Savarkar – The Grey Icon Of India

Savarkar (above) and Gandhi politely agreed to...

I see Twitter abuzz with #Savarkar on the 130th birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar aka Veer Savarkar. So thought of writing this quick post on the man.

Savarkar has to be one of the most intriguing icons of India. An icon you can’t possibly categorize as black or white. Savarkar has to be the grey icon of India.

He was a brave, nationalist, intellectual, atheist, poet who fought & suffered for India’s independence, for religious reform and against the caste system. However he also championed false pride in Hindutva and divisive politics. He also contributed greatly to the intellectual foundation of radical Hinduism.

It’s a pity that in the political space of India today, you are supposed to either hate Savarkar or worship him. Whereas IMHO modern India’s approach to Savarkar should be that we admire his courage, his ceaseless striving for India’s independence and his progressive ideas on social & religious reform. However we reject his call for Hindutva & his divisive politics.

Unfortunately Savarkar today is either a Hindutva icon whom you need to hate if you are to be considered “secular” or he is to be worshiped and used to fire up Hindu pride. {See the parallel with Narendra Modi ?}

He is either projected as the “real” freedom fighter whom Gandhi & later the Nehru family conspired to discredit and marginalize. OR He is to be vilified as communal and shamed for his mercy petition to the British.

There is no middle ground in political discourse where you can admire a part of Savarkar and criticize another.

Hindutva advocates need to examine & understand Savarkar’s credentials as an atheist and a social reformer. They also need to keep an open mind to any criticism of Savarkar and question if Savarkar’s idea of Hindu pride/Hindutva is inline with secular humanism and a scientific temperament.

While on the other hand the ‘seculars’ need to examine & understand the sacrifice of Savarkar for India’s independence as well as his courage to flow against the tide and push for religious reform and elimination of the caste system. While they can criticize what they think is wrong with Savarkar’s ideology, they also need to look at Savarkar with an open mind and see if they see any accomplishments that they can acknowledge / respect.

It’s also critical for us to judge historical figures with reference to their times and not current values. So do note that Savarkar, Gandhi, Nehru or even Jinnah for that matter were operating during a foreign, oppressive British rule and not a world where there was a constitution and citizens enjoyed fundamental rights & guarantees of freedom & expression.

Solicitor Hari Anant Thatte

My grandfather Solicitor Hari Anant Thatte was a close associate of Savarkar. My uncle has authored a book “Amche Bhau in English & “आमचे भाऊ” Marathi” on Solicitor Thatte. The book talks at some length about his association with Savarkar.

So I do have a personal connect with Savarkar and appreciate many of Savarkar’s accomplishments. However my belief in Gandhi’s principles and my secular & rational lean make me question what Savarkar stood for.

  •  Lovely post Harshad. I agree with everything you have said. Just wish to add one line of thought on his supposed ‘hindutva’ hardline. Given that he was an athiest, I tend to think that it is odd of him to support the ‘hindutva’ that we as a polity largely identify with today.  I don’t think that we have understood his version fully nor IMHO is it simple enough for all to easily connect with and digest. I believe that he used this hardline more as an effort to unite the disparate thought process of our countrymen at that time, more than any other reason, and the extent to which he succeeded is for all of us to see today.

  • Nikhilkadadi

    Nice post Harshad. Although I agree with your overall point, I disagree that his views were radical or fanatic. Considering he was an atheist, I too believe his views on ‘Hindutva’ have not been understood as Atul says.

  • Thanks Nikhil & Atul.

    It is likely that Savarkar began with Hindutva as a banner under which all Hindus could be united against the British.

    However the actual direction Hindutva took was of alienating other communities, subtle claims of superiority & domination by one religion. Even the words Hindutva & Hindu Rashtra are divisive. If I were a Muslim, Christian or any other religion, I would be most uncomfortable to see “Hindutva” on the rise, even if the proponents claimed to be liberal.

    Savarkar could have changed course (maybe post-independence) and given up divisive Hindutva ideology. But he chose to not do so.

    Modern day Hindutva advocates say that their version of Hindutva includes all those on our side of the Hindukush mountains or all those who share the common culture, etc. However these seem like weak cover ups.

    People from other religions don’t want to be part of Hindutva, whatever the definition. 

    It is likely that Savarkar used the religion genie to propel the nationalist cause, but later couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.

  • Shashikant Oak

    As on today, seeing what is happening all over the world, the fanaticism has been the power tilting factor. Savarkar even in his time 100years back, especially while in cellular jail found the same streak.As reaction to their behavour he has to take up the cause of Hindus. That ills of Hinduism over centuries has also been not only examined by him but he put to action while he was in exile for 10-15 years in Ratnagiri.