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The Savarkarist syntax

3 October 2005

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The Hindu, 18 September 2004

by Anil Nauriya

Underlying the glorification of Savarkarism by the BJP-RSS-Shiv Sena are changes in the nature and objectives of the major political parties, the cynicism induced by the growing nexus between crime and politics, and the collapse of a compact that had facilitated post-independence politics.

The first principle of Savarkarism defines the nation on the basis of religious community. This is reflected in Savarkar’s declaration on August 15, 1943: "I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations" (Indian Annual Register, 1943, Vol. 2, p. 10).

The second Savarkarist principle condones killing to make religious community-related points. The German versus Jew analogy is made in Savarkar’s writings when speaking of his notion of the Hindu nation and those outside it. The killer aspect of Savarkarism is noted by Sardar Patel. In his February 27, 1948 letter to Nehru, Patel held the fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar responsible for assassinating Gandhi. The same trigger-happiness was evident in the Gujarat carnage (2002) and its aftermath. Whether a murder may be treated as a crime seems to depend, for Savarkarism, upon the self-perceived religious community interests of the killer.

A third key principle of Savarkarism is an extension of Savarkar’s mercy petitions affirming loyalty to the imperial regime and effectively ending his career as a freedom fighter. The Raj had scotched the violent or "terrorist" movement and loyalty was seen by Savarkar as an exit policy. This approach finds contemporary resonance in the previous Government’s excessive deference to the United States. This deference was reflected, for instance, in the serious consideration given to the despatch of Indian troops to Iraq. The Anglocentric world is more comfortable with this ideology, whatever it may say about the Gujarat killings, than with the India of Gandhi and Nehru. The colonial rulers had tilted towards the Pakistan movement for precisely the same reason.

Such features make Savarkarism attractive to the BJP-RSS-Shiv Sena, although these organisations now make loud claims of Savarkar’s alleged rationalism. The claims to rationality also need scrutiny, considering stark contrarieties like Savarkar’s support for the two nation theory while seeking to disclaim responsibility for partition, support for Shuddhi combined with an advertised atheism, and mercy-seeking accompanied with valour and militancy claims. Savarkar’s exclusion of Christians and Muslims from his definition of nation is acknowledged in contemporaneous Hindu Mahasabha publications [eg. Veer Savarkar’s `Whirl-wind Propaganda’, A. S. Bhide (ed.), Bombay, 1941].

After Gandhi’s murder there was an implicit compact on the basis of which politics was conducted. This was that while the Government would not be vindictive, there would be no glorification of the politics of assassination promoted by Savarkarism. Even the Hindu-specific parties, realising a political, whilst denying a legal, responsibility for the enormity, refrained for several decades from publicly eulogising Savarkar although they did not abandon their Hindu Rashtra objectives. The approver’s evidence was politically reprobatory, whatever tortuous course the law took.

The Trial Court Record and the Kapur Commission of the Sixties indicate also that the Government had additional material. Morarji Desai, then Bombay’s Home Minister, was asked in the trial by Savarkar’s lawyer about his reasons for directing "a close watch on Savarkar’s house and his movements" after the bomb incident 10 days before the murder. Desai countered: "Shall I give my reasons? It is for Savarkar to decide whether I should answer. I am prepared to give my reasons." Upon this, Savarkar’s lawyer said: "I withdraw my question". [See J.C. Jain, The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: Prelude and Aftermath, Chetana Ltd, Bombay, 1961, p. 104]. Savarkar personally gave an assurance to the Police Commissioner of Bombay on February 22, 1948 of non-participation in politics if "released on that condition." [For text see K.L. Gauba, Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Jaico, Bombay, 1969, pp 208-9] By introducing Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament’s Central Hall in February 2003 the NDA Government, egged on by the Advani faction, destroyed a 55-year old political compact.

