Decoding Veer Savarkar with Vikram Sampath

Vikram Sampath’s two-part biography of Savarkar is one of the first comprehensive attempts to document and contextualize the life of the most influential “Hindutva” ideologue and a highly polarizing figure in history, Vinayak Damodar Veer Savarkar, eliciting condemnation from many and reverence from a few.

Sampath had always been intrigued by Savarkar as his name was permanently erased from the textbooks and other places. He has been a contentious figure in the history of the Indian freedom struggle. In his conversation at Mojo Story and his biography of Savarkar, he debunked myths about Savarkar and presented the image of the real Savarkar.

By Sonal Nain, 24 Sep 2021

From his Hindutva politics and mercy petition to the British Government to his role in the assassination of Gandhi, Savarkar has always been the subject of debate.

People have wreaked havoc on our cultural and historical narratives. Sampath unequivocally demonstrated that Savarkar was not a British stooge by describing how the British mistreated Savarkar during his trial. He faced two life sentences of 50 years each, with no chance of release. British officials had taken away so many years from the life of a talented and gifted young man. No other anti-colonialist figure had paid such a high price.

Savarkar wondered if he was a regular convict, as they were treating him, or a special political prisoner. In the latter case, he believed he should receive a concession.
He could only write to his family once a year. He was negotiating with the British for his rights, and the rights of all other political prisoners. He was arguing on behalf of all of them. In his memoir, he was also very candid about how the first step of the revolution is getting out of jail.

“Savarkar and Gandhi were irreconcilable poles of history,” Sampath said of Savarkar’s relationship with Gandhi. Throughout his life, he was Gandhi’s ideological adversary.”

Savarkar, unlike Gandhi, was an atheist. Savarkar’s ideas were progressive. He was a modernist, believing in industrialization, whereas Gandhi had little knowledge of science. Savarkar was not a ritualist; he considered cow protection to be more critical than cow worship. He also had little affection for RSS founder Hedgewar or his successor Golwalkar.

Savarkar is relevant to contemporary India and it is his vision that India is closely following rather than Gandhi’s. Sampath believes that because people lack a nuanced understanding of history, they believe that everyone who adheres to a particular ideology or aligns with the idea of ‘Hindutva’ is to be blame for Gandhi’s assassination.

“In India, unity in diversity is not a formulaic equation. It is a struggle, a perpetual balancing act.” – Hindutva or Hind Swaraj by UR Ananthamurthy.

“We need to come to terms with our wounded history and build a better future, learning from our past.”

The term Hindutva was popularized and defined by Savarkar in his 1923 book ‘Hindutva- Who is Hindu?’ Savarkar essentially said Hindu is a person who equates fatherland with Holyland i.e pitrabhoomi with punyabhoomi. And his term punyabhoomi refers to culture and not a religion in the conventional sense.

For Savarkar, Hindutva was a political construct that relied on nation, nationalism and citizenship, rather than religion. In his opinion, Hinduness was a subjective sense of belonging to and loyalty to the Hindu nation. He included groups whose religions originated in India (Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and so on) because they presumably lacked extraterritorial loyalties, but he remained sceptical that Muslims or Christians, whose religions originated outside the subcontinent, could be culturally Hindu and owe loyalty to the Hindu state.

But the meaning of Hindutva has altered over the last century. According to Savarkar, anyone could fit in the Hindu nation if they could align themselves with the Hindu culture. This identity was not dependent on anyone’s religion. But today, it has shifted to the religious domain that creates the conflict of the mere meaning of Hindutva and questions the cultural and religious diversity of Hinduism. Watch the full interview below.