To the venom that Savarkar was, we only find an antidote in Gandhi, writes Tamil writer Jeyamohan.
Popular discussions about Vinayak Damodar Savarkar tend to either be hagiographic or vilify, depending on the speaker’s political, religious, or caste affiliations. In contemporary political discourse, every argument is reduced to a one-line snippet, a monolithic stance, a catchy sound bite stripped of all nuance. The opponent’s side is painted as “all evil” while one’s own side is seen as the paragon of virtue; and this simplistic black-and-white worldview, in turn, forces others to play the same game. You do not need a writer to tell you that. I always try to present a comprehensive picture in the belief that every debate should be approached within a holistic frame of certain fundamental questions that underpin the subject.
Amid attempts to whitewash Savarkar’s image as an unsung hero, today we also see others belittling his role in the Indian freedom struggle, particularly ridiculing his clemency petitions to the British. To set the record straight, I wish to aver that Savarkar undoubtedly suffered torture and did so for the sake of Indian independence. He was neither cowardly nor selfish. Denying his sacrifice only exposes a mean-minded approach that favours a complete dismissal of, and contempt for, the other side. I shall try to approach Savarkar here within a wider historical context.
Violent rebels and democratic protesters
Those who defend Savarkar claim that Gandhi and Nehru received far better treatment in prison. This ridiculous comparison even extends to asking if Ambedkar ever went to jail. Before making such comparisons, it is important to grasp that historically, all governments make a clear distinction between armed insurgents and democratic protesters. Weapons communicate a very clear message: there is no room for any negotiation or compromise; the only possible outcome is the equilibrium that emerges in the aftermath of a violent clash of arms.
When you choose the path of violence, you provide the justification for any violence unleashed against your own side. After making such a choice, there is no use complaining about how violently the enemy retaliated. Nothing is more absurd than claiming one’s own violence as virtuous while the opponent’s as immoral.
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Any government naturally tries to suppress armed insurgency against it—be it the British government or the present-day Indian government. To dress up one’s defeat in such an unequal struggle as a sacrifice is both logically fallacious and morally reprehensible. The first ethical question that arises is: “If you had won, would you not have done to them what they did to you?”
Savarkar called for an armed rebellion against the British and made preparations for it. He was not grounded by a sense of either reality or history. He had no understanding of the power of the great administrative machinery of the British or their massive army. Lacking a sense of history, he failed to see that the British government drew its power from the popular acceptance it had gained from the millions of Indian people it ruled over.
How the British came to rule India
For context, the British came to power in India after the fall of the Mughal empire in an environment of utter chaos and anarchy. When they arrived, India was perishing in hundreds of petty wars. Armies had been disbanded and turned into bandit groups. The British brought about civil peace, created an orderly administration, and established a common law; therefore, the people of India accepted their rule. The situation at Savarkar’s time was that if a movement opposed the British without neutralising the popular acceptance the latter enjoyed, it would never gain mass appeal. Unfortunately, Savarkar did not grasp any of this.
The evil of the British rule lay in its ruthless economic exploitation of the country, which they unleashed through the local zamindars. In fact, the great famines that resulted from this exploitation caused a hundred times more deaths, destruction, and displacements than had occurred during the anarchic phase in India’s history. It was Gandhi, who, by highlighting this economic exploitation and demonstrating its practical effects on the nation, put forward a serious critique of the British regime among the Indian populace. Only after Gandhi’s intervention did the Indian freedom struggle become a people’s movement.
Violence versus democratic resistance
Before the advent of Gandhi, during Savarkar’s era, some “intellectuals” believed that the British could be driven out using violent means. Once a violent struggle was initiated, they thought people would join in the riots to destroy the British. Fifty years later, tragically, the naxalites too shared the same belief and modus operandi. Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose were all people with a similar misapprehension of history. Their rebellion was a childish effort completely based on their belief in violence and a misbegotten sense of personal adventure. Their misplaced confidence came from imagining themselves to be extraordinary men capable of determining history. Essentially, it stemmed from a lack of faith in the great power of the people.
The British successfully suppressed violent uprisings in India thanks to their experience in doing so across the world. Savarkar was imprisoned; others were killed. A thoughtful person today might understand the sentiments of rebels such as Savarkar and even respect their cause. After all, they were freedom fighters too. That regard does not in any way justify their views or methods. High-strung demagogues may obscure this distinction, but a discerning public must not lose sight of it.
