Veer Savarkar talked of a Hindu nation and Hindu awareness for the national cause to fight the British out.
India’s political discourse is changing, with the change in the complexion of power—a process that began in 2014 and now re-affirmed in 2019. Today the historical narrative of Indian nationalism and national movement that led to freedom and vivisection of the country so meticulously built around Mahatma Gandhi is being questioned with the focus clearly shifted to Hindutva ideologues like V.D. Savarkar.
A revolutionary and a literary genius, Veer Savarkar (1883-1966) was an anti-thesis of Gandhi. Deeply influenced by Lokmanya Tilak and Mahadev Govind Ranade, he started the “Abhinav Bharat” society while studying at Fergusson College, Pune. After graduation, he went to England to obtain a degree of Bar-at-Law. In London he opened a branch of Abhinav Bharat, of which Madan Lal Dhingra was also a member.
It was here that the ideological conflict between Gandhi, considered a pacifist and British loyalist, and firebrand Savarkar came to light. Savarkar’s fiery anti-British speeches in the numerous discussions at “India House” were never liked by Gandhi. Savarkar also made no bones about his conviction that Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence was “absolute sinful” (Dhananjay Keer: Savarakar and His Times, Bombay, 1950).
Savarkar exhorted young men to join the police and the armed forces. He also supported Subhas Chandra Bose in his armed struggle against the British. The effectiveness of this policy became evident from the Churchill-Attlee debate over India in the aftermath of the Second World War. Attlee, the then Prime Minister of Britain, told Churchill that it was becoming increasingly difficult to retain India, as there was a sentiment of revolt in the armed forces, particularly in the Navy, where there had been stray incidents of small mutinies by Indian marines stationed in British vessels.
Savarkar strongly opposed the Gandhian policy of Muslim appeasement. According to Prof Bal Raj Madhok, Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat Movement to win over the friendship of Muslims reversed the process of their Indianisation. The Khilafat movement was spearheaded by fanatic mullahs and maulanas, with the intention to put pressure on the British government to restore the institution of Khilafat, which was abolished after the defeat of Turkey in the First World War, and to dismember the Turkish empire. It concerned a declaredly religious question arising from extra-territorial loyalty of Muslims to the Sultan of Turkey as Khalifa of Islam. It was financed, organised and publicised by the Congress under the leadership of Gandhi all over the country. Its fanatic leaders like Maulana Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali carried the message of holy war, jihad, against the Christian British and roused religious sentiments of illiterate and partially Indianised Muslims of the remotest areas. The resultant “Islamic consciousness” as distinct from the “national or Hindu consciousness” spread the poison of separatism among Indian Muslims that eventually led to the two-nation theory and Partition.
Sensing the threat to India’s unity and to counter the threat of the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, Savarkar wrote his treatise, Hindutva in 1923, in which he spoke of Hindu consciousness imbued in the spirit of Bharat Varsha.
In Hindutva he wrote: “Thus the actual essentials of Hindutva are the ideal essentials of nationality. If we would we can build on this foundation of Hindutva a future greater what any other people can dream of—greater even than our own past; provided we are able to utilise our opportunities.” (English Tr. In Sources of Indian Tradition. VOl. II ed. Stephen Hay.)
However, the political ideal of Savarkar was that of militant Hindu nationalism. He wanted India to be independent and territorially united. He did not rule out support to military rule if it was good for the health of the nation. He considered dictatorship of a benevolent ruler helpful when the nation was in a welcoming mood.
While Savarkar talked of a Hindu nation and Hindu awareness for national cause to fight the British out, in free India the Hindutva ideology was redefined and advanced by Prof Bal Raj Madhok as evident from his books, India on the Cross-roads (1946), Hindu Rashtra (1955), Indianisation (1969) and Rationale of Hindu State (1982). He spoke of the concept of not just Hindu nation, but also Hindu nation state. In fact, most of the arguments that political leaders have been citing on Hindu nationalism like the oft-quoted one on the Christian character of UK and yet it being a truly secular state is drawn from Prof Madhok’s Rationale of Hindu State.
Prof Madhok argued that a Hindu State shall be democratic and not theocratic. It will be truly secular in character as there will be no discrimination between one citizen and another on the basis of religion; all will be equal before the law and, above all, there will be equal laws for all. “Hindu tradition of freedom of thought and tolerance for opposition and dissent will act as a bulwark against any kind of unbridled autocracy or dictatorship.” (Prof Bal Raj Madhok in Rationale of Hindu State.)