While the BJP-led government has been making efforts to position Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (also known as Veer Savarkar) and his ideologies as their guiding principles, an author of a recent biography revealed that Savarkar also held views that wouldn’t necessarily be endorsed by the BJP today.
Author and editor Vaibhav Purandare recently made this point during a discussion with journalist Varghese K George, an associate editor with The Hindu, at the Bangalore Literature Festival. Vaibhav is the author of 'Savarkar: The true story of the father of Hindutva', a biography of the Hindutva leader.
“Savarkar seems to be steering the Indian government at present because he was very clear that the concept of religion is implicit in the definition of who is an Indian citizen,” Vaibhav said, referring to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Bill.
However, at the same time, Savarkar was averse to religious ritualism and was an atheist towards the end of his life, according to Vaibhav. "Towards the end of his life, he was a complete atheist. For him, Hindutva was more about regaining Hindu spaces from British invaders and the Muslims who had desanctified and destroyed them," he said.
Vaibhav also said that Savarkar was not a proponent of protecting cows. "Even his stance on cow protection has been misinterpreted by most. Contrary to popular belief, his principles of Hindutva condemn the killing of a cow only when it is motivated by spite, not for dietary causes," Vaibhav said. "He (Savarkar) said that if the cow is the mother of anything then it is the bullock", he added.
Vaibhav described Savarkar as a complex person and someone who would “often plunge into an activity just simply because he very strongly believed in something.” This applied to the change in his ideologies through his lifetime.
According to Vaibhav, Savarkar advocated Hindu-Muslim unity for the first half of his life, and later embraced Hindutva and aggressive Hindu assertiveness in the second half of his life. He put this change down to "30 years of inhumane living conditions, torture, and debasing at the hands of Muslim, Pathan, and Baluchi jailors in the Cellular Jail,” Vaibhav said.
Savarkar was imprisoned in the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the first time in 1911. Varghese however pointed out that another eminent freedom fighter of that time, Bal Gangadhar Tilak also went to prison, and instead came out a strong advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity. However, the brutality at the Cellular Jail prompted Savarkar to shift ideologies. He had also submitted mercy petitions to the British upon his arrest.
Varghese contrasted Savarkar's plea for mercy with Bhagat Singh's martyrdom and sacrifice. Vaibhav responded by stating that the two situations were from different points of the freedom struggle.
"Savarkar, you see, was a person who was convinced that he was a leader of a movement. He was not a mere foot-soldier. He felt that his leadership was necessary to guide people, and so he didn’t want to end his own life," Vaibhav added. While in prison, Savarkar codified the Hindutva philosophy in a book, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu.