By: Harshit Sharma & Aryan Nautiyal
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar—this name isn’t the most influential, not the most hated, not the most loved, but definitely the most controversial one in Indian history. Recently, the government inaugurated the new parliament building on the 28th of May, commemorating the birth anniversary of VD Savarkar. Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has received widespread criticism for his suggestion to rename the new parliament as ‘Savarkar Sadan’. Savarkar, one of the freedom fighters, remains highly controversial, attracting extensive criticism from various quarters. While every freedom fighter pursued their own path towards India’s independence, Savarkar’s methods have faced consistent scrutiny. Some examples include Bose’s willingness to collaborate with Germany to end British rule and Gandhi’s call for Indian youth to demonstrate loyalty by supporting the British. Even today, there are individuals who disagree with these approaches. However, while both Bose and Gandhi are respected despite their flaws, Savarkar has faced relentless abuse and condemnation throughout history. While his views may not be universally embraced, it is important to remember that no public figure is without their share of mistakes. The incessant vilification of Savarkar is truly regrettable.
Let’s focus on some of the biggest criticisms of Savarkar:
- Being extremist
- Gandhi’s assassination
- Not participating in independence activities post-Kala Paani punishment
It is worth noting that Jinnah led the Muslim League, which campaigned for a separate Islamic nation during the 1946 elections. They secured an overwhelming victory by winning 429 out of 492 Muslim seats. However, in 1937, when the idea of Pakistan was not yet introduced, they only managed to win 109 out of 482 Muslim seats. Highlighting these historical facts does not automatically label someone as an extremist. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel himself acknowledged that many Muslims who remained in India played a role in the creation of Pakistan, leading to doubts about their loyalty. Savarkar, much like many others, publicly pointed out these realities. The British considered him to be the Jinnah of Hindus because the Congress boycotted important meetings while Jinnah’s Muslim League actively participated, giving them an advantage in shaping key decisions. Savarkar, along with millions of Indians, held Congress responsible for the partition of India. He believed that Gandhi’s sympathetic approach towards Muslims had strengthened their position and ultimately led to the country’s division. While Gandhi acted in what he deemed the best interests of the nation, one can argue that he could have exercised more prudence considering his immense support and the impact his actions would have on India’s future. However, the fact remains that the partition did occur, and we must now face its consequences. It is possible that if the separation had not taken place, instead of protests for “Azad Kashmir,” we might have faced demands for an “Azad Pakistan.” Although resources might have been more abundant, political stability could have been compromised. When considering these factors, one may question Gandhi’s effectiveness as a leader. Did India lack strong leaders at that time? Why did Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha fail to garner nationwide support? It is difficult to determine whether the situation would have been better if Savarkar had the same level of following as Gandhi.
The answers to these questions largely depend on the perspective from which one views the events.
Gandhi, a man who successfully convinced India that the British could be ousted without resorting to violence, undoubtedly possessed remarkable oratory skills and storytelling abilities. His assassination stands as one of the most significant political murders of the 20th century. Gandhi transcends being merely a personality; he has become an idea—an embodiment of non-violence. Therefore, delving into scrutinising his ideas would amount to nothing more than disparaging a man who was tragically assassinated years ago, and whose influence extends far beyond the borders of India.
Regarding Savarkar’s alleged involvement in the assassination, it is noteworthy that Godse and his partners maintained close ties with him in the years leading up to the event. Many sources mention that Godse sought Savarkar’s blessings before carrying out the assassination. These associations have led people to suspect Savarkar’s involvement. It is undeniable that Savarkar and Gandhi were staunch adversaries who seldom found common ground. However, despite extensive investigations following Savarkar’s arrest on suspicion of Gandhi’s murder, no definitive evidence linking him to the crime emerged. Savarkar had always been conscious of his historical image and strived to avoid any negative associations. This is a sentiment that any public figure would naturally share.
There is a belief among many historians that Savarkar may have penned Nathuram Godse’s statement, given its eloquence and legal finesse, leading to questions about who else could have written it if not Savarkar. These discussions have contributed to the tarnishing of Savarkar’s image. However, one aspect that often receives less attention is the tragic aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination—the Brahmin massacre. Following Gandhi’s death, his followers unleashed violence against Brahmins, resulting in numerous deaths. In this unrest, even Veer Savarkar’s brother fell victim to a mob attack. Although this incident claimed the lives of many Brahmins, it is rarely discussed.
Gandhi’s assassination had devastating consequences for India at the time. Innocent lives were lost, and the absence of Veer Savarkar’s brother, who was actively involved in politics, deprived the Hindu community of a potentially strong voice. Gandhi’s ideas and thoughts achieved immortal status as public sentiment increasingly favoured him. Even leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who were sympathetic towards the Hindu cause, had to distance themselves from the RSS due to its association with Nathuram Godse. Notably, had Godse chosen to engage in political discourse and challenge Gandhi’s ideologies publicly instead of resorting to violence, the situation could have unfolded quite differently. He could have emerged as an uncompromising and influential voice for Hindus, potentially altering the level of public support that Gandhi received.
NOT PARTICIPATING IN INDEPENDENCE ACTIVITY POST “KALA PAANI” PUNISHMENT
Savarkar played an active role in India’s struggle for independence from British rule during the early 20th century. His ideas and writings posed such a significant threat to the British that they promptly banned his book on Mazzini, which aimed to inspire people to challenge the prevailing system. Despite facing imprisonment in the Andaman Islands, Savarkar persisted in his literary endeavours and memorised the poems he composed on the prison walls, later publishing them after his release, even though they had been painted over to prevent their dissemination.
Upon reentering public life after spending a substantial portion of his life behind bars, Savarkar encountered a changed political landscape across India. It was not an easy task to confront the dominance of the Congress and the Muslim League. However, it is incorrect to claim that Savarkar made no political contributions. His brother had a close association with the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), and after reading Savarkar’s Hindutva, Hedgewar ji, the founder of the RSS, drew inspiration and conceptualised the organisation. Many members of the Hindu Mahasabha, of which Savarkar was a prominent figure, were also committed RSS members. Additionally, Savarkar’s brother designed the RSS flag. While Savarkar never officially endorsed the RSS due to certain ideological disagreements, his associates did. In order to protest the atrocities committed against Hindus, he also organised demonstrations in Hyderabad.
Considering the contributions Savarkar made to the nation and the remarkable resilience he displayed during his 27 years of exile, I hold him in high regard. It is understandable that opinions may vary on this matter. While Gandhi may not command the same level of reverence in my heart as Savarkar does, I acknowledge that despite their differing approaches, both shared a common goal: the liberation of India.