Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A tribute to Prophet Savarkar: Ashok Malik

The 125th birth anniversary of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar falls on 28 May 2008. It is a fitting occasion to remember the man and his manifold contribution to the Hindu Nation.

Savarkar was born when India was under British yoke. Savarkar was clear that a nation in bondage can never achieve her destiny. He was also clear that freedom cannot be attained through pleas and petitions but by self-sacrifice. Savarkar belongs to a rare breed of Indian patriots who pledged to serve their motherland while still in childhood. What is more, he stood by his pledge till his last breath. Savarkar was among the first to place the case for India's freedom at the international level. He established contacts with revolutionaries from different countries to achieve this goal. At a time when British rule was still widely regarded as a divine blessing and Dominion Status was discussed in hushed tones, Savarkar fearlessly proclaimed absolute freedom as his goal. Savarkar had a clear vision of independent India even as a youth. He put forth the vision of a sovereign republic with Sanskritised Hindi as the national language and Devanagari as the national script.

In Savarkar's time, there was a debate about the relative importance of political struggle and social reform. Savarkar held that freedom won without social reform would not last for three days. Savarkar's thoughts and actions in the field of social reform are radical even by today's standards.

To Savarkar, freedom did not merely mean replacing the colonial masters with their brown-skinned versions. He meditated deeply on India's identity. To him, Hindutva was synonymous with India's nationhood. To a very large extent, the credit for elucidating the philosophy of Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism in modern times goes to Savarkar. To this day, the Hindu Revivalist movement owes its intellectual underpinnings to Savarkar.

Savarkar had to fight on various fronts. His opposition to the British rulers did not waver even after immense personal suffering. His campaign for social reform put him at loggerheads with conservative Hindus. His reasoned stand on ethics, truth, non-violence and Hindu-Muslim relations placed him in conflict with so-called political saints and their bumbling followers. His relentless and almost solitary opposition to Partition meant that he was at war with Islamists. Even decades after his death, Savarkar continues to be reviled by assorted secularists and leftists. Possible loss of power, popularity and prestige never stopped Savarkar from putting forth his views. Welfare of the people and not merely their praise was his guiding principle in these matters.

The Hindu nation can become resurgent once again only if it imbibes Savarkar's thoughts on different aspects of national life. Ours is a humble effort in that direction.

Other Updates:

Savarkar's historic book 'The War of Independence 1857' (Marathi version) and our website www.savarkar.org were inaugurated by the Hon. Chief Minister of Gujarat Shri Narendra Modi at a glittering function held on 24 May 2008 (Savarkar's anniversary as per Hindu calender) at the Ganesh Kala Krida Manch, Pune. Noted litterateur Ram Shewalkar and Shivshahir Babasaheb Purandare were also present

Savarkar.org Team

A tribute to Prophet Savarkar: Ashok Malik

The man who saw tomorrow

Ashok Malik (Pioneer, 28 May 2008)

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar would have been 125 today. In life, he was a demonised, marginalised 'political Hindu'. Yet, in contemporary India, Savarkar stands vindicated and Savarkarism is more accepted than ever before

In 2004, when the historian Ron Chernow wrote his eponymous biography of Alexander Hamilton, he was partly impelled by the sense that his subject had not been given his due. Hamilton was an American nationalist, a votary of federal institutions, a Republican, an advocate of limited Government and a patron of the industrial society before these terms were coined or at least entirely understood. He was also the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and a widely influential figure in the early years of the new republic.

Yet, over the decades, memories of Hamilton's contemporaries overwhelmed his legacy. He was America's forgotten Founding Father, lost in the crevices between George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Hamilton had opposed slavery even while his great rival Thomas Jefferson had kept slaves; yet, it wasn't Hamilton who was remembered by human rights chroniclers.

What Hamilton lost in life, Hamiltonism won in history. By the 20th century, Hamilton's ideas had triumphed. His initial postulates continue to define American strategic thinking, foreign policy and economic philosophy. Every White House resident in the past 20 years has paid homage to Ronald Reagan; Reagan himself often evoked Hamilton.

It is tempting to see Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who would have been 125 this morning, as an Indian Alexander Hamilton. By the time he died in 1966, he had shrunk to a limited presence. Surrounded only by a few devoted adherents and members of the Hindu Mahasabha, his writings read mainly by his fellow Maharastrians, his heroic role in the freedom movement had been effaced by official historians.

Savarkar was the intellectual equal of Jawaharlal Nehru. Revisit the writings of the stalwarts of the pre-1947 period and you will encounter few besides these two with a grasp and informed assessment of contemporary world affairs. Yet, in the hard, harsh world of politics and political ideas, Savarkar, by the 1960s, had lost to Nehru's cult and charisma.

There were many reasons why the Left-liberal intelligentsia, most of whom are, in some form or the other, pensioners of the Nehruvian state structure, despised Savarkar. For a start, he was flesh-and-blood refutation of the charge that Hindu nationalism lacked an intellectual tradition. Second, he represented a cogent and coherent position that believed the political choices India and the Congress had made in 1947 (or 1950 or 1952, after the first election) were not necessarily correct.

These were inconvenient truths for Nehruvian fellow travellers, Savarkar the inconvenient man. There was astonishing virulence towards Savarkar. Some, like the perverse and bigoted Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, even mocked the 10 years that Savarkar spent in Cellular Jail, Port Blair, in horrific conditions, alone in a tiny cell.

The antipathy to Savarkar has to be seen in a larger context. Post-independence, the Congress establishment sought to rewrite history in its own image. It determinedly underplayed the role of the early Indian elites -- the Poona Brahmins, Bombay's Parsi constitutionalists, Calcutta's Bengali and Brahmo activists -- who had dominated public life prior to the Mahatma's mass politics.

As the Congress set out to establish that there was no history and no freedom struggle before Gandhi, and no politics and no consciousness of modern India before Nehru, these pioneer groups became expendable. The Marxist historians who actually wrote the textbooks had their own theories. For instance, not just was Savarkar demonised, even the venerable Bal Gangadhar Tilak was painted in sectarian colours.

Even so, history has a strange way of getting back. Savarkar's idea of the political Hindu, of a polity and of political parties that would be sensitive to the Hindu cultural mainstay of Indian nationhood, that would, while eschewing ritualism and dogma, incorporate robust nationalism into policy-making, is more relevant than it has ever been. Nehruvianism is in retreat and, even though Savarkar has been dead 42 years, Savarkarism has never been more alive.

Written in 1923, Savarkar's slim tract, Hindutva, remains a remarkably contemporary articulation of organic nationalism. Indeed, it anticipates some of the ideas expanded upon by Samuel Huntington in Who Are We? (2004).

Leftist historians often divide Savarkar's life into two -- the supposedly "acceptable" first part, till the mid-1920s; and, his espousal of Hindutva after that. Actually, this division is bogus.

Admittedly, Savarkar's early life was one of a romantic revolutionary. As a student in London, he was in touch with Irish, Turkish and Chinese dissidents and rebels. In 1907, he wrote The War of Independence of 1857. The book was deeply researched and provided an interpretation of documents and events from the Indian perspective.

Admittedly, it is not the last word on the Indian Uprising. In hindsight, Savarkar could be accused of glossing over the differing motivations of the participants of the 1857 war and of being simplistic in believing that there was overwhelming consensus in re-establishing the Delhi throne as a Maratha protectorate -- as had been the case till 1803.

Nevertheless, this was a passionate young man of 24 writing the first non-imperial account of a dramatic struggle. It was passionate and pulsating, being smuggled to India wrapped in dust jackets saying Don Quixote and Pickwick Papers. The British Government arrested Savarkar and sought to send him to India to stand trial. At Marseilles, in a dramatic move, he squeezed out of the porthole and swam to the shore, claiming asylum from the French Government.

It was refused and he was re-arrested on French soil and handed over to the British. This was in breach of international law and among those who protested at Savarkar being denied asylum was Jean Longuet, French lawyer-editor and grandson of Karl Marx.

Savarkar was heavily influenced by Italian thinkers such as Mazzini. He saw Hindutva as an Indian Risorgimeto, conceptualising it as a reawakening of the national spirit and of a pride in, and understanding of, the territorial frontiers of India. He was not a religious sort and did not interpret 'Hindu' solely in terms of worship. He was an early opponent of Dalit exclusion, seeing a Hindu harmonisation process as essential to national unity.

Savarkar was often impatient with the RSS and it is piquant to compare him with MS Golwalkar, 'Guruji' as he is called and the man who made the Sangh the all-India institution that it is today. Savarkar was a thinker, Golwalkar a do-er; Savarkar was the rare Hindu mind who understood statecraft and the importance of state power, Golwalkar sought to change society by working bottom-up from grassroots communities. For Golwalkar (as for Gandhi), the Hindu was ascetic-exemplar; for Savarkar, he was warrior-ideal.

The two streams were not antithetical but clearly complementary. When they finally merged, consciously or otherwise, in the late-1980s, it changed Indian politics and moved the polity irrevocably to the Right. At its best, the BJP is a confluence of Savarkar and Golwalkar.

Savarkar had known it all along. Just before his death, in an emotional piece called "This, My Legacy", he had written: "If we are to live with honour and dignity as a Hindu nation -- and we have the right to do so -- that nation must emerge under the Hindu flag. This, my dream, shall come true -- if not in this generation at least in the next. If it remains an empty dream, I shall prove a fool. If it comes true, I shall prove a prophet. This, my legacy, I bequeath to you."

Savarkar is gone. Let us cherish his legacy, salute the prophet.


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