Subhash Gatade. Foot-soldiers in Search of an Icon

First posted May 31, 2014

“The epitaph for the RSS volunteer will be that he was born, he joined the RSS and died without accomplishing anything.”-V. D. Savarkar: D.V. Kelkar, The R.S.S. Economic Weekly (4 Feb 1950: 132); p. 36; The Brotherhood in Saffron; Andersen and Damle,Vistaar, 1986, Delhi)

I / Celebrations at the central hall of Parliament are a marker of the political ambience in the country. The change of guard at the centre was very much visible at the place recently where the entire top brass of BJP including PM Narendra Modi were present to celebrate the birth anniversary of Savarkar. Modi described Savarkar as a prolific writer, poet and social reformer. “Tributes to Veer Savarkar on his birth anniversary. We remember and salute his tireless efforts towards the regeneration of our motherland.”

People would recall that normally it used to be a low-key event. Last year, the celebrations were further muted. Only few prominent leaders of the BJP were present there. The ascendance of BJP led government had clearly made the difference.

A trip down memory lane would tell us that even for the Sangh Parivar and its affiliated organisations this has not been the case always. The iconisation of Savarkar in the Parivar is not very old. Late nineties when Shiv Sena-BJP ran a coalition government in Maharashtra they did not even think of putting his portrait in the state the assembly. For them this discovery of Savarkar happened during the BJP led NDA regime at the centre (1998-2004).

Perhaps neither Modi nor any of his cabinet colleagues, most of whom started their social political life in the RSS or Rashtra Sevika Samity ( which is meant for women of the Hindutva brigade), would like to remember today that they are singing paens to the man who when alive had castigated the Hedgewars-Gurujis’ – founders and pioneers of RSS – and their Swaymsevaksumpteen times ( Sample the quote above) and the Hedgewars’-Golwalkars’ had also returned the compliment in the same vein.

Even a cursory glance at the trajectory of Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Savarkar or the way in which RSS unfolded itself during those days makes it quite clear that the differences in priorities between the two organisations was already visible from the day Savarkar was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha after his release from jail ( 1937).In a sympathetic study of RSS  “The Brotherhood in Saffron,The RSS and The Hindu Revivalism,” the authors Andersen and Damle clearly explain (Page 40, Vistaar, 1986, Delhi) that in fact Savarkar’s emphasis was on turning Mahasabha into a political party in opposition to the Congress when Hedgewars’ had already decided to insulate RSS from any active politics and concentrate on ‘cultural work’. Hedgewar and later Golwalkar also neither wanted to be associated with a formation whose confrontational activities would place the RSS in direct opposition to the Congress. According to him there were apprehensions regarding each other’s role in the Hindu Unification Movement. The souring of relations between the two organisations is visible in a angry letter issued by Savarkar’s office in 1940 advising that

“..When there is such a serious conflict at a particular locality between any of the branches of the Sangh RSS and the Hindu Sabhaites that actual preaching is carried out against the Hindu Mahasabha …, then the Hindu Sabhaites should better leave the Sangh …and start their own Hindu Sabha volunteer corps.( Letter from V.D.Savarkar to S.L.Mishra, 3 March 1943, Savarkar files, Bombay) “

Definitely the fact that this ‘Veer Patriot’ ( to quote title of a write-up which appeared in ‘Panchajanya’ sometime back discussing Savarkar) died a lonely man abhorred especially by the thriving ‘Parivar’ then, which made special efforts to maintain distance from him in those days, did not bother these ‘legatees’ then. It did not pertrub their conscience a bit that it took more than thirty four long years after his death that they ultimately decided to claim their lineage from this pioneer of the Hindutva project.

