Veer savarkar is one of the most controversial figures in pre-independence India with an equally devout body of followers and those who oppose him. Information Commissioner Ouday Mahurkar recent book – Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition – has once again sparked debate about Savarkar and his views. In a conversation with Amandeep Shukla, Mahurkar explains why he considers Savarkar’s views, especially the strategic view, to be important. Edited excerpts:
Some see Savarkar as a hero while many others take the opposite view. Why did you choose it as a subject?
I have known Savarkar since I was a child. My father was a congressional man, but he used to tell me that Congress and the nation had done Savarkar a great injustice. I started reading Savarkar more closely about 25 years ago. In 2003 attacks suddenly began against Savarkar whom he apologized for and was a divisive figure. There was an attempt to pit Savarkar and Bhagat Singh against each other by saying that Bhagat Singh did not apologize but Savarkar did.
There was a grand conspiracy to vilify Savarkar by those who survive on fragmented India. My reference is to those who refuse to condemn China even after its aggression against India, the parties that survive on the banking policy of votes, Muslim votes to be precise. Savarkar is the greatest symbol of the unity and integrity of India. If you read our book, we made it clear. We highlighted his efforts to prevent partition, his vision for India. If we had followed his vision of national security and diplomacy, India would already have been a superpower.
You talked about keeping the country together. Many people think that Savarkar’s views on Muslims were not very charitable. That they would not have had their rightful place in society.
This is again part of the smear campaign against him. You can’t repeat a word or two to define a person, especially someone who has written over 6,000 pages in their lifetime.
In his Hindu Manifesto, Savarkar says that all religions and castes will have equal rights in Bharatvarsha or Hindu Rashtra. He goes further and says that if anyone tries to obstruct the prayers of religious minorities, the state will step in and protect them. But he also warns that the nation would not allow the creation of a nation within a nation on behalf of the religious minority.
Sadly, this is the history of India over the past seventy years. Ten years after the start of partition, Pandit Nehru forged an electoral alliance in Kerala with the Muslim League, the very party that was responsible for partition. Thus, there was a policy of Muslim appeasement which continued after independence.
You speak of Muslim appeasement. But on the other side, it is also a question of liberating Hindu religious places. Don’t you think this leads to a feeling of insecurity among ordinary Muslims?
Let me first address the previous question. Savarkar went to Lahore as Hindu President Mahasabha in 1938. There, journalists asked him why you and Jinnah are determined to divide the country along communal lines. Savarkar’s response was very pointed. “Jinnah and I are not birds of the same feather,” he said.
While Jinnah is for more and more concessions to Muslims at the expense of Hindu rights, I am for equal treatment for all. In 1939, when the Shiites of Lucknow passed a resolution that any Muslim slaughtering a cow would be considered an enemy of Hindu-Muslim unity, Savarkar publicly welcomed the move. When another resolution was passed that Muslims would not object to Hindus going through processions with musical instruments near the mosque, Savarkar went further and assured them that we would try to convince Hindus do not deliberately pass processions near mosques.
As for the feeling of insecurity among Muslims, that is largely propaganda. What is happening to Hindus in parts of Kerala, the predominantly Muslim areas, is hidden by some of the media. But, yes, those who physically assault Muslims for no reason in the name of Hindutva are not following Savarkar.
You mentioned a conspiracy to defame Savarkar. Do you think there is a bias against Savarkar or RSS icons?
A very common argument against RSS, Savarkar is that they did not participate in the freedom movement. It is a total falsification of history. There are many instances where RSS swayamsewaks have been actively involved in the struggle for freedom. Their names appear in the secret files of the British. When meeting Shimla in 1945, Lord Wavell, when asked by NV Khare why Hindu Mahasabha had not been invited, said that Hindu Mahasabha is a greater enemy of the British than Congress. It was just before the score. This incident exposes all the propaganda against RSS and Savarkar.
