Department of International Relations
Jadavpur University, Kolkata,
Hindu nationalism has a chequered history in India. It was a product of a rising revivalism among Hindus in British India as well as a systematic policy of appeasement followed by the Colonial State and the politicians towards the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Parsis, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the Anglo Indians, etc. The Communal Award of 1932 was a turning point in this regard. The Khilafat Movement and the Non Cooperation Movement also contributed to the rise of Hindu nationalism.
The Moplah Riots of 1921-1922, wherein the Moplah Muslims of the Malabar targeted the innocent Hindus, killing lakhs of them, affected Hindu nationalists like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. In fact, the Indian National Congress (INC), which was initially opposed to The All India Muslim League, was getting very close to the same, in order to cosy up to the vast population of Muslims of India and indeed of the world, many of whom were inspired by the radical speeches and writings of The All India Muslim League’s leaders, particularly those of Khwaja Salimullah, Aga Khan III, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Hakim Ajmal Khan, which inspired many Muslims, prompting agitations in Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. The Indian National Congress leaders were also drifting away from the Hindus.
Mr Golwalkar was stringent in his demand for Hindu Rashtra. Mr Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was inflexible and he had become very conservative and a hardliner by the 1930s. The British also sided with Jinnah as he was a little subservient to them. In this critical context, Mr Savarkar felt that a Hindu Rashtra alone could give the Hindus justice. Along with Mr Golwalkar, he further felt that Muslims and Christians must leave India or live as second class citizens. Mr Golwalkar criticized the Congress for siding with the Muslims, the Christians and the Communists, who were ‘our most inveterate enemies’. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar with Mr Savarkar’s blessings in Nagpur in 1925. Mr Savarkar is rightfully known as ‘Father of Hindutva’.
In fact, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) was one of the greatest Indian politicians, writers, political philosophers, thinkers and nationalists of all time. Respectfully called as ‘Veer Savarkar’, he was born in a Brahmin family in Maharashtra in 1883 and was schooled in Satara. At a young age, he was influenced by Tilak’s Hindu nationalism and Hindu revivalism and the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi and Shivaji’s birth anniversary. He was also influenced by the ancient Hindu scriptures like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Manusmriti. He lived his life fighting for the causes of the Hindus and sought to strengthen them.
He was concerned about the tyrannical British rule in India and wanted it to be driven out of India. He led a slew of campaigns against the British imperialists as a student at Fergusson College, Poona, following which he was expelled from there.
After some time, he was recommended by Bal Gangadhar Tilak to study at the University of London under the supervision of Shyamji Krishna Verma, an Indian barrister and revolutionary in the UK, who sponsored the education and expenses of Savarkar and a few other Indian youths. These students were accommodated in a house in Central London(India House), making it the residing and meeting spot of all Indian student revolutionaries. Savarkar involved himself with radical political organizations such as the Free India Society, found under the leadership of Madam Bhikaji Cama and Shyamji Krishna Verma. He was a revolutionary at the core of his heart.
Mr Savarkar lived in London as a student revolutionary from 1904-1908. He was arrested by the Scotland Yard in 1910 at Victoria Railway Station in London for his revolutionary activities. In fact, Savarkar, as the leader of the Indian student revolutionaries, motivated PN Bapat to go to Paris and learn the art of bomb making from a Russian revolutionary and got Curzon Wyllie, the political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India Lord George Hamilton, killed by an Indian revolutionary, Mr. Madan Lal Dhingra at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, where he and his wife were attending an event organised by the National Indian Association. Mr.Dhingra was a fellow Indian student revolutionary of Mr Savarkar and his batchmate at the University of London. Mr. Dhingra was sentenced to death by the Old Bailey, London in July 1909 and he was hanged on 17 August 1909 for the assassination of Wyllie.
After Mr Savarkar’s arrest, he attempted to escape and swam to Marseilles after escaping from the British ship, SS Morea, that was transporting him from the UK to India. But he was re arrested, deported to India, tried by the court and sent to Cellular Jail, Port Blair, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, for a term of 50 years.
Prison time gave him a solitary atmosphere. In 1909, he wrote The Indian War of Independence, a book on the Indian mutiny of 1857, which, he said, was in fact, India’s first war against the British for their independence. This book was banned even before its publication and Mr Savarkar was tortured.In 1921, he was confined to house arrest in Ratnagiri and was unconditionally released in 1937 by the Bombay Governor.
During his incarceration in Ratnagiri jail in 1922, he wrote his “Essentials of Hindutva” that formulated his theory of Hindutva. On 6 January 1924, he was released but he was confined to Ratnagiri District by the authorities. He met notable people such as Dr. Ambedkar, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi during his house arrest.
Mr Savarkar continued writing. He wrote his seminal work, ‘Hindutva’ in 1923, arguing for a militant form of Hinduism and a Hindu resistance against outsiders- Muslims, Christians and Communists. He said ‘Hindutva’ referred to devotion to Hinduism. It was a sandhi of the two words, ‘Hindu’ and ‘tatva’, meaning the essence of Hinduism. It was to defend Hinduism. He said a Hindutvavadi would know what one had to do to lead a Hindu life in reality. He felt that Hindus were too soft and open minded to regard these people as threats and foes and that anglicized Hindus like Gandhi, Nehru and Radhakrishnan were hand in glove with these people. In fact, with the initiation of the Khilafat Movement by Gandhi to mobilise the Muslims of India against the British after the fiasco of the Sultan of Turkey and the eventual abolition in 1924 of the office of the Sultan of Turkey/Caliph, whom Muslims considered the Spiritual and Political Head of Muslims worldwide, Muslims had become very strong and riotous.
