Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | What Savarkar could yet do for the future of Hindutva

On behalf of my boyhood, I thank the Indian National Congress and its intellectual franchisees for erasing many chapters from history textbooks, which were already dreary. One of the chapters was Vinayak Savarkar, who invented Hindutva about a hundred years ago. I wish the screw gauge and vernier callipers, too, had been involved in Hindutva.

The erasure of Savarkar by intellectuals 1.0 was so complete that at the end of it all he was not even a villain. He was not mentioned in textbooks even as one of the accused in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Over the decades, Savarkar’s rehabilitation was attempted by his admirers and those who needed a hero outside the Nehruvian Avengers series. Actually, he was the sort of man who needed to be rehabilitated when he was still alive, and it was tried. But his resurrection has succeeded only recently, since the rise of another man, Narendra Modi.

This month, two absorbing and distinct biographies of Savarkar were released: The True Story Of The Father Of Hindutva by Vaibhav Purandare and Echoes From A Forgotten Past, 1883-1924 by Vikram Sampath.

It is impossible to tell the story of Savarkar without laughing at India’s most loved nonsense: that India won its independence from the British because of “non-violent" walkathons led by one man. There was, of course, always the other view: that India was freed by armed rebels, or “extremists", many of whom were tortured and killed by the British. Both sides are exaggerations that do not consider the outsized role of Britain’s destruction in the world wars.

What the two books establish, though, is that the invention of Hindu nationalism gave the freedom movement a menacing heft. Several men before Savarkar attempted to consolidate Hinduism, and even reform it. But they were religious men and so they were blind to something important. Hinduism was not built on magic. Savarkar was an atheist, and his insight was that Hinduism was a powerful political identity that does not require gods, or even the cow actually, whom he did not love very much, and that Hinduism is a fundamental genetic force in all Indians. In this way, he invented Hindutva.

What is the future of Hindutva? Are people who believe in Hindutva good people? In the first place, was the man who invented Hindutva a good man?

The canonization of Savarkar points to the extraordinary health of the Vatican that controls contemporary Hindutva. It is important to note that rehabilitation does not mean something charlatan. For instance, vast tracts of the two mentioned biographies are convincing. They easily demolish the foolish argument that Savarkar was a coward. Yes, he wrote letters begging to be released from the horrific Cellular Jail in the Andamans, but that was only smart. A man who does not know fear is insane. A man who knows fear and still puts himself in a position where his darkest fears may come true, is probably very brave.

But was Savarkar a good man?

Purandare does not hide Savarkar’s professed hatred for Muslims. In his early years as a revolutionary, Savarkar asked Hindus and Muslims to get along, but eventually he wished to subdue Muslims. In trying to explain the shift, Purandare makes an important connection. Several Muslims manned the Cellular Jail, and they appeared to have harmed Savarkar.

Intellectuals tend to give fancy reasons for why some men hate some things, but the truth is often simple. It is personal. Savarkar’s own experience of Muslims made him a passionate transmitter of the idea of Hindutva to others who had such experiences, and today it attracts even those who have never had a bad moment with Muslims. It derives its power from the same quality that makes “the right-wing" itself powerful worldwide: relevance.

Most famous ideas are noble, but there is no correlation between nobility and relevance. Hindutva is grey. It is not constricted by unnatural moralities, hence, has exceptional freedoms to get things done.

But it cannot survive in India for too long in opposition to other faiths. Hindutva has to become an unambiguously moral force, like other grey ideas did. And it will constantly push its syndicate to find sly but moral ways to protect Hindus. What do you think India’s latest push for population control is about?

I have a theory that Baba Ramdev’s tongue foreruns some of Modi’s policies. Don’t forget Ramdev was the first to speak of banning large currency notes. A few weeks ago, he mentioned population control. Days later, on 15 August, Modi spoke about the matter, even though in many states the Indian population is plateauing. In general, when people speak of population control, they do not necessarily mean the reduction of human births, but of particular sections of them. Any strong population policy would address a wide Hindu concern that Muslims are growing at a faster rate than Hindus.

Savarkar can help Hindutva in its transformation into a moral force for current times. For instance, he hated the worship of cows. He even suggested that Hindus eat beef, if their survival depended on it.

Purandare and Sampath portray the inventor of Hindutva as a flawed man, but also a man who was scientific, moral, sly in a self-preservative way, and physically fit. Not such a bad icon, if some of his angry tweets can be erased, just as Gandhi’s view of African Blacks as inferior humans was erased.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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