What Gandhi and Nehru spearheaded was a democratic resistance. Gandhi argued that a British life mattered no less than an Indian life. He claimed to be fighting on behalf of the working class in Britain as well. Whenever he went to Britain, he stayed with the poorest there; history shows that the blue-collar British flocked to the harbour to welcome him.
Gandhi meticulously avoided violence at every turn. He was always open to negotiation. He also maintained close personal ties with some of the great names in the British empire who, in turn, held him in high esteem. He insisted that his struggle was for the basic democratic rights of Indians and was not a war against the British. He repeatedly declared that none of the British people were his enemies and reiterated the same message to the people of India. He envisioned his movement as one that would catalyse India’s turn towards democracy, which was anyway historically inevitable. In the dialectic of history, he saw the British and his side only as two forces propelling India in the same direction.
Gandhi emerged as a leader through his involvement in public demonstrations like the Champaran satyagraha which grew organically. He proved to the world that political success can be achieved by democratic means. He had the strong conviction that common people must not be made scapegoats in political struggles. He was the first political leader in history to exhibit such an extraordinary sense of responsibility. That is why crores of Indians stood behind him attesting to his power as a great leader of the people. The world took notice of him, and his every word gained the attention of the media. Even before he returned to India in 1918, he was already a world-renowned non-violent protestor.
If Gandhi or his follower Nehru had been dealt with violently, the British claim of faith in democracy and an impartial rule of law would have been exposed as a lie in the eyes of the world. The world’s belief in the fairness of the British judiciary and administration and in their professed democratic values is what had propped up public support for British rule in all the Eastern countries. The British were not prepared to lose that support base by subjecting Gandhi to torture. They knew better than that.
The British consistently projected themselves as true democrats and went to great lengths to show the world that their treatment of Gandhi, Nehru, and others, as well as of the Indian freedom struggle as a whole was in accordance with the letter and spirit of their laws. Gandhi, too, avowed faith in their law, administration, and democratic principles; he only opposed their dominion over India and the economic exploitation of Indians. The freedom movement itself was thus an elaborate bargain in which both sides foregrounded their democratic credentials.
That is not the case with Savarkar, who was not well-known even within India. He was only the leader of a small violent sect. The moment he chose to resort to violence, he gave the British the right to deal with him harshly. The British government quelled by force all those who chose the path of violence—be they petty princes and zamindars who rose against them, or later, educated youth who took part in armed rebellion.
The British were waiting for violence to occur in Gandhi’s demonstrations, as can be seen in all the British newspapers and government reports of the day. Had there been the slightest spark of violence, the British Army—the world’s most powerful army at that time—would have been deployed. Gandhi and Nehru would have been crushed. The Indian freedom struggle would have been awash in blood. Gandhi was adamant that the British should never be given that opportunity. He assumed responsibility for even minor skirmishes. He apologised for them and punished himself.
History reveals how many millions of civilians have been the casualty in various political struggles and civil wars during the past hundred years and how many have become refugees, losing their livelihoods. Set against such destruction, Gandhi’s sense of caution and responsibility, his far-sighted vision, his compassion for the common people, can be seen for the rare new phenomenon it is in all of human history. It is not for nothing that our great poet [Bharathi] sang of “Gandhi the life-giver”.
In short, it may be said that Gandhi encountered the civil face of the British government, engaging primarily with their diplomats. On the contrary, Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose came face to face with the military might of the British. Gandhi chose a democratic, non-violent path, thereby forcing the government, too, to meet him on his terms. This is the difference.
The thrill of adventure and a sense of history
There is a common yet dangerous mindset that we need to guard ourselves against. Living in a peaceful society, we often tire of our mundane middle-class lives and begin to long for the thrill of rebellion. We go looking for whipped-up emotional highs; we artificially create pretexts to feel outrage, to scream, and to shed tears. Through these gestures, we construct our own self-images as serious and authentic. This thrill and exhilaration we seek, in fact, comprise self-loathing and false bravado in equal measure. Such silliness, akin to the vicarious pleasure we derive from watching adventure movies, is forgivable until perhaps the age of 20. Anyone who is not free from this folly beyond their teens is not fit to participate in any serious discourse.
When we begin to approach politics and history through our immature emotional excesses, we feel inclined to participate in hero worship by turning individuals into icons. With such an attitude, it is the adventurers and martyrs who naturally appeal to us as heroes. We valorise them by repeating the tales of their brave deeds. When a violent man eventually falls due to his own reckless self-indulgent adventurism, lack of historical awareness, and mindless truculence, we immediately make him out to be a martyr; we turn all the hardships he suffered into lamentable tragedies.
