Author & Historian Vikram Sampath speaks to Jan Ki Baat on Savarkar, Hindutva, RSS, Indian History & his book ‘Savarkar – A Contested Legacy’. Here’s part 2 of his email interview with Debarghya Banerjee
Ques) In the prologue to the first book, you say that the book is neither a hagiography nor does it demonize Savarkar. Considering more or less every people in this country have some reservations about the way he’s presented, did it make you think your book could challenge the shackles of conservative history around great figures?
And) I think someone ought to be brave enough to take the gauntlet and break the status quo, else a dynamic discipline like history would simply end up getting fossilized with the same beaten narratives bereft of truth, research and facts. Increasingly people are challenging the established narratives in Indian historiography, many of which have been plainly fraudulent.
Ques) There’s always been a certain dogma associated with the Rights & Left’s learning of Savarkar. While the Rights have maintained Savarkar’s legacy, an outmodest appeal to wash off the contributions on the part of the left has been made by calling him a British stooge. Your take?
And) The very fact that the British considered hima “D” category dangerous criminal who had to be extradited to India from London and packed off to Kala Pani, far away from the mainland, and that he was under constant surveillance all through his life; that his conditional captivity that was for initially 5 years and then extended to 13 years—all go to prove that the British were deeply suspicious of him. If he was indeed their stooge, they would coopted him into the system and given him positions of power in the Government, especially after 1937 when Governments were being formed in Indians in British provinces. So this bogey of being a stooge etc does not hold water.
Ques)Savarkar have had mentioned he’d have no problem with beef or meat consumption. Do you think the attempts made by Savarkar then was in opposition to what is being practiced now?
Ans) It’s often argued that he ate beef himself and that is not true as there is no documented account of it. He merely considered in his personal opinion that the cow was not to be worshipped but protected as a useful animal for agrarian economy. If someone wished to worship the animal they could do so in the confines of their home but not bring their faith into public policy decisions. He however strongly opposed slaughtering the cow just to slight the Hindus and their faith and sensitivities, and hence was not some advocate of cow slaughter or beef consumption. These nuances are sadly lost today.
Ques)There’s been a sizeable controversy around Savarkar’s mercy petition to the British and the issue of a prodigal son. Do you really consider Savarkar as a British apologist? Why do you think Savarkar used that type of a language?
Ans) The letters had a certain template in which they were written to a colonial power. Letters of Gandhi, Bose, and others too had such customary salutations and endings. He had been given 50 long years of life imprisonment. There was no point rotting in jail for that long and he could achieve a lot more for the country by being outside. Hence he and many revolutionaries filed petitions routinely to get out of jail but carry on with their work for freedom as before, though surreptitiously. Also under a General Amnesty scheme many political prisoners in Cellular Jail were being released, except the Savarkar brothers. Many of his petitions were also pleas to release other prisoners too, as he acted as their spokesperson, and not a letter only for himself. The allegory of prodigal son etc has a Biblical angle to it and he was perhaps appealing to the Christian sentiments of the Government; I am not sure if we should take these so literally because as explained before the British themselves did not trust these petitions or their intent.
Ques) How much of an impact did other freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Wasudev Balwant Phadke have on Savarkar?
Ans) Immensely. These figures, including the Chapekar brothers were inspirational for Savarkar and several young men of the time. That is why he formed India’s first secret society, the Mitra Mela that later became the Abhinav Bharat, Tilak was a perennial guru of sorts for him and he even recommended his name to Shyamji Krishna Varma in London for the scholarship to go there to ostensibly study law but actually organize the revolutionary movement from outside iNdia.
Ques) What do you think is the greatest contribution of Veer Savarkar to the Indian freedom movement?
Ans) Savarkar was the intellectual fountainhead for India’s revolutionary movement of armed resistance apart from being the founder of the first secret society of the country and organizing the first bonfire of foreign clothes in 1905. His seminal work on the 1857 uprising that he termed as the Indian War of Independence was a source of inspiration for revolutionaries decades later, such as Bhagat Singh, Rash Behari Bose and Netaji Bose. He was a pragmatist and strategic thinker for whom the country’s territorial integrity, national security and sovereignty mattered the most. The militarization drive that he ran during the Second World War helped create nationalistic soliders within the British Indian Army, many of whom defected to the INA later and these valiant efforts of the INA & Bose, and later the Naval Mutiny was what got India her freedom.