De-Coding VD Savarkar’s ‘Hindutva’

Written by KS Subramanian | Published on: February 18, 2018
                                                                                      Image Courtesy: Wikipedia. Wikipedia: Standing: Shankar Kistaiya, Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa,
                                                                                       Digambar Badge. Sitting: Narayan Apte, Vinayak D. Savarkar, Nathuram Godse, Vishnu Karkare

Vinayak Damodar Savarkarwas a key intellectual who formulated the concept of ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduness’. His ideas influence the activities of all the formations affiliated to the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), the ideological guru of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), a political party and other bodies collectively known as ‘Sangh Parivar’ (‘Sangh family’).
VD Savarkar, had designated Muslims as the main enemy of the Hindu people and advanced the idea of their violent extermination (see his book Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, 1928). A believer in violence to achieve his perceived national goals,Savarkar did not hesitate to participate in the conspiracy to assassinate his philosophical and political rival, Mahatma Gandhi, in 1948.    
Savarkar’s work is addressed in two important works: ‘Savarkar and Hindutva’ by AG Noorani, 2002 and ‘Age of Anger: A History of the Present, 2017 by Pankaj Mishra. We rely on the historical account provided by Mishra.
Unlike his fellow Gujarati MK Gandhi, VD Savarkar did not believe in non-violence. He wanted Hindu society to be politicised and ‘Hindudom to be militarised’. He identified the Muslims as the main enemy and target of the Hindus and advocated violence against them. He was a participant in the plot to assassinate Gandhi who was perceived as soft on Muslims and Pakistan. The descendants of Savarkar rule India today. His portrait adorns the wall of India’s Parliament. 
The process by which his ideas evolved throws a fascinating light on Savarkar’s impact on increasing structural violence, which contributed to the demolition of the Babri Masjid (even threatening the Taj Mahal) and helps explain the phenomenon of increasing physical violence against Muslims in the country today.

 Image Courtesy: Forward Press

Top intellectuals in radicalising West Bengal in the mid- 1800s, were deeply influenced by the Italian thinker thought of Giuseppe Mazzini. His books were best sellers. Mazzini’s Young Italy arose in Calcutta in the 1870s providing a ready platform for budding nationalists. By the late nineteenth century, many Hindus who came from high castes, constituting the educated elite, believed that Hindus constituted a great nation by default and India was their sacred land. These educated intellectuals marginalised by the colonialists embraced a radicalism of the right. They became vulnerable to the thought of Mazzini. They gave birth to the idea of a form of political Hinduism that organized and militarized the Hindus. From these intellectuals emerged the men who assassinated Gandhi, and whose intellectual progeny now rule India.
Savarkar, whose ‘intellectual spurs were almost all European’, was born a Brahmin in Nasik in western India. After studying in Fergusson College Pune (with the support of a family friend whose daughter he agreed to marry) went to England on a scholarship and fell under the spell of the Italian thinker Giuseppe Mazzini. He abhorred conventional religion and going beyond his guru decided to make Hindu nationalism an ‘ideology of hate and violent revenge’ learning from Wagner’s Germany. He wrote ‘Nothing makes the Self-conscious of Self so much as the conflict with the non-self. Nothing can weld a people into a nation and nations into a state as the pressure of a common foe. Hatred separates as well as unites’.
In his book on the 1857 Indian Mutiny, he wrote carefully described European women and children being slaughtered by Indians militants. Violence for Savarkar appeared to have been a form of emancipation. He felt the Hindus needed to have proper enemies against whom to measure their manliness. He developed a lurid narrative of Muslims humiliating Hindus. He also played up the virility of the Muslims, which made them irresistible. He felt the Hindus were overly philosophical and politically fractious. Hindu ‘Self’ needed to learn from Muslim ‘non-self’. Trying to work up hatred as a categorical imperative, Savarkar who had met Gandhi in London, felt his nonviolence ‘sinful’. Much of his life was defined by his dislike of Gandhi, ‘a crazy lunatic’ given to babbling about compassion and forgiveness. He spurned Gandhi’s vegetarianism and felt that only a fool would attempt to fight the British Empire without eating animal protein. 
Savarkar had a range of friends from expatriate Indian revolutionaries in London who partook of the general trend of assassinations in Europe and America believing in Mazzini’s dictum that ‘Ideas ripen quickly when nourished by the blood of martyrs’. One of his upper caste disciples assassinated a British official in the first act of terrorism in India. In 1909, he inspired a murderous assault on a senior British official in London. Gandhi who arrived in the British capital a few days later condemned the killing as ‘terrorism legitimised by nationalism’.
Savarkar’s path diverged sharply from that of Gandhi after 1909. He was arrested in 1910 for his involvement in the murder of a British official in India. After two months in a draconian prison in India, he started writing mercy petitions to the British- an exercise which came to light only decades later.
His prison library in the Andaman Islands, Savarkar had the complete works of Mazzini. He deployed his reading in Mazzini to write his book ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’ The book defines the idea of modern Hindu nationalism. He says in the book: ‘Hindutva embraced all the departments of thought and activity of the whole being of the Hindu race’. He said: ‘Hinduize all politics and Militarize Hinduism’.  He sought to achieve his aim by identifying Muslims as the enemy within. They were undeniably alien to India: ‘Their holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and godmen ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently, their names and their outlook smack of foreign origin’.
Savarkar was politically eclipsed by Gandhi who spoke of Muslims and Hindus during the 1920s and 1930s. Gandhi drew his political imagery from popular folklore, which made him more effective as the leader of the Indian masses than any upper caste Hindu politician who relied upon textual Hinduism and ill digested bits of European political theory.      
(This is an excerpt from KS Subramanian’s essay ‘Babri Masjid 1992-Gujarat 2002-Kashmir 2016: How the Sangh Parivar has wrecked India’s secular social fabric by sustained anti-minority violence’. For more excerpts, watch this space.The author is a senior, retired member of the Indian Police Service-IPS)