It is this collective folly that has led to the rise of phony leaders throughout history. Someone who has no understanding of history, no respect for the people, and no leadership qualities, goes to jail for violence; if he comes back after enduring torture in jail, he would be canonised as a martyr. Diminutive intellectuals would celebrate the brave “sacrifices” made by the hero and the middle class would be mesmerised. If he cashes in properly on that collective hypnosis, the hero would be accepted by the people and become their leader. Many men throughout history have risen to positions of leadership by inciting public sentiments thus. Every single one of them has been a brutal dictator. Such “heroes” have inevitably led their own nations to disaster.
The early phase of the Indian freedom struggle saw the rise of many belligerent rebels. Later when it became a popular movement, their life stories were turned into sentimental sagas in order to appeal to the masses. These men were deified as iconic leaders of the freedom movement. Their populist appeal lay in the fact that democracy was still a novel concept and very few people appreciated the value of democratic leadership. However, hero worship had a two thousand year old legacy and therefore heroic tales of valour easily moved the public. All over India, heroic martyrs of the freedom struggle were identified and stories spun about them.
In today’s democratic setup, however, we need to move past those exhilarations of hero worship. These “heroes” ought to be understood within their historical contexts. The violent rebels belonging to the early phase of India’s freedom struggle can be seen in the perspective of the global political situation of their time. Back then, the idea of democratic protests had not taken deep roots anywhere in the world. It was just then emerging in Europe and beginning to achieve a few modest successes in practice. Therefore, all those who wanted to bring about social or political change at any level anywhere in the world believed that violence was the only means to attain their end.
Until that point in history, the prevalent form of government was monarchy. Any resistance against the monarch was naturally a militant uprising. Later periods witnessed several minor insurgencies against the ruling powers of the time, followed by the communist revolutions across different parts of the world. All these forms of rebellion replicated in their own way the original tactics of violent riots against monarchical power. It is no wonder then that Bhagat Singh, Savarkar and Subhash Chandra Bose subscribed to the same model.
A few significant non-violent protests had nevertheless succeeded even during the heydays of monarchic rule. The Reformation (which led to the birth of Protestantism) in Europe had gained popular support and established itself through non-violent struggle. It served as the model for all the later democratic movements across Europe. Exposure to this mode of resistance was the reason the European Christians could appreciate Gandhi’s methods when he staged his satyagraha. Post-Reformation, many such popular resistance movements took place in Europe. Gandhi modelled his democratic ways on their example as well as on the Endurance-and-Sacrifice-based protests carried out by Jains in India.
The final fatal fall of Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose was historically inevitable since they lived in an age that did not fully grasp how resistance can be non-violent or where the true power of a modern state lies; Savarkar, too, belonged to their time and shared the same beliefs. There have been thousands like them throughout history: rebels who embraced violence and eventually perished. There have also been outstanding intellectuals and brave heroes among such rebels, and a few animated by a truly great vision. They just happened to be on the losing side of history, that is all.
We need to think why so many of us sympathise with those who attached themselves to a lost cause. Why do we strive to make martyrs and icons out of such men? Why do we not reflect on the reason for their failure, and the destruction and misery they caused to others through their failures? In my view, India would have been led to annihilation if any of these three men—V.D. Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, or Subhash Chandra Bose—had won popular support and come to power. Through their misapprehension of history, they would have caused the same devastation wreaked by Ayatollah Khomeini, Josef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler respectively in their own nations.
Of course, Savarkar, Bose, and Singh suffered brutality at the hands of the British. However, their suffering is in no way a testimony to their character, but only an inevitable consequence of their own violent actions. If we idolise such violent rebels and turn them into cult leaders simply out of middle-class guilt or boredom with our mundane lives, we shall pave the way for our own destruction. In fact, we must understand that it is absurd to judge leaders by a tally of their great “sacrifices”. The key questions to decide the merit of leaders is to ask what their understanding of history amounted to, what methods they chose and what the ultimate consequences of those choices were. Leaders should always be judged on these counts alone.
“If we idolise such violent rebels and turn them into cult leaders simply out of middle-class guilt or boredom with our mundane lives, we shall pave the way for our own destruction. ”
I quote V.D. Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose as three examples of men who chose different forms of violence. Despite their conflicting ideologies, they all chose the same means to achieve their ends. All three fell but are today celebrated by different political parties as heroic martyrs. In contrast, I would name Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar as those who chose the democratic path. They, too, often differed in their views, yet their methods were always democratic. I choose to follow their path.