The Savarkar debate has furnished insights into the changes in the Congress, the BJP and within the media in the last few decades. Even within Maharashtra, the pre-independence Congress, which included the Socialist tradition, had strongly resisted Savarkarism. The battle was joined soon after the Savarkarite faction took control of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937-38. The May Day march in 1938 was attacked by the Mahasabha in Pune.

The socialist leader N.G. Goray wrote: "Who attacked the May Day procession? Who assaulted men like Senapati Bapat and [Gajanan] Kanitkar? Who tore up the National Flag? The Hindu Mahasabhaites and the Hedgewar Boys did all this.... They have been taught to hate the Muslims in general as Public Enemy Number 1, to hate the Congress and its flag which is pro-Muslim, to hate socialists and communists who are anti-Hinduism.... They have their own flag, `the Bhagwa’, the symbol of Maratha Supremacy. And their leader is called `Rashtra Dhureen’, i.e Fuehrer!" (Congress Socialist, May 14, 1938).

Savarkar’s politics came in for severe criticism in Maharashtra. Bapat sharply criticised Savarkar for his slogan "Hindustan Hindu ka..." on August 22, 1944. Although some have repeated the Hindutva line of Savarkar’s unquestioned iconic status in Maharashtra, it was not accidental that there was no Savarkar portrait in the State Assembly until after one was placed in the Central Hall of Parliament in 2003.

Congress defensiveness in the face of BJP-RSS-Shiv Sena tactics reflects internal changes since 1969 and particularly since the Emergency years (1975-77) when the RSS and the hoodlums in the Youth Congress found convergences. As a part-consequence many Congress men and women now have little knowledge of or respect for their own legacy. Some former RSS members attained important positions within the Congress particularly after 1971. One former RSS figure from Maharashtra was Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet Minister. In contrast, the BJP would reserve such positions for key ideologues. The Congress has been as ready to shield some of its members from responsibility in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 as it has been to compromise on the BJP’s and Uma Bharati’s alleged responsibility in the Hubli case. The Karnataka unit is being criticised within the Congress for so much as setting out some facts in a newspaper advertisement.

The BJP’s internal changes are of a different order. During 1974-84, approximately the period of its transmutation from the Jan Sangh, this group had begun to transit from Hindu nationalism to Indian nationalism. This dynamic was reversed by the Advani group with ideas of State and nation derived apparently from Savarkar. The Hawala case setback to the Advani group necessitated a return to Vajpayee. That served also, accidentally or otherwise, certain coalitional purposes. The Advani faction’s politics now seeks reassertion of dominance.

The BJP’s transformations may be compared in part with those in the Hindu Mahasabha during 1937-38 when control passed from Pandit Malaviya to Savarkar. The Gujarat killings (2002), the ensuing cover-up, the distribution of trident knives in Rajasthan, and the hold-up of Parliament reflect this process. Media management, even after the NDA Government demitted power, remains an integral, if little studied, part of this struggle. Typically, the Uma Bharti reportage was often economical with the facts of the Hubli case, just as trident-knives were distributed in Rajasthan without the media pressing for BJP accountability, and Savarkarism was often discussed in the absence of vital facts or by trivialising them.

A newspaper associated with a house that had supported Gandhi’s constructive work programme and the freedom movement editorialised: "Let Our Icons Be." Later there was some recognition of the real issues. But one observer may not have been surprised at the initial nonchalance. Alan Campbell-Johnson joined a lunch at Birla House a week after Gandhi’s assassination. Describing the experience as "almost eerie," he wrote of the conversation: "All this accent on brokerage I found in strange contrast to the scenes and sentiments in these very rooms a week ago." (Campbell-Johnson, Mission With Mountbatten, New York, 1985, p. 284).

A great danger lurks in anaesthesia administration to the nation by a media so unreflective as to present Savarkarism merely as a matter of being "different" from Gandhi, and fearful to the point that even in its electronic puppetry it lampoons Manmohan, Laloo, and Vajpayee but never Advani.

P.S.

The above article from the Hindu is reproduced here for educational and non commercial purposes