From Freedom to Religion

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on May 28, 1883, in Bhagur, near Nashik, in Maharashtra. He was a nationally renowned politician and activist, and also a powerful writer. He was also a valiant freedom fighter in his early days. He is known for his extreme rightist views and also for his contribution to India’s freedom struggle. 

He developed the concept of Hindutva, which the present-day ruling party has milked shrewdly time and again for furthering their political agendas. His views were often in contrary to the secular nationalism of the Congress party. His followers had placed a prefix Veer (meaning brave) before his name.

Militant Nationalism 

Savarkar showed his predilection towards politics since his high school days. He did his graduation from Fergusson College, Pune. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal were his early inspirations and the protests against the partition of Bengal (1905) and the Swadeshi movement also did influence his brilliant politically active mind.

After his graduation he went to England to study law and there he got actively involved in nationalist movements. He was involved with India House and Free India Society. Free India Society was a youth organisation of Indian students in England, who were committed towards Indian independence from British rule. India House was a hub for revolutionary Indian nationalism.

He wrote books where he advocated for complete Indian independence by revolutionary means. In 1909, he wrote a book named The History of the War of Indian Independence about The Indian Rebellion of 1857, which was banned by the then British government.

In 1910, Savarkar was arrested in London on several charges, including the procurement and distribution of arms, inciting war against the state, and delivering seditious speeches. Besides that, the British government gleaned evidence of Savarkar smuggling 20 handguns into India, one of which was used by Anant Laxman Kanhere to assassinate the Nashik district’s collector A.M.T. Jackson, in December 1909. He was ordered to be extradited back to India.

Prison and Mercy 

On his return voyage to India, Savarkar made a failed attempt to escape. On his return to India, Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years of imprisonment and was transferred to the notorious Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In one of his books named Kale Pani, he narrated the struggle of the Indian nationalists in the Cellular Jail.

 He however was released after thirteen years of imprisonment, in 1924, after he wrote a number of mercy petitions to the British government, for which he is even now criticised by many, mainly by those who are opposed to his political ideology.

One may justify by saying that his mercy petitions were a tactical move to get released from the clutches of the British government and thereby actively rejoin the freedom struggle in full force, but not very surprisingly, post his release from jail, Savarkar’s criticism against the British government was much less aggressive.

For Hindutva

It would not be far-fetched to say that since 1924, Savarkar was more of a Hindu militant leader than a freedom fighter. In fact, his conceiving and blatant propagation of Hindutva hurt the freedom movement as it promoted divisiveness in the then Indian society, which needed to be completely unified against the common British enemy. In 1922, while still in jail, Savarkar wrote ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ where he conceived his theory of Hindutva.

Though Savarkar was released in 1924, but his movements were confined by the British government to the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. He was released from the confinement within Ratnagiri district only in 1937. From then onwards Savarkar travelled widely, advocating for Hindu political and social unity through his powerful writings and oratory skills. 

He was President of Hindu Mahasabha during 1937-1943 and during his leadership the Hindu Mahasabha propounded the communal idea of India as a Hindu Rashtra. Advocating his two-nation theory, in 1937, during the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Ahmedabad, Savarkar said, “There are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India. India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation. On the contrary, there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Muslims, in India.” In 1943, he again said, “I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.”

Fight Against Casteism 

Savarkar is also known for his fight against untouchability and other casteist practices, which was then prevalent in India. He even spoke out against those ancient scriptures of India that advocated casteism and took considerable effort to build India into a casteless society. In 1920, in a letter to his younger brother Narayanrao, Savarkar wrote, “I feel the need to rebel against caste discrimination and untouchability as much as I feel the need to fight against foreign occupation of India.”

Savarkar was not opposed to women’s education but suggested that their education’s focus should be on how they could be good mothers and create a generation of children infused with patriotism.

Allegation and Demise 

In 1948, Savarkar was charged as a co-conspirator in Gandhi’s assassination, but the court acquitted him due to insufficient evidence. In 1966, he fasted to death of his own free will. He logically justified his fasting to death in an article by stating that when one’s life mission is over and the ability to serve society no longer remains, it is preferable to choose to end one’s life willingly rather than waiting for death.

However, despite his development of the divisive political ideology of Hindutva, the contribution of Savarkar in India’s freedom struggle and his endeavours to remove untouchability and other ills of casteism cannot and shouldn’t be undermined.It is in fact disheartening to note that the demise of Savarkar caused no official mourning by the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee or the central government in Delhi. No minister from the then Maharashtra Cabinet showed up to pay him respect, which amply shows our prevalent political culture of refusing to rise above politics.

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