The Modi Government is out to give a posthumous Bharat Ratna (India’s highest civilian honour) to VD Savarkar. Modi, and the BJP, claim Savarkar was “Veer” (brave), and a hero of the freedom struggle.
In fact, it is well known that Savarkar begged for mercy from the British, and then used his freedom to spread anti-Muslim and anti-Buddhist hatred, admire Hitler’s genocide of the Jews and the oppression of African Americans; and support the idea that Hindus and Muslims could not share the same nation. There is also ample evidence that he masterminded the assassination of Gandhi.
The Modi Government is of course free to award Savarkar. This choice says more about the Modi Government’s own Hindu supremacist and fascist ideology than it does about Savarkar.
In this feature, Liberation pieces together the facts that show us the real Savarkar – and the Modi Government and BJP that mirror him.
We acknowledge the tireless documentation and writings of historian Shamsul Islam that have made this task possible.
Savarkar was arrested and jailed in Andaman Central Jail (known as the dreaded ‘kaala paani’), as were hundreds of other freedom fighters. Savarkar submitted no less than three mercy petitions to the British Raj, pledging his loyalty and begging to be freed.
Were these mercy petitions merely tactical – to secure freedom which he would then use to fight for the country’s freedom? This is a claim made by apologists for Savarkar.
There are two objections to this claim. First: none of the other freedom fighters who suffered years and even decades of incarceration and torture in Andaman Jail and other jails, ever submitted a mercy petition. Savarkar was the only one to do so.
Second: Savarkar after his release from prison, went on to openly advocate cooperation with the British, consistently the whole of his career. We share evidence of this below.
'Unconditional Cooperation' With the British Raj
While addressing the 24th session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in 1942, Savarkar outlined the strategy of the Hindu Mahasabha of co-operating with the British in the following words:
“The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation. And in virtue of it, it believes that all those Hindu Sangathanists who are working as councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies with a view to utilize those centres of government power to safeguard and even promote the legitimate interests of the Hindus without, of course, encroaching on the legitimate interests of others are rendering a highly patriotic service to our nation…The policy of responsive co-operation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance, will also keep adapting itself to the exigencies of the time, resources at our disposal and dictates of our national interest.” [Italics as in the original]
- Cited in V.D. Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya: Hindu Rashtra Darshan, vol. 6, Maharashtra Prantik Hindu Sabha, Poona, 1963, p. 474.
Recruitment for British Army
When Netaji during World War II was trying to secure foreign support for liberation of the country and trying to organise a military attack on the northeast of the country which finally culminated in the formation of ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ (Indian National Army), it was Savarkar who offered full military cooperation to the British masters. While addressing 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, he said:
“The war which has now reached our shores directly constitutes at once a danger and an opportunity which both render it imperative that the militarization movement musts be intensified and every branch of the Hindu Mahasabha in every town and village must actively engage itself in rousing the Hindu people to join the army, navy, the aerial forces and the different war-craft manufactories.”
To what extent Savarkar was willing to help the British would be clear by the following words of his:
“So far as India’s defence is concerned, Hindudom must ally unhesitatingly, in a spirit of responsive co-operation with the war effort of the Indian government in so far as it is consistent with the Hindu interests, by joining the Army, Navy and the Aerial forces in as large a number as possible and by securing an entry into all ordnance, ammunition and war craft factories…Again it must be noted that Japan’s entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain’s enemies. Consequently, whether we like it or not, we shall have to defend our own hearth and home against the ravages of the war and this can only be done by intensifying the government’s war effort to defend India. Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute.”
Cited in Savarkar, V. D., Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya: Hindu Rashtra Darshan, vol. 6, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, pp. 460-61.
Wanted Nepal's King to Rule India
Savarkar made no secret of the fact that he wanted to replace British rule over India with the rule of the Hindu King of Nepal.
In Gandhi-Muslim Conspiracy, (Published RD Ghanekar, Pune, 1941), Savarkar, writing under the pen name of “A Hindu Nationalist”, Savarkar wrote that the Hindu kingdom of Nepal “cannot let the chance slip out of her hand to make a bid for the Imperial throne of Hindusthan.” In fact, two years before this, Savarkar had already expressed the hope that the British might, in exchange for Nepal’s cooperation, hand over India to the Nepal king!
In his Presidential Address to the 20th Session of the Hindu Mahasabha, (Nagpur – 1938), Savarkar said, “The independence of the Hindu kingdom of Nepal, the home of a heroic Hindu Race, constitutes at once the pride and the centre of Hindu hope. Nevertheless, it will be foolish on our part to do anything do drag Nepal into the muddled and slogan-ridden politics which disfigures the British Indian territory….I, therefore, feel no hesitation whatsoever in justifying the present policy of the Nepal Government to maintain friendly relations with the British Government...It is not impossible that Nepal may even be called upon to control the destiny of India itself.”