Savarakar filed requests for pardon. A lot of people say it doesn’t show it in a good light …
This is yet another misinterpretation of history and the failure of those who support Savarkar to present his case properly. Savarkar attempted to escape British detention as he was brought in from England. His famous diving at sea and his attempt to escape British detention by disembarking at the port of Marseille in France are well known. However, we have to understand that Savarkar was a disciple of Chhatrapati Shivaji and therefore you cannot weigh Savarkar with Gandhi’s tools.
Many people do not know that Chhatrapati Shivaji, when he left the world, ruled over a large area. The length of his kingdom was 1600 kilometers. Such a great warrior offered at least five apologies to Aurangzeb during his lifetime. However, behind each of his excuses was a Chanakya neeti, a strategy. He had set a target of Hindavi Swarajya. He used the apology as a tool and saw it as a fair game against Aurangzeb, a person who had presided over his own father’s death.
Savarkar made no secret of the fact that he was following Shivaji. In one of his books in Marathi, he says he will convince his revolutionary colleagues not to rot in jail and to run away by submitting requests for clemency. Many people were released on his advice, but he couldn’t because the British were too afraid of him. It was a rule at the time that those who had spent five years in rigorous imprisonment inside the prison could live with their families in a settlement outside the Andamans prison. However, Reginal Craddock, a member of the house at the time, wrote a letter saying this should not be extended to Savarkar who has revolutionary friends in Europe and who would bring a ship and release it.
Why do you think some people wanted to demonize Savarkar?
Some people have tried to demonize Savarkar because they wanted to prevent him from becoming an icon for future generations. Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra had space for Muslims who wanted to stay in the mainstream. Some felt that if Muslims and Christians also began to lean towards Savarkar, their game would measure up. Savarkar was the greatest enemy of Muslim appeasement. He had warned Congress in 1937 that if he continued to indulge in Muslim appeasement, India would pay a heavy price.
And in 1940, when the Muslim League passed the Pakistan resolution, congressional leaders said it would happen on our corpses. At that time, Savarkar said that you will have to curb your policy of Muslim appeasement or you will not be able to avoid partition.
Did Gandhi advise Savarkar on the pardon requests? What does your research say?
Savarkar and members of his family had filed several requests for clemency. While there is some confusion over the exact number, they may have filed ten petitions. In 1921, a family member, Narayan Rao Savarkar, contacted Gandhiji and asked him to do something for the release of the Savarkar brothers. Gandhiji advised him to continue filing requests for pardon. And he also wrote an article in Young India, where he wrote that if Bhai Parmanand could be released on the basis of a petition, why not the Savarkar brothers? Gandhiji supported his requests for pardon.
What material did you use for your research?
We relied on a lot of Marathi material that was not presented to people. The first biography of Savarkar written by Dhanajay Keer is also one of our sources. We also relied on his speeches.
There was a huge debate over Savarkar after your book came out. Are you planning to write on other topics as well?
We have called this book a guide to preventing another possible partition of the country. I and my co-author Chirayu Pandit firmly believe that if you are to defeat anti-national forces, you must follow Veer Savarkar’s vision. My next book would be on Chhatrapati Shivaji.
What exactly was the relationship between Savarkar and Gandhi?
Their ideologies were totally different when it comes to national security. Gandhiji’s good work, no one can question it. Savarkar never asked questions. In fact, there are many occasions when Savarkar has been very gentle with Gandhiji when he was an ideological rival. In the 1940s, when Gandhiji was very serious about one of his fasts, Savarkar called him a national asset. This time, all the leaders had some mutual admiration. Savarkar was against certain pacifist policies of Congress and its policy of Muslim appeasement. He called Muslim appeasement at the expense of Hindu rights a betrayal of the nation. He made a famous statement: I would like to be in the bottom row of patriots rather than the first row of traitors.
How did Gandhi see Savarkar?
Gandhiji liked Savarkar on many issues even though they disagreed on many things. Gandhiji believed in the positive side of the caste system, while Savarkar, as a modernist, believed in it
To concern Weighing Veer Savarkar with Gandhi’s tools is an injustice: Uday Mahurkar