Just to recapitulate, a decade back, when the Vajpayi led NDA was ousted out and UPA I led by Congress, had assumed reins of power a controversy had erupted about removal of Savarkar’s plaque from Port Blair’s cellular jail where Savarkar was jailed, Vikram Savarkar, Savarkar’s own nephew in an interview to a national daily exposed BJP’s lack of interest in him and castigated them for their sudden love for him. (Savarkar nephew hits out at BJP, August 30, 2004, Indian Express)

It may be noted that he had accused the senior leaders of the BJP for ‘keeping mum despite noticing the removal of his uncle’s quotations from Port Blair’s Cellular Jail’. According to him Ram Kapse, the then incumbent Lt. governor of Andaman and Nicobar and former M.P Ram Naik ( both BJP workers) “..did not utter a word when the plaque was removed.” The report further says that ,’ ..he is not surprised at BJP’s lack of interest in Savarkar. “We know very well that the BJP and RSS did not appreciate his (Savarkar’s) philosophy.”..’ ..The report further says that ‘ (Vikram- author) Savarkar insists BJP’s sudden love for the legend is an eyewash.’ “It is an effort to woo voters for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra.”

II / Of course even a layperson can understand that this ‘discovery of Savarkar’ which happened in late 90s or or the first decade of the 21 st century and the memory recall experienced by the R/SS brigade vis-a-vis Savarkar did not have spiritual but purely temporal considerations. As an aside it need be mentioned here that Savarkar’s portrait was unveiled in the Parliament in the year 2003 – exactly five years after they BJP came to power at the centre.It is clear that apart from the immediate task on hand this complete claim over Savarkar’ serves a larger purpose for them and it relates to their utter compromising role during the anti-colonial struggle.

“Many people worked with the inspiration to free the country by throwing the British out.After formal departure of the British this inspiration slackened.In fact there was no need to have this much inspiration.We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of the freedom of the country through defending religion and culture. There is no mention of departure of the British in that”. – M.S. Golwalkar alias Golwalkar Guruji ( Sri Guruji Samgra Darshan,Volume IV, p.2 )

“ In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh decided not to do anything directly”.  – M.S. Golwalkar alias Golwalkar Guruji ( Sri Guruji Samgra Darshan, p.41)

Everybody knows that the RSS came into being in the mid twenties when the anticolonial struggle was surging ahead but preferred to keep itself aloof from this upsurge and concentrate on its supposedly ‘cultural work’. Not even once during this twentyplus year journey till we reached independence did it give any call specifically opposing the Britishers, rather it penalised those activists who wanted to participate in the people’s movement for freedom. Even its founder Mr Hedgewar went to jail only once after the founding of RSS and that also under the Congress banner.  It has been well documented how sheepish their behaviour was during those days when even the secret  reports of the Britishers did not write anything averse about them. The Britishers even ‘appreciated’ their immediate compliance when they were ordered to stop military type training in the late 30s. Not content with their opposition / non participation in the independence movement they even made special efforts to break the broad anti imperialist unity of the Indian people by dividing them on communal lines.

Anybody can vouch that this ‘controversial past’ of theirs cannot be erased from public memory. The ‘iconisation’ and the ‘glorification’ of Savarkar thus serves a dual purpose.The projection of Savarkar as a great freedom fighter and claiming lineage from him whitewashes the ‘Parivar’s’ silence during those stormy days then and Savarkar’s later transformation from a nationalist  into a Hindutva Supremacist serves them equally well.

It is also evident that there are many aspects of Savarkar’s life which they find rather discomfiting. In fact, it would not be incorrect to state that they find themselves in catch 22 situation while defending him e.g. The controversy surrounding the clemency petitions sent by Savarkar to the Britishers for his release while he was in the Andamans still simmers. While his detractors have been able to show his clearcut surrender before the Britishers by presenting documentary proofs which includes Savarkar’s own petitions his die hard supporters have rather adopted a more ‘flexible’ strategy to buttress their case. Initially they challenged the vearcity of his clemency petitions themselves but when that could not be sustained they have portrayed the whole exercise as a tactical move on his part to get out of  jails so that he could join the struggle outside. In fact this whole exercise to discover ‘tactics’ behind Savarkar’s petitions for clemency are a great insult to the memory of those known and unknown revolutionaries who braved heavy odds to persist in their struggle many of which embraced death rather than seek amnesty.