The Khilafat Movement and the Non Cooperation Movement also contributed to the rise of Hindu nationalism. The Moplah Riots of 1921-1922, wherein the Moplah Muslims of the Malabar targeted the innocent Hindus, killing lakhs of them, affected Hindu nationalists like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar.In fact, the Indian National Congress(INC), which was initially opposed to The All India Muslim League, was now getting very close to the same, in order to cosy up to the vast population of Muslims of India and indeed of the world, many of whom were inspired by the radical speeches and writings The All India Muslim League’s leaders, particularly those of Khwaja Salimullah, Aga Khan III, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Hakim Ajmal Khan, which inspired many Muslims, prompting agitations in Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. The Indian National Congress leaders were also drifting away from the Hindus.
Mr Savarkar felt that the advocacy of the spiritual values of Hinduism by Nehru, Gandhi, Radhakrishnan and others had a debilitating impact on the Hindus and was meant to subdue and weaken Hindus, with the intention of making them dumb to their oppression by Muslims and Christians and instead welcome them with open arms, forgetting the generations of torture at their hands in the form of the rule of the Aryans, the Greeks, the Delhi Sultante, the Mughals, the Afghans, the Portuguese, the French, the Spaniards, the British, etc.
Mr Savarkar emphasised on Hindu identity, Hindu solidarity and Hindu unity. He idolized Hindu leaders like the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Cholas, the Marathas, etc. Mr Savarkar felt that these and many other leaders like Puru, Prithviraj Chauhan, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Maharani Laxmi Bai, etc. had led the glorious fight against foreign invaders and would inspire the people greatly.
Mr Savarkar felt that the rule of the Hindu rajas from the Vedic Era to the end of Prithviraj Chauhan’s rule was the golden era of the Hindus of India. The Age of the Islamic conquerors from the time of the Delhi Sultanate till the arrival of the British in 1757 was the dark age of the Hindus .He felt that the British could have done a lot for the Hindus, but did not do so. He said that the British were as brutal as the Muslims in tormenting the Hindus.
Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Mr.Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Nathuram Godse, etc. were some of Mr Savarkar’s disciples and associates with whom he had regular meetings. Dr Hedgewar was a staunch Congressman, who left the Congress after Mahatma Gandhi had called back The Non-cooperation Movement and became associated with Mr Savarkar. At the same time, when there were continuous atrocities on Hindus by the Abrahamics, Mr Savarkar impressed on Dr Hedgewar to establish a sangathan that would take care of the needs of the Hindus and would protect them everytime. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) was formed by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar with Mr Savarkar’s blessings in Nagpur in 1925. The RSS leadership was deeply inspired and influenced by the views of Mr Savarkar.
After Mr Savarkar’s release from Ratnagiri in 1937, he joined the Tilakite Democratic Swaraj Party. However, he could do nothing for Hindus in that party. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha and remained its President till 1945.
During his time as President of the Hindu Mahasabha, Mr Savarkar tried to reinvigorate the party. But Mr Savarkar resigned from the party and decided in favour of a solitary life for himself. He strongly opposed the Partition of India and blamed the Congress, the Muslim League and the British for not doing enough for the Hindus at all. The amputation of 1/3rd of India to create Pakistan angered him and he expressed his dissatisfaction with the leaders propagating Partition.
Mr Savarkar was a staunch critic of the caste system/Varna system. He felt that Gandhi’s stress on the Varna System as the backbone of Hindu civilization was fraught with mischief. He felt that the theory was flawed and promoted a divisive spirit among the Hindus. He accused Gandhi of weakening the Hindus and ensuring that the Hindus remained disunited, while promoting Pan-Islamism, militant Islam and Islamic unity.
Mr Savarkar felt that a Hindu Rashtra alone could give Hindus justice. Along with Mr Golwalkar, he felt that Muslims and Christians must leave India or live as second class citizens. He criticized the Congress for siding with, ‘our most inveterate enemies’. He felt that the Congress had done nothing for the Hindus and tried to bleaken their future by giving concessions to Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and trying to divide the Hindus on the basis of caste, class and religion.
Mr Savarkar is rightly known as ‘Father of Hindutva’. His ideas inspired the rise of the RSS, the VHP, the ABVP and eventually the BJP. His nationalism was guided by the spirit of liberation of Bharat Mata and making the supreme sacrifice for the motherland. He is highly respected by most of us, particularly those associated with the Sangh Parivar. For a long time, talks have been going on to confer on him the Bharat Ratna. His ideas, undoubtedly were innovative and inspiring, but the Nehruvian State boycotted him and forced him into the exile, treating him as shoddily as they had treated Dr Ambedkar and Prof. Sita Ram Goel. That is why the later phase of Mr. Savarkar’s life was spent in isolation. He died in 1966 at the age of eighty three years. He was not awarded any pension and other old age benefits. All this disappointed him to such an extent that he was compelled to go into sanyas in the last phase of his life. Notwithstanding, Mr Savarkar’s ideas continue to inspire us till date. He remains extremely relevant in our country today.
In this article, a close study of different personalities and political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Jinnah has been made. These leaders had no affinity towards Mr. Savarkar, rather he was held as provoking other religions like Islam and Christianity as if those religions were trying to attack Hinduism and Hindutva. On the contrary, Mr. Savarkar spread his views on Hindu nationalism to an extent as if to save Hindutva. It is often seen that Gandhi and Pandit Nehru praised other religions over Hinduism to project themselves as national leaders in front of millions of Indians. In this perspective, Mr. Savarkar decided to save Hinduism and instead of spreading venom against other religions and there lies his greatness. By all means, he was a true national leader of India but unfortunately he was not given the same status as that of Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Jinnah. Only the future will make proper evaluation of the contribution of Mr. Savarkar as a national leader of India.
About the author: Sauro Dasgupta is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He is interested in reading, writing, public speaking and his writings have been published in many important magazines, journals and newspapers.