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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

Savarkar is an unlikely hero of the right

Called Savarkar: The true story of the Father of Hindutva, its author Vaibhav Purandare writes he was not a cow worshipper. “If the cow’s mother to anyone at all, it’s the bullock”, Savarkar wrote in his Marathi journal Kirloskar. “Not the hindus. If Hindutva is to sustain itself on cow’s legs it will go crashing down at the slightest hint of a crisis.”

columns Updated: Aug 24, 2019 21:38 IST
Scornful of cow-worship, and an admirer of science, Savarkar’s traits would come as a surprise
Scornful of cow-worship, and an admirer of science, Savarkar’s traits would come as a surprise (Hindustan Times)
         

I’m not a historian and certainly no expert on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. I only know of him as the Father of Hindutva, and the first proponent of the two-nation theory. He’s not a man I look up to. But a new biography sheds light on aspects of his character that reveal a rather attractive side. However, it’s going to rile gau-rakshaks, vegetarians and his followers in the Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Called Savarkar: The true story of the Father of Hindutva, its author Vaibhav Purandare writes he was not a cow worshipper. “If the cow’s mother to anyone at all, it’s the bullock”, Savarkar wrote in his Marathi journal Kirloskar. “Not the hindus. If Hindutva is to sustain itself on cow’s legs it will go crashing down at the slightest hint of a crisis.”

Purandare writes Savarkar “abhorred the idea of consuming the animal’s urine and, in some cases, cow dung. Such consumption, he believed, may have actually started … as a form of punishment.” The cow, no doubt, was useful “but its worship made no sense … it was time to abandon the ‘native practice’ of ‘gau-poojan’ because it was nothing short of ‘buddhi hatya’ or ‘murder of the intellect’.”

Though a Brahmin, Savarkar “loved his fish … and disliked all his fellow Brahmins who looked askance at those who relish non-vegetarian food”. In the mid-1950s, when India was in the grip of famine, “he riled several self-styled spiritual gurus and champions of non-fish-no-meat by saying the country … could overcome its shortage of food if Brahmins, Jains and vegetarians took to eating fish … and stop judging people on the basis of what they ate.”

If you find this surprising — as I did — Purandare has a lot more to shake up our preconceived notions of Savarkar. Though the author of Hindutva, he was “hardly a practicing hindu in the religious sense. He followed no rituals and thought God, if indeed God existed, wasn’t really in the habit of responding to prayer.”

On one occasion, when informed of a sadhu who boasted of crawling on his stomach from Allahabad to Haridwar, Savarkar was scournful: “He sarcastically asked who had been closer to God, considering almost all religions said that God was in the heavens above — someone who was attempting to build an airplane or fly in it or someone desperate to turn himself into a maggot.”

Indeed, science was more important to Savarkar than religion: “Hindus needed to place their sacred text in closets and pick up science books instead”. Sex no less so: “sexual passion was legitimate and there was nothing wrong with giving full expression to it.” During his years in England he’s reported “to have been in love with an English girl, Margaret Lawrence”.

I guess it’s no surprise both Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi spoke in praise of Savarkar, although it was of his pre-hindutva revolutionary years. “I had the pleasure of meeting him in London”, the Mahatma wrote. “He is brave. He is clever. He is a patriot.”

Indira Gandhi’s praise came after Savarkar’s death. Speaking as prime minister, she called him “a great figure of contemporary India” and “a byword for daring and patriotism”. I’m not sure if she expressed reservations about Hindutva and Savarkar’s post-Andaman anti-Muslim prejudice. Purandare doesn’t say.

Finally, I don’t know if historians will praise this book but Savarkar’s followers will certainly squirm. That can’t be all that bad, can it? And then there are the little nuggets you can toss around a dinner table. For one, Savarkar was close to Lata Mangeshkar who “was once so moved by his thinking … she voiced her desire to give up singing altogether.” For another, the prosecutor who sent him to the Andamans in 1910 was a certain MR Jardine, the father of the famous Douglas of Bodyline fame. Finally, for such a “great” man he had a very small neck. It “was only 13.5 — that of a school boy”!

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 24, 2019 21:38 IST