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Raging debates over Gandhi and Savarkar- Good for democracy

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer


As far as I know, debates on national heroes and great historical figures do happen in the West. Whereas, in India, we rarely find such dissections of personalities. Since the Congress party ruled the country for a long time, after the independence in 1947, there has been a monopoly of Congress leaders (that fought for freedom) in history lessons. Those tall leaders were drilled into the psyche of people.

When India won independence, the prevailing geo-political situation suited the Congress’s ideology to prevail. That was the time World War-II ended. The disastrous bombing and destruction of cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in Japan) happened in 1945. Many millions of people died during WW-II in Europe, as it was started by Germany. In the USSR, twenty to twenty-five million people lost their lives in WW-II. So, everyone wanted restoration of peace and peaceful order among nations and within societies. The United Nations Organisation (UNO) was formed to oversee the disputes and settle the world order. 

Though Indian soldiers fought for the British during the war, India did not lose much of its civilian lives, as a participant of WW-II. At that time, Gandhi ji’s nonviolent movement for independence attracted people. For, it was the fight against the mighty British that had modern guns and weaponry. It would not have been possible with violence to fight that might of the British-force. Hence, Gandhi ji chose, as a matter of principle, non-violence or passive-resistance to achieve the goal. However, the revolutionaries of the time opposed Gandhi ‘s ideal. Savarkar often found fault with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement. He called it ‘absolute’ non-violence and agreed for ‘relative’ non-violence as the first and foremost virtue. Though the goal of achieving independence was one, the paths they took were different.

Gandhi ji focussed much on Hindu-Muslim unity to achieve independence. However, many would view that his unity-bid was a failure, as the partition of the country had happened. Gandhi ji in his life-time appeased Muslims to the hilt. Yet, the minority-Muslims in India never appropriated him as their leader. They embraced agnostic secularist Jawaharlal Nehru, as their favoured leader. Hence, Nehru is the beacon of secularism to Indian minorities.

In any case, Savarkar was for Hindutva. Savarkar’s conviction was that only Hindutva could bind this nation. To him Hindus in India do not mean a religious group, they are all ethnic Hindus i.e., pan India or Hindudom (again a Savarkar coinage) that includes Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus of religion Hinduism. Thus, Hindutva is all encompassing. A narrative of all native religious groupings. That is, all those who profess a religion that took birth in India. However, the RSS includes the Indian Muslims and Christians to Hindutva fold, for, they are basically Hindu-converts than the religious outsiders.

To Savarkar the English educated people (of the first-generation Congress leaders) would try their best to cease themselves to be Hindus and therefore could not understand the spirit of Hindutva i.e., Hinduness in all its cultural and historical bearing. His stand still resonates with many Hindutva proponents. Especially, coming to nationalism, Savarkar chided the Congress for having pseudo-Nationalistic ideology of intellectual servility. For Savarkar and his Hindu Maha Sabhaites, their mission of Hindutva was as abiding as the life of the nation itself.

Those who oppose Gandhi ji, point out that he was for perpetration of the caste-system, whereas Savarkar was against the propagation of the caste-system. That way, they say, Savarkar’s ideas synchronised with that of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The naysayers of Gandhi ji argue, through Gandhi ji’s Poona Pact, he went against political mobilisation of SC, STs. They forget the fact that the same pact gave birth to reservations to those communities.

Although, there are controversies surrounding Gandhi ji, he was the icon of the Indian nation abroad for his great contribution of: non-violence to the world. Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela emulated him in their respective countries, while spear-heading their movements. In fact, Savarkar’s younger brother requested Gandhiji to write a letter to the British for the release of Savarkar, showing how tall leader Gandhiji was! The Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent statement (that Savarkar had written a mercy petition to the British on the behest of Gandhi ji) was also indicative of Gandhi ji’s pre-eminence during the period.

Savarkar’s ideals came to light now because of the efforts of the ruling party. For decades people of India almost worshipped Gandhiji and Nehru. Seeing their devotion, Dr B.R Ambedkar said: ‘Bhakti, in religion, may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship, is a sure road to degradation’. Both Nehru and Gandhi ji were humans and therefore fallible.  

This country should know both Gandhi and Savarkar’s views. The present liberals try to adopt Gandhi ji and often quote him. As a matter of fact, Gandhi ji was against liberalism practised in the West. Interestingly, Faisal Devji, a Professor of Indian History, Fellow of St. Antony’s College and Director of the Asian Studies Centre at the University of Oxford calls Gandhiji as Anti-Liberal Mahatma and says, “While Gandhi is often invoked by Indian liberals to support their views, he was in fact a stern critic of liberalism, which he thought had provided the justification for colonial rule…Gandhi reimagined India’s social relations against and outside its (liberalisms’) reach.” 

Hindutva ideologue Shri Sita Ram Goel also expressed the same kind of views on Gandhi ji. In fact, Shri Goel made a passionate appeal to Hindutva proponents to appropriate Gandhi ji. Love him or hate him, Gandhi ji resurfaces in our present discussions from the past and is with us. So, does Savarkar.

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer
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