I hail them not merely as great Indian leaders. Among all the world leaders of their time, they stood out on account of their clearsighted view of history and thorough understanding of democracy. In fact, it is our good fortune that our nation has been shaped by their vision.
Was Savarkar a coward?
Today, Savarkar’s clemency petitions have become a talking point in politics. The subject could be easily brushed aside if a low-level Congress party functionary were to raise the point. However, leaders or policymakers must adopt a broader and more nuanced view of history.
During the period when Savarkar went to jail, organised political activity was largely absent in India. The Congress was no more than a gathering of the elite that tended to make appeals to the British government. Savarkar belonged to an impatient generation. He was fascinated by the ideas of seizing power by means of insurrection and the concept of “cultural nationalism”—both prevalent in Europe at the time. Therefore, he was impelled to form an armed sect and initiate violent rebellion.
It is worth noting that when Savarkar sought to seize power through armed fighter groups, Lenin shared the same beliefs in Russia in 1910. He converted the armed insurrection he was heading into a military rebellion at a certain historical moment. By exploiting the Russian army’s discontent with the Czar, he gained the Russian military support, overthrew the Czarist Empire and seized power. His ascent inspired armed groups around the world to fight against their own governments, but such groups managed to succeed only in a few countries like Cuba. In other countries like India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Congo, Spain, and Bolivia, such militant groups were completely crushed.
Savarkar might have gradually lost faith in militant activities during his prison term. He might have been fascinated by Gandhi’s methods, seeing the popular movement that emerged under his leadership in India. Therefore, he might have decided to compromise with the British and forge a new path ahead. He might have attempted to convince the British of his newfound respect for democratic ways. His letters and his later actions reflect the same.
- Jeyamohan argues that Savarkar was a Hindu nationalist leader who advocated for Hindu supremacy and violence against Muslims.
- Savarkar’s views were incompatible with the ideals of the Indian freedom struggle. He was a supporter of British rule and even collaborated with the Raj during World War II.
- Savarkar is often portrayed as a hero of the Indian independence movement, but this is a myth.
Many Indian parties in power today enjoyed the support of the British back in those days. The Justice Party, the forerunner of the Dravidian movement, was wholly British-backed. E.Ve. Ramasamy was openly pro-British. Ambedkar was foregrounded by the British and remained a British supporter almost until Indian independence. There is hardly any Indian political party—including the Congress—that did not compromise with the British at some point. Even Gandhi’s suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement in the wake of the Chauri Chaura violence has been seen as a compromise and drew heavy criticism. The Communists in India too supported the British during the Second World War.
The nature of politics has always been such, alternating between conflict and compromise. Some struggles may have to be given up strategically, like the DMK abandoning their demand for a separate Dravidian nation. That is how I see Savarkar’s clemency petitions. The truly unforgivable compromise was the one Subhash Chandra Bose made with the Japanese despite being aware that they had brutally tortured and killed lakhs of Tamils in the construction of the Siam-Burma Death Railway.
Savarkar the fundamentalist
I do not consider Savarkar a coward, nor do I doubt his patriotism. There is no denying that he made sacrifices for the nation. However, I rate him a completely unacceptable political figure. This is my assessment based on his skewed understanding of history and his politics of violence.
Savarkar was a fundamentalist. Any form of fundamentalism is antithetical to democracy. It works against the well-being of the common people and ultimately brings about only destruction. Regardless of what it may be grounded in—religion, caste, language, race, or nationality—fundamentalism in any form is essentially destructive.
All forms of fundamentalism are the same in practice, because ultimately they posit an ideology as superior to the well-being of the people. Fundamentalists believe that no matter how many millions die to uphold their ideology, such sacrifice is justified; thus they remorselessly massacre millions. History chronicles the same cataclysmic cycle playing out time and again.
What really is fundamentalism? It can be defined as the concerted cultural and political activities carried out in order to establish a rigid and inviolable ideology which forms its core. Fundamentalism has certain basic characteristics. First of all, it elevates its core ideology to the status of being infallible and beyond question. It frames all those who deny it or disagree with it as enemies and seeks to destroy them. It constantly conjures enemies to defend itself against. All its activities are designed to counter the activities of the perceived enemy; in fact, its actions are never inspired by a positive ideal. Secondly, fundamentalism works by projecting certain individuals as the perfect representatives of its ideological core. It invests them with all powers and deifies them. It exhorts followers to place their complete faith in such leaders and hail them as icons. Finally, fundamentalism always borrows its central tenet from age-old cultural traditions such as those belonging to a religion, race or language. It chooses an existing dogma and reinvents some aspect of it as an irrefutable sacred truth. Owing to these three basic qualities, fundamentalism is in essence anti-democratic.
