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.