 war of Indian Independence. It was via this book that Savarkar became one of the first writers to mention the uprising as India’s First War for Independence. The book was banned throughout the British Empire. An Indian revolutionary Bhikaiji Cama obtained its publication in the Netherlands, France and Germany widely smuggled and circulated the book which attained great popularity and influenced rising young Indians.
He was a prisoner in the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1911. He was the first prisoner who was sentenced imprisonment of life twice i.e. for 50 years.The conditions in jail were inhuman and prisoners were often mistreated and tortured by the officials. They had no access to luxuries like pen and paper. The poet Savarkar was restless and uneasy and would often write poems on the prison walls using nails. When he was moved to Ratnagiri prison in 1921. He wrote a book inside the prison : ‘Hindutva – Who is Hindu?’
He was finally released on 6 Jan 1924 under stringent restrictions. Though he was not allowed to participate in politics and leave Ratnagiri he decided to work on the abolition of untouchability in Ratnagiri and was successful in eradicating it within 10 years. He built Patit Pavan Mandir, a Hindu temple in the Ratnagiri district and the first even to allow entry to all Hindus including Dalits.
Leader of Hindu Mahasabha — Savarkar was elected as a president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 and would serve until 1943. The Congress swept the polls in 1937 but conflicts between the Congress and Jinnah would exacerbate Hindu Muslim political division. Hindu Mahasabha activist protested Mahatma Gandhi initiative to hold talks with Jinnah in 1944. Under Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call for the Quit India Movement and boycotted it officially. Savarkar in one of his books ‘Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History’ justified a sanction to use rape as a political weapon.
Birth of Hindutva
Savarkar in his work Hindutva – who is Hindu? developed the concept of Hindutva. Savarkar coined the term Hindutva and was popularized in 1923. It is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism.
According to Savarkar Hindutva was not a word but a history. A history of the entire civilization. Hinduism is only a derivation of Hindutva. In his work, Savarkar promotes a radical version of Hindu. He held that to understand the significance of Hindutva, one should understand the essential meaning of the word Hindu itself. Every person is a Hindu who regarded this land as his fatherland as well as the holy land.
He began emphasising the need for patriotic and social unity of all Hindu communities, he described Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as one and the same.
He outlined the vision of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) as Akhand Bharat (United Nation) across the entire nation.
He often stressed social and community unity between Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhism and Jains to the exclusion of Muslims and Christians. Savarkar saw Muslims and Christians as misfits in the Indian civilization. He warns that Hindu Rashtra won’t allow a nation in the name of religious minorities. He agitated for the use of Hindi as a common national language and against caste discrimination and untouchability.
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) idealizes Savarkar and therefore Congress is destroying the legacy of Veer Savarkar. There has been a lot of buzz over awarding Veer Savarkar with the highest Civilian award – Bharat Ratna. Maharashtra BJP had promised in its 2019 manifesto that it would urge centre to confer Bharat Ratna to him on his Hindutva ideology.
However, the opposition party and Muslims attack over the demand for Bharat Ratna to Savarkar because firstly he filed multiple mercy petition to the British rulers while being imprisoned in the cellular jail and secondly, it was him and not Mohammed Ali Jinnah who was the progenitor of the two-nation theory that led to the birth of Pakistan and the Muslim and Christians would have been second class citizens in Savarkar vision of Hindu Rashtra. Lastly, he faced a criminal trial in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi counts Savarkar as one of his idols and Union Home minister Amit Shah dedicated his maiden blog to him whose mantra was ” One nation, One cultural value and nationalism”.
On Savarkar’s death, late Indira Gandhi issued a statement in 1980 in which she called Savarkar a ‘remarkable son of India’ and issued a postal stamp in Savarkar memory.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said: ” Congress is not against Savarkar Ji but we are not favour of the Hindutva ideology of Savarkar Ji”.
V.D. Savarkar is one such personality who is a victim of vicious propaganda for several decades. Recently on 20 Aug 2019, there was an unauthorized installation of the bust of Veer Savarkar along with Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose in Delhi University campus to inspire the youth by their legacy. It leading to a controversy and blackening of the Savarkar bust installed.
Many people do not know that Savarkar was an atheist and rational thinker. He challenged the orthodoxy of outdated Hindu customs and tried to adopt a modern approach to religion.