“Savarkar was a fundamentalist. In a word, he was a “Hindu Wahhabi”. ”
Debate and deliberation—granting individuals the right to freely accept or reject ideas—are the basis of democracy. Democracy strives to include all perspectives; its function is to deliberate and resolve all contradictions by arriving at a consensus. Fundamentalism is its opposite.
Gandhi can be seen as the symbol of the democratic ideal in India; Savarkar, on the other hand, typifies the perils of fundamentalism. The two contrasting modes of politics, both originating in Europe, presented themselves as options for our future at a critical juncture in our history. We, as a nation, chose democracy.
There are two aspects to note about fundamentalism, without understanding which it would be impossible to counter it: (1) Fundamentalism is different from conservatism; (2) It always presents a deceptive reformist face.
Conservatism is often conflated with fundamentalism. Different brands of conservatism exist all over the world and all religions have staunch conservative adherents. Conservatism is basically a stagnant mindset: the wish to remain grounded in age-old values, customs and ways of life, some of which might be unacceptable by modern standards. Therefore, some of these traditions may seem unjust or absurd today. Yet there is a section of people which prefers to remain committed to such an old-world dispensation. This may be because some cultural or spiritual elements of the past might give them a sense of grounding, a firm grip on life that they do not like to relinquish. They might prefer the stability of tradition to the constant flurry of changes that modern life imposes on one. I personally believe that one has the right to practise that kind of conservative lifestyle as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else’s life.
Fundamentalism, however, is a politico-cultural movement that borrows only some part of antiquity, constructs a contemporary ideology out of it, and tries to consolidate power around the ideology. It does not accept everything that comes from antiquity. It rejects every aspect of the past that does not advance its power politics. Therefore fundamentalism always assumes a reformist face. It appeals to logic, claims a quasi-scientific authority and addresses contemporary issues. It even appears modern.
Surprisingly, the origin of fundamentalism coincides with the same cultural phase we associate with modernism. Every fundamentalist ideology prevalent in the world co-evolved with modernity. It may even be said that fundamentalism is just another offspring of modernist thought. Modernism refers to a style of thinking and living that emerged during the last century. The common characteristics of modernist philosophy such as privileging rationality, adopting a universal outlook, favouring individualism, centralising authority, and concentrating power are all vital to fundamentalism as well. These traits are also common to other modernist schools of thought such as liberalism, rationalism, and Marxism. All over the world, modernist ideologies such as liberalism or rationalism are actively engaged in an attack only against conservatism. They are ill-equipped to combat fundamentalism. Often, they accept certain elements of fundamentalism since they too are offshoots of modernist thought.
Any fundamentalism can be maintained as logical and reformist in nature. That is why Wahhabism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, is seen as a reformist movement by Indian rationalists and Marxists, who do not hesitate to share stage and associate themselves with the Wahhabis. Savarkar was an atheist and rationalist who swore by logic and science. If only EVR and Savarkar had met, they would have agreed on all but one point: Savarkar’s brand of nationalism differed from that of EVR. Otherwise both shared in many modernist beliefs.
Ideologically, Savarkar was entirely a European product. He was the chief Indian heir to the European concept of cultural nationalism which emerged at the end of the 19th century. As a belief system, it later metamorphosed into Fascism and Nazism which eventually destroyed Europe. Thus Savarkar’s thoughts and beliefs were all rooted in 19th century Europe.
In the eyes of the modernists, Gandhi was in many respects unworthy of comparison with Savarkar. Gandhi was not rational enough, often relying on his intuition instead. He was “superstitious” and skeptical of science. Instead of a universal outlook, he advocated indigenous thought. He rejected uniformity and championed diversity. He envisioned the nation as a collection of independent economic units. Gandhi called himself a conservative, a Sanatani. However, in practice he was receptive to all reforms and was a great reformer himself.
Ambedkar, whose philosophy was greatly at odds with Gandhi’s, had harboured goodwill towards Savarkar. In fact, he has expressed this in various places. Dhananjay Keer who wrote Savarkar’s biography was later Ambedkar’s biographer as well. What the two had in common was their modernist outlook. Reliance on science and logic as well as a centralising vision was strong in Ambedkar’s thought; he propounded a reformist version of Buddhism. Therefore, Savarkar’s own engagement with logic and a scientific bent, his zeal for centralisation and reformist views appealed to Ambedkar to a certain degree.
