India reshaped, to Savarkar’s will | Opinion
More than Narendra Modi or Amit Shah, the ghost of Savarkar is steering the Government of IndiaUpdated: Aug 22, 2019 21:30 IST
Who is the inspiration behind the Narendra Modi government’s audacious moves to project India as a hard Hindu State? It is undoubtedly Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. From the Citizenship Amendment Bill (which implicitly makes religion a basis for citizenship) to the constitutional coup in Kashmir , the imprimatur of Savarkar is evident in the government’s most major moves. More than Modi or Amit Shah, the ghost of Savarkar is steering the Government of India.
Savarkar-ism has come a long way since 1966 when the man died. Hardly anyone paid heed to Savarkar in his last years. Jawaharlal Nehru, and Nehruvian ideas, dominated the landscape, and Savarkar was a marginal political figure — especially after his arrest in the Gandhi assassination case in 1948. He spent a year in jail, along with the infamous Nathuram Godse and the other accused, and though he was acquitted, his links to the Godse gang destroyed his political career. He was shunned even by many of his Hindu Mahasabha colleagues. The exception to Savarkar’s ostracisation was in Maharashtra, where he was seen as a hero of titanic proportions throughout. The Right hailed him as the father of Hindutva; the centrists held him up as a gutsy freedom fighter; the Left feted his radical stance on societal reforms that unnerved conservatives.
But Savarkar remained at the fringes of India’s political consciousness until the mid-1980s, when Hindu nationalism, which he had championed in 1921 with his tract titled “Hindutva”, made a comeback. Though the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the late 1980s, swore more by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Savarkar-ism found its way through the clouds.
Savarkar openly advocated brutal retaliatory violence against Muslims and reclaiming of Hindu spaces; a course followed by the Hindutva hordes during the Ram Mandir movement and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Savarkar had criticised the first government of free India as “pseudo-nationalist” and alleged secularism was nothing but a cloak for Muslim appeasement; LK Advani popularised this theory in the phrase,“pseudo-secularism”. Bal Thackeray adopted much of the “original” Hindu Hriday Samrat’s vocabulary against minorities, plus strategies prescribed by Savarkar, such as noisy maha aartis to ‘counter’ namaz on streets. Atal Bihar Vajpayee imbibed Savarkar’s poetic impulses to assert his Hindu “parichay” (identity).
But Vajpayee, the first Indian prime minister belonging to the Hindu right, was queasy about rejecting the broad Nehruvian consensus around the idea of India. Modi, who sat inside Savarkar’s cell in the Andaman jail like a pilgrim during a visit there in 2018, and Amit Shah, who has a portrait of Savakar in his living room, have no such reservations. They have set out to dismantle the old Nehruvian order — as can be seen in their jibes at the Lutyens’ elite and the “Khan Market gang” — and replace it with Savarkar’s vision for India.
From the start, the Savarkar template has been in evidence. Savarkar had, in his Hindutva text, kept out of the ambit of Indian nationhood anyone who didn’t consider the land of the Sapta Sindhus as pitrubhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (holy land). His definition excluded Muslims, because their holy places were elsewhere. In the 1950s, he stated that Assam would be ‘swamped’ by Muslims coming in from East Pakistan. Hindus were deserving of shelter, but Muslims, not quite. Enter: The National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, both instruments to include and exclude people from citizenship on the basis of their religious identity.
Savarkar called for reconverting those “taken away from the Hindu fold”. Enter: the Ghar wapsi project and the push to bring converts back into the fold.
Savarkar was clear that “offence is the best defence” and display of “shastra bal” (strength of arms) was the best guarantor of peace. In the early 1950s, when Nehru was signalling to the world that India stood for global peace and disarmament, Savarkar insisted India send out a message exactly to the contrary. “If we say ‘we don’t wish to go to war,’ we’ll be invaded and lose our sovereignty, if not at once, then bit by bit. If we say ‘we do wish to go to war,’ we’ll have peace and can focus on our country’s advancement.” And how was India to indicate its readiness for confrontation? By acquiring state-of-the-art arms and military technology, Savarkar said. If Nehru spoke of ending weapons of mass destruction, the leader of the Hindu Right said that was fine as an ideal, but the world ran not on ideals but on realpolitik, so India needed nuclear weapons, and if something even more advanced was discovered, India needed that too. If anyone said that Hitler and Tojo were proof that violence brought self-destruction, and non-violence was the ideal, Savarkar argued that neither Germany’s Fuhrer nor Japan’s ruler were defeated by ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence), but by the superior military prowess of Britain, America and Russia. The Modi government has adopted Savarkar’s mantra by taking actions considered too drastic in the past — surgical strikes, the Balakot air strikes, and the lockdown and exertion of full military force in Jammu & Kashmir as Article 370 was nullified.
In Savarkar’s view, duality, as in the case of separate electorates in pre-Independence India and Kashmir’s separate flag and Constitution after Independence, fomented separatism. India had to be remoulded on the basis of uniform citizenship and uniform laws, and if at all any cultural protection were needed, it was for Hindus, who didn’t want any “special status” and subordinated all other allegiances to their faith in the ‘motherland’.
It is clear then that when Modi and Shah speak, the voice you hear is actually Savarkar’s. And unless we understand Savarkar, we won’t be able to understand today’s India or its politics.
First Published: Aug 22, 2019 19:44 IST