At the very least, Savarkar argued, the British should reward Nepal for its loyalty by handing over to them some territories on the borders of Bihar and Punjab: “I tender on behalf of Hindudom as a whole our most loyal homage to his Majesty the King of Nepal...Keeping the ultimate goal of Hindu regeneration full in view, it was no doubt wise under the present circumstances that the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal should have chosen to ally herself with the British Government during this war and sent our brave Goorkha armies to protect Indian Frontiers and to some other theatres of war to check new alien invasions. The British Government too would do well to recompense for this effective assistance they receive at the hands of His Majesty the King of Nepal by restoring to Nepal at least those district in Bihar and on the borders of the Punjab which were a part of the Kingdom of Nepal only a century ago and were then annexed by the British.” (Savarkar, Presidential Address to the 23rd Session of the Hindu Mahasabha, Bhagalpur—1941)
Supporting Travancore's Bid to Be a Hindu Nation Independent of India
Will the RSS tell us why Savarkar (together with Jinnah) supported the cause of a separate “Hindu State of Travancore”? Was this not a bid to keep India in ‘tukde-tukde’ (pieces), as long as the separate pieces were Hindu nations?! In other words, Hindu supremacists like Savarkar and the RSS preferred keeping India in pieces ruled by Hindu kings if the alternative was a secular, united, democratic India.
The same RSS that attacks Kashmir for asserting its right to self-determination, is quite happy to idolise Savarkar who wanted Travancore to remain independent of India!
A.G. Noorani (‘A National Hero?’ Frontline, Oct 23-Nov 5, 2004), writes:
“Towards our Independence, Mountbatten once in private mooted a plan to Nehru (on May 10, 1947) for transfer of power directly to each of the Provinces of British India leaving it to them to decide whether to form a Union or not. This was a sure recipe for Balkanisation of India. Nehru vehemently opposed the plan. Nehru demanded and obtained transfer of power directly to the Union of India. (The Transfer of Power in India by V.P. Menon; 1957; page 361).
“At that time, C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, the repressive Dewan of the state of Travancore and who was detested by its people, plotted secretly to declare Travancore independent of India. On June 11, 1947, he announced the State’s decision to declare itself independent once the British quit India. (“C.P. and independent Travancore”, Frontline, July 4, 2003). The people whom he had subjected to brutal repression were dead against this course. It is interesting to note that both Jinnah and Savarkar welcomed the move of the Dewan. Jinnah welcomed this move in a cable dated June 20, 1947. That very day C.P. received a cable from Savarkar, who enthusiastically supported “the far-sighted and courageous determination to declare the independence of our Hindu State of Travancore”. One wonders “what would have happened to India’s unity if other princes had followed this course. Fortunately, Travancore acceded to India and C.P. had to quit the State.”
On India's Flag
RSS icon Savarkar asserted that the tricolour can never be recognised as the National Flag of “Hindusthan” (the term he and the RSS used for India as a Hindu Nation, to be distinguished from “Hindustan”, the term derived from Persian, widely used for India):
“It (the tricolour) can never be recognised as the National Flag of Hindusthan ... the authoritative flag of Hindusthan our Motherland and Holyland, ... can be no other than the Bhagava (saffron flag)... Hindudom at any rate can loyally salute no other Flag but this Pan-Hindu Dhwaja, this Bhagava Flag as its national Standard.” (S.S. Savarkar edited, Historic Statements by Veer Savarkar (1967), p. 127)
Savarkar Wanted Manusmriti As India's Lawbook
Like RSS, Savarkar too demanded the anti-women, anti-Dalit Manusmriti to be enshrined as Hindu Law:
“Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshipable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.” (Savarkar, V. D., ‘Women in Manusmriti’ in Savarkar Samagar, Vol. 4 (Collection of Savarkar’s Writings in Hindi) New Delhi: Prabhat, p. 416.)
So much for BJP’s claims today that Savarkar supported Dalit liberation and opposed the caste system!
On Two-Nation Theory
Savarkar was a firm advocate of the two-nation theory. Three years before Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan in 1940, Savarkar supported the two-nation theory while addressing the 19th Session of Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in 1937:
“As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India. Several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supporting that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for mere wish do so. … India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.” (Collected Works of Savarkar, Hindu Mahasabha, Poona, 1963, p. 296)
Savarkar Supported Jinnah in a Conference in Nagpur on 15 August 1943 said:
“I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations” (Indian Annual Register, 1943, Vol II, p. 10)
Hindu Nation Model: Nazi Germany
Savarkar termed Hitler’s fascism ‘the most congenial tonic’ for India:
“There is no reason to suppose that Hitler must be a human monster because he passes off as a Nazi...The very fact that Germany and Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded.” (Savarkar in his Presidential address to the 22 Session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Madurai in 1940.)
Hindu Nation Model: Racist Laws In 1940s USA
In 1944, the well-known American war correspondent Tom Treanor interviewed Savarkar. He wrote about the interview in his book, One Damn Thing After Another: The Adventures of an Innocent Man Trapped Between Public Relations and the Axis (Doubleday, Doran and Co, New York, 1944).
Treanor asked Savarkar, “How do you plan to treat the Mohammedans?” Savarkar replied, “As a minority - in the position of your Negroes.”