This is, in fact, the trap most modernist thinkers fall into. They cannot completely resist the roots of fundamentalism; they even make the mistake of cultivating it sometimes. In the early 1990s, I remember reading several essays by European and American modernist intellectuals in support of the Taliban. Those who have not read such essays can draw their conclusions simply by watching Rambo III. Euro-American scholars argued that the Taliban were logical-minded religious reformers and a strong youth force against conservative Islam.
The tools of modernist schools of thought such as liberalism, rationalism and Marxism can effectively counter Gandhi but not Savarkar. Their arguments would be easily knocked down by pointing out that Savarkar himself was a rationalist, an atheist and a believer in science. Since their tools prove ineffectual, the present day political opponents of Savarkar resort to their usual name-calling tactics and label him cowardly and unpatriotic. However, since this slander is patently untrue, it only serves to strengthen him. Others choose to attack Savarkar by labelling him a conservative and a religious fanatic. This too, being far from truth, ends up unwittingly bolstering his image.
Savarkar was a fundamentalist. In a word, he was a “Hindu Wahhabi”. His was a nationalist fundamentalism. Borrowing the concept of a Hindu nation from Indian antiquity, he constructed a fundamentalist movement around it. Savarkar’s was the first home-grown fundamentalist thought to emerge on Indian soil. He was the father of Hindu fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism always pins its faith blindly on whatever conceptual core it has appropriated from a tradition. It rejects all other variants of the same tradition, or tries to adapt them also to suit its ends. That is exactly what Wahhabism does and its followers present themselves as reformers too. So did Savarkar and that is how he assumed the identity of a reformer.
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Fundamentalists in general are aggressively fanatical believers in their cause. As a result, they are unmatched in their obduracy. They flinch neither from killing nor dying for their ideology. Therefore, they might face severe persecution for their beliefs and actions. They may even bravely endure torture. However, their sacrifice and bravery are not admirable in any way.
If we begin to glorify their sacrifice and heroism simply driven by our middle-class cowardice or boredom, we shall end up elevating fundamentalism to the seat of power. The Islamic world has made that grave blunder in the last 50 years. Many countries which had made progress on the path of democracy are now falling into the deadly clutches of fundamentalism. Countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon which got carried away in their fascination for the adventure, sacrifice and heroism of fundamentalist “leaders” are now paying for their egregious mistake with blood and tears. For this reason, I consider anyone who praises a fundamentalist’s heroism or sacrifice as an evil force ushering in destruction.
To reiterate: (a) Conservatism is different from fundamentalism. (b) The intellectual and reformist face of fundamentalism is only a veneer. In order to counter fundamentalism, these two basic truths must be grasped. Otherwise we are liable to commit two major mistakes. We might lash out at all conservative individuals and label them as fundamentalists, thus alienating them and pushing them towards fundamentalism ourselves. On the other hand, we might fall for a fundamentalist outfit that seeks our support by claiming to be a reform movement. The progressives, liberals and Marxists of our country are consistently making both these mistakes. Those who join hands with Wahhabis can claim no moral ground to oppose Savarkar. Such hypocrisy would only end up making Savarkar a larger-than-life figure. That is exactly what is happening today.
I am thoroughly disgusted by Savarkar. Even while retrieving his picture from the Internet for this essay, I could not help but feel bitter and revolted. However, I do not consider Savarkar a coward, nor do I suspect the power of his personality. Savarkar is not a conservative; he is, in fact, the deadliest venom India has ever produced. He is the fountainhead of fundamentalism in India. That is why I am allergic to him.
To the venom that Savarkar was, we only find an antidote in Gandhi. That explains why Savarkar’s invisible hand was involved in the assassination of Gandhi. All said and done, I believe our nation still stands indicted for Gandhi’s murder. Savarkar is the culprit who stained our hands with Gandhi’s blood. Every right-thinking person with a conscience ought to reject Savarkar outright, with all the words at their command. Among all the personalities that emerged as leaders in India, Savarkar is the only one who deserves to be hated and shunned as much as the world shuns Hitler. He is not worthy of respect by anybody anywhere for any reason. Even the slightest shred of acknowledgement that this nation may afford Savarkar is anti-Gandhi, anti-democracy and anti-humanity as a whole.
Jeyamohan is a writer and critic. This essay has been translated from the Tamil original by Iswarya V.