Author & Historian Vikram Sampath speaks to Jan Ki Baat on Savarkar, Hindutva, RSS, Indian History & his book ‘Savarkar – A Contested Legacy’. Here’s part 1 of his email interview with Debarghya Banerjee
Ques) You’ve always maintained that’s History is a live battlefield. Do you think the dichotomy still exists today? Have we really made amends with our past?
Ans) I think the dichotomy exists today more than ever before as all contemporary squabbles are being settled using history and historical themes or characters. The reason is that we have never looked at our past honestly, as a nation, and as a civilization—especially after independence . The schisms of the past have not been acknowledged and healed and that is the reason these uncomfortable wounds keep resurfacing time and again in contemporary strife.
Ques)Coming to your book, on the second volume of Veer Savarkar, A contested legacy, What made you write a book on one of the most contentious figures in Indian History? What was the inspiration behind writing this book & how is this book different from the ones that you’ve written in the past?
Ans) Savarkar intrigued me since the time the plaque in his memory at Cellular Jail in the Andamans was unceremoniously removed by the UPA Government and lots of invectives were hurled at him. During and after the 2014 elections this polarized opinion on Savarkar became more shrill and the manner in which he intruded today’s political and public discourse like few characters of the past, further attracted me to his story. Then when I looked back at the books written on him, i realized that the last full-length biography of his in a comprehensive manner was written way back in the 1960s and after that, despite his relevance, historians never considered him worthy of a re-evaluation. Hence I picked up the subject and over 5 years of strenuous research across India and abroad put together the story of his life. The other books I have written so far seldom dealt with someone as contentious and polarizing public opinion as he did, so it came with a lot of challenges.
Ques)You’ve always maintained that Savarkar maintained the difference between Hinduism & Hindutva. Do you think the line that demarcates between the two is getting blurred? Do you think had Savarkar lived he’d hold up a opposite viewpoint?
Ans) Hindutva was a resistant force, a resultant of the waging rage of political Islam that was sowing seeds of separatism and eventually partition. It had little to do with the theological ideas and esoteric aspects of the religion. It was about consolidation of the Hindu community, eradication of social evils to herald unity, a defensive strategy to protect one’s lives, faiths and property in the wake of predatory faiths and militarization for legitimate self defence. The Hindu voice too had to count in the British decision on the subcontinent and that is what he and his Hindu Mahasabha strove for. In my book the conversation between Savarkar and Maulana Shaukat Ali seems like it’s happening today, in 2021…all the issues seem the same; we have been debating the same problems for a century now! So I think it’s the same view that he would have held even today when it came to questions of global Hinduphobia and the denial of equality to the community on several counts.
Ques) There’s been ample instances in the past of Congress demonising the contributions made by Veer Savarkar? Do you think had the book being written in the past during the UPA regime, there would have been problems?
Ans) That is a very good question, though hypothetical. Being apolitical, other than of course my own personal voting preferences as a citizen of India, I really don’t know if my work’s acceptability or rejection depends on the regime and its nature. But the Congress’ track record when it comes to protecting freedom of speech has been historically so abysmal since the times of Nehru and the First Amendment that it is but natural to have such apprehensions that the book might have stared at proscriptions or bans. Notably no book or film has been banned since 2014, despite the daily wailings of an alarmist fascist upsurge.
Ques)What would be the message to our readers who would be reading your book in well earnest?
Ans) Read the two volumes with an open mind, refer to all the copious notes and bibliography, read several sources and then make an informed opinion. Even if you end up hating Savarkar or reinforcing many of the allegations that surround his contested legacy today, after reading the books, at least it will be an informed hatred and not blind, propagandist and biased opinion (both for and against!).