Proponent of Rape as a Communal Weapon
In his magnum opus, Six Golden Epochs of Indian History (Translated and edited from the original 1966 Marathi edition by ST Godbole, published Rajdhani Granthagar, New Delhi 1971) Savarkar spent many pages constructing a mythology of how Muslims have raped Hindu women, and builds a case for why Hindu males must shed their ‘perverse, distorted’ hesitations, and must be ready to rape Muslim women. He lamented that “because of the then prevalent suicidal ideas about chivalry to women, which ultimately proved highly detrimental to the Hindu community” Hindu rulers like Shivaji nor Chinaji Appa could not “rape Muslim women.”
Hatred Towards Ambedkar and Buddhism
In his fascist project of creating ‘enemies within the nation’, Savarkar’s targets were not solely Muslims. Provoked no doubt by the campaign of conversion to Buddhism led by the Dalit liberator B.R. Ambedkar, Savarkar’s Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History also targets Buddhists. He refers to the “ancestral treachery of Buddhists”, and explains that “Pushyamitra (Shunga) and his chieftains had to hang Indian Buddhists for anti-state activities, and had to destroy their Sanghas which had become centers of anti-state activities. This was the just punishment for treachery and joining hands with enemies, required to safeguard the Indian empire and its independence. This was not religious persecution” (ibid, p. 83-85).
The saffron fascists’ habit of justifying communal pogroms by accusing non-Hindu minorities of being ‘anti-national’ and their madarsas etc … of being ‘dens of anti-national activities’ is obviously not limited to modern India. Savarkar’s theory of cultural nationalism embraced by the RSS-BJP, allows him to find the equivalents of ‘ISI agents’ even in ancient India, and to defend the Shungas’ persecution of Buddhists using the same logic that the Sangh does to defend the Gujarat genocide or POTA today.
With all this venom against Buddhists, Savarkar however seeks to appropriate the Buddha for Hinduism! He gloats, “But what happened to the Buddhist cult and Lord Buddha himself in India in the end ? Just as a stream separated from the River Bhagirathi should flow separately some miles away and once again should leap as a tributary into the same Bhagirathi, the Buddhist cult born out of the Vedic Hinduism merged in the end in the same Hindu religion; and Lord Buddha himself was established as the tenth of the Godly Avatars and was Hinduized.”
In the same treatise, he refers to Ambedkar as a “Hindu-hater”, and insists that Buddhists encouraged rather than weakened untouchability.
Savarkar: Suspected Mastermind of Gandhi's Assassination
Digambar Badge, an arms dealer regularly selling weapons to the Hindu Mahasabha, and a co-conspirator in Gandhi’s assassination who turned approver in Court, testified that it was Savarkar who gave the green signal for the assassination. Just before the first attempt on Gandhi’s life, he witnessed Savarkar bidding Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse goodbye at his home with the blessing, “Yashasvi houn ya (Be successful and come)”. Apte told Badge that Savarkar had okayed the assassination of Gandhi.
In a letter to Nehru on February 27 1948, Sardar Vallabhai Patel – then the deputy prime minister and Union home minister, and chief prosecutor of the Gandhi assassination case, stated his conviction that Savarkar was the mastermind:
“It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”
Savarkar’s defence against Badge’s testimony was shifty. Robert Payne, in his book The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, summarised Savarkar’s defence thus:
“He had never met with the conspirators; if he did then the meeting had nothing to do with the conspiracy; he never came down the stairs; if he did, and if he spoke the parting words, ‘Be successful and come back,’ then it must be understood that he was talking about something entirely remote from the conspiracy…Savarkar took each sentence (of Badge) out of its context and showed that it was devoid of any precise meaning.”
The court found Badge to be a truthful witness, and the circumstantial evidence against Savarkar to be “impressive” - but in the absence of independent corroboration by other witnesses, he did not convict Savarkar.
In 1969 however, the Kapur Commission of enquiry found two independent corroborative witnesses whose testimonies would have established Savarkar’s guilt had they testified during the trial. Based on the statements of Savarkar’s bodyguard, Appa Ramchandra, and Savarkar’s secretary, Gajanan Vishnu Damle, Justice Kapur’s Commission concluded that “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”
When the Vajpayee Government installed a portrait of Savarkar in Parliament in 2003, Vishwanath Mathur – a freedom fighter from Bhagat Singh’s party who had also been incarcerated in the Andaman cellular jail – protested, saying “This government is determined to legitimise a symbol of national shame. Not only did he beg for mercy from the British and was an accused in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, he was also a proponent of the two nation theory.”
The Modi regime and the BJP has made Sadhvi Pragya, who said Gandhi’s assassin Godse was a patriot, an MP. They cannot yet openly propose a Bharat Ratna for Godse, or declare Gandhi an “anti-national”. A Bharat Ratna for Savarkar is the closest the BJP can get to openly endorsing Sadhvi Pragya’s worldview that Gandhi’s assassins and stooges of the British Raj are ‘patriots’.