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Where politics of reverence makes heroes, the politics of hate creates villains. Revolutionary leader, Hindu nationalist and writer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar , known otherwise as Veer Savarkar, is one such controversial and contested figure who has oscillated between the love-hate spectrum of the country's contemporary history. Purandare who has previously authored Sachin Tendulkar: A Definitive Biography, and Bal Thackeray and the Rise of the Shiv Sena, says the noise and misinformation around the life of Savarkar, stems from the lack of literature dedicated to the inquiry of his life.
With the rise of Hindu nationalism, there has been renewed attention on him from the mids onwards and especially, from the time of the rise of Narendra Modi, as Savarkar was the man who founded the theory of Hindutva in Vaibhav Purandare began research five years ago. As a biographer, Purandare was challenged both by the inadequate texts available on his subject—most of which were written by Savarkar himself—and finding new material that could throw more light on him. The full eight volumes of his writings and speeches, plus accounts by contemporaries, friends and critics, in Marathi, English and Hindi, too.
The British government records were crucial in understanding his activities as an anti-Raj revolutionary—the Raj had kept a secret file on him from the time of his early youth.
In search of Savarkar, Purandare even went through newspaper records, in England and India, which covered his tumultuous years in London, from to , and the debate around his decade-long incarceration in the notorious Cellular Jail on the Andaman Islands. More crucial leads came from Savarkar's tract on Hindutva, which he wrote in —it went on to become a seminal text for Hindu nationalists. But, like all great thinkers, his works need to be carefully analysed and understood, before making him the role model of all things Right.
Because, as a chapter in the book indicates, that while Savarkar was responsible for the term Hindutva entering India's political lexicon, he had made it clear that it was not the same as Hinduism, and had nothing to do with religion or rituals.
According to Savarkar, "anyone who considered this nation as his or her pitrubhu fatherland and punyabhu holy land was a Hindu," Purandare writes in the book. Not known to many, Savarkar also asked people to abandon the "naive practice of gau poojan" calling it the "murder of the intellect".
He saw the cow as a useful animal that needed to be nurtured, instead. On the RSS, he was scathing when he said that 'the epitaph for the RSS volunteer will be that he was born, he joined the RSS and he died without accomplishing anything'," says Purandare.
Having said that, Purandare says it would be incorrect to say that the current Hindutva movement is misrepresenting Savarkar's values. He believed that those whose holy land was elsewhere would always put their faith before country and thus deserved to be kept out of the scope of Indian nationhood.
He pushed for re-conversions, wanted to 'cleanse' Hindi and Marathi of Urdu words, and in the last years of his life called for retaliation against Islamic aggression to the point of advocating sexual violence against women, which was indefensible. Savarkar was a man of extremes, and he draws extreme responses. Only recently this year, Anand Patwardhan's documentary Reason Vivek had questioned the glorification of Savarkar, while pointing out his role, as key mastermind in Gandhi's assassination.
But, I have meticulously gone through the entire record of the case," says Purandare. I started out seeking neither to indict nor to absolve, but to go by the available evidence on record, before I drew any conclusions. And the evidence, in fact, explains why the jury's still out on the matter as far as Savarkar's involvement is concerned. Savarkar was acquitted as there was no legally admissible, hard evidence.
Yet, the prosecution had stacked up a lot of circumstantial evidence, which pointed the finger of suspicion at him. As the then home minister overseeing the murder probe, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was convinced about Savarkar's moral responsibility, if not legal culpability, in the killing.
His role apart, both Gandhi and Savarkar, never held back from showering praise at each other, where deserved. His work as an anti-colonial agitator and leader of a group of patriotic and revolutionary Indians in London is an important chapter of the liberation movement. For Gandhi, Savarkar was an equal, a man who, according to the Mahatma's own admission, saw the evil that the British Empire represented much before he himself did," says the writer.
Savarkar, he explains, was a complex personality, who cannot easily be placed into neat boxes. It's only when you see all the boxes together that you get to know him—the pieces of the puzzle then come together, otherwise we're just seeing incomplete parts. Once, he was given ten days in 'crossbar fetters' for defying work orders. A crossbar fetter was a metal triangle tied at three points—the ankles and waist—which once fixed, ensured you couldn't bend. Hindutva: In this tract, Savarkar set out to discuss his theory of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva.
It eventually became part of the political lexicon of the country. In one essay, Savarkar questions Gandhiji's rashness in calling "Islam the religion of peace". In another, he is harshly critical about Gandhi's means to achieve freedom.
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'He was born, he joined the RSS and he died without accomplishing anything'