Definitely there are many loopholes in this defence. One is surprised to find that a leader of his stature whose heroic deeds in the prime of his youth for the cause of freedom struggle had electrified the nation had started sending letters of apology and demanding amnesty immediately after being sent to Andamans as part of his punishment for life imprisonment. He even disregarded the fact that an All India Defence Committee had already come up for his release and the Congress Party then had urgently taken up his case before the British regime.But as the book ‘Penal Settlement in Andamans’ by Mr R.C. Mazumdar ( Gazettees Unit, Department of Culture, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Govt of India, 1975, P.221) vividly demonstrates he was really so demoralised with the tough conditions existing there that he promised to serve the government in any capacity in exchange of his release.

Sample this concluding part of a mercy petition which Savarkar personally presented to Sir Reginald Craddock, Home Member of the Government of India when he came to visit Cellular Jail in 1913 (November 14, 1913). The mercy petition concluded with the following words :

I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientous so I hope my future conduct would be. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government.

(R.C. Mazumdar, op cit. Page 213)

The assassination of one of the noblest sons of the Indian people namely Mahatma Gandhi and the role played by Savarkar in it has also been a major controversy revolving about it. Despite enough evidence to show that he had a hand in the conspiracy to kill the Mahatma, his supporters have glossed over all the facts on mere technical grounds.

Kapur commission also examined Savarkar’s role in the assassination. As things had unfolded in the trial court of Atma Charan, Godse had claimed full responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack, in absence of an independent corroboration of the prosecution witness. Here Badge’s testimony was not accepted as it lacked lacked independent corroboration. This was later corroborated by the testimony of two of Savarkar’s close aides – Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary, who had not testified in the original trial but later testified before the Justice Kapur commission set up in 1965. Kasar told the Kapur Commission that they visited him on or about January 23 or 24, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden.

Justice Kapur concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

First terrorist of independent India

A few other crucial aspects of his personality which could help us in reaching a balanced conclusion have either not been considered or have been dropped as irrelevant for the debate. It is time one revisits some of these aspects and also take a fresh look at his weltanshaung (world view) through which many of the tragic as well as bloody events in the history of Independent India can be foretold.

In fact the myth makers engaged in building a ‘halo’ around Savarkar about his ‘bravery’ do not want to uncover that he preceded Jinnah in propounding the ‘two nation theory’.If Jinnah is portrayed as a ‘villain’ in the  popular imagery supposedly for demanding partition how it is proper to wrap Savarkar in the garb of hero if he was the one who forcefully laid down the principle much before him. The presidential address delivered by him in Ahmedabad at the 19 th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 not only explained his understanding of Hindutva but also declared that India comprises of two nations. According to him

there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India, several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so.These our wellmeaning but unthinking  friends take their dreams for realities.That is why they are impatient of communal tangles and attribute them to communal organizations. But the solid fact is that the so-called communal questions are but a legacy handed down  to us by centuries of cultural, religious and national antagonism between the Hindus and Moslems … India can not 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.

V. D. Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya Hindu Rasthra Darshan (Collected works of V.D.Savarkar) Vol VI, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p 296

It is now history how in 1942 when the Britishers were engaged in the World War II and the Congress’s call for ‘Quit India’ reverbated throughout India, thousands of people engaged in government jobs including police and military left their jobs to protest continuation of British regime. It is worth noting that while the RSS preferred to keep itself aloof from the ‘Quit India Movement’ and concentrate on its divisive agenda when the broad masses of the Indian people were figthing the Britishers the pioneer theoretician of the project of HinduRashtra went one step further. At that time ‘Veer’ Savarkar preferred to tour India asking Hindu youth to join the military with a call ‘Militarise the Hindus, Hinduise the nation’ .. 

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Also see: 

The law of killing: A brief history of Indian fascism / Kannan Srinivasan: A Subaltern Fascism?

The pre-history of anti-blasphemy activism in Pakistan

A  subaltern fascism? – by Kannan Srinivasan

 This is an examination of certain aspects of the history of the Hindu Mahasabha and the political career of its sometime leader, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. By the time he came to head the Mahasabha in 1937 it had been in existence for two decades, but his agenda directly opposed to the Congress and the Muslim League and to the national movement for independence. A former revolutionary terrorist, Savarkar had been incarcerated in the Andamans Cellular Jail after being sentenced in December 1910 to transportation for life and forfeiture of property for masterminding the conspiracy to assassinate A.M.T Jackson ICS, Collector of Nasik in Bombay Presidency in December 1909 and conveying the revolver employed for that purpose. 

In prison he became persuaded that the enemy was not the British but the Muslims and accordingly won increasing privileges. Released from imprisonment to detention, he asked for and was paid a pension, and was permitted to conduct anti-Muslim propaganda. Released from detention by the provincial Congress Government, he headed the Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942, when it set out a programme to arm Hindus against Muslims by recruiting them to the Indian army, promoting military education, influencing the administration of the princely states including their armies, gaining access to weaponry from their state forces to harass Muslims, obtaining arms licenses from sympathetic Congress ministers, attempting to set up a munitions factory at Gwalior in the expectation of support of the Darbars and the Birla industrial group, and exploring contacts with European fascists. 

None of this was discouraged by the British, who at the very same time suppressed anti-Nazi propaganda by left and liberal organisations. Despite its earlier praise for Mussolini and Hitler the Mahasabha hailed the proclamation of the new state of Israel in 1948 and promised it support. I shall argue that the Mahasabha pioneered what might be termed a subaltern fascism

Savarkar’s exemplary conduct in jail won him favour. When World War One began, he protested his desire to serve the war effort and asked for amnesty: 

The siding of Turkey with Germany as against England, roused all my suspicions about Pan-Islamism and I scented in that move a future danger to India. I…feared that in this grim struggle between two mighty powers the Muslims in India might find their devils opportunity to invite the Muslim hordes from the North to ravage India and to conquer it.”

To combat this he proposed a new British union with her imperial subjects where, from Ireland to India,

an empire would emerge from the process, which can no longer be the British Empire. Until it assumed any other suitable name, it might well be called “The Aryan Empire”.

Savarkar’s petition of 30 March 1920 claims that since he was ‘without danger to the State’, he should be granted a reprieve; for, far from espousing

the militant school of the Bukanin (sic) type…I do not contribute even to the peaceful and philosophical anarchism of a Kropotkin or a Tolstoy.

Accordingly, he promised that his release would be

a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive to kindness, so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future

George Lloyd, Governor of Bombay, later Lord Lloyd, an influential British imperialist who later  administered Egypt and a supporter of fascist movements in his subsequent political career, was persuaded not by Savarkar’s grand designs but by the use to which he could be put as a former revolutionary. Accordingly, the Government periodically reviewed his loyalty. Only its assurance ensured each improvement in his living conditions and successive reductions in his sentence.

To disarm any suspicion that may yet linger in the Government Quarters, the petitioner begs to solemnly pledge his word of honour that he shall cease to take any part in politics whatever.

Thus Savarkar is said to have renounced all

methods of violence resorted to in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and a constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the reform a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in future.

A new politics

He was released on 4th January 1924. He then published the lessons of his experience in the Andamans, which were that through his struggles he had managed to overcome every humiliation inflicted by the Muslim staff and prisoners and persuaded the prison management to appoint him to run the key operations of the prison and subordinate the Muslims to him, thus creating ‘Hindu rule’… 

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Hitler’s annihilation of the Romanis : “I as a German prefer much more to see India under British Government than under any other…I must not connect the fate of the German people with these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ who are clearly of racial inferiority” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, German edition, p. 747)