Solving the Savarkar riddle

The history of modern India (during the 20th century A.D.) contains two prominent figures having life full of contradictions – one of them is Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the other one is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Both of them lived a certain kind of life with a certain kind of approach till a threshold of their respective lives and after that threshold or that watershed moment, their lives changed forever and became quite contrary to what they were earlier. 

It’s an interesting topic for the students of history as to how a historical figure can get transformed in totality just like the famous character of Dr. Jeykill and Mr. Hyde created by Robert Louis Stevenson. Both Jinnah and Savarkar were well-known (and well-recognized) patriots till a certain point of time in life and their anti-British stand was well-known to all and sundry. Then what happened in that particular interlude in their respective lives that changed them forever (and the change in them immensely affected India as well in an adverse manner) ?

Jinnah’s case is easy to understand. He was a typical congressman and seldom followed the basic tenets of Islam. In all practicality, he was a secular person and an acknowledged patriot during the first two decades of the twentieth century. It’s himself only who strongly opposed separate electorates for the Muslim community and arranged the Lucknow Pact of 1916 by bringing the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League on the same table. He also opposed the Khilafat Movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi and his use of idioms like Ram Rajya (because like S.C. Bose, he was also totally against the mixing of politics with religion and considered it as something very dangerous in the long run). Prior to these happenings, he had also defended Lokmanya Tilak in the Bombay High Court and fought his case against the British government (when Tilak was charged for sedition). But he left the INC in 1920 because he felt sidelined there. Even after spending many years in London, when he returned to the national scene; he was not a completely communal-minded person. Had the INC allowed AIML to join the provincial governments after the elections in 1937, Jinnah would not have made a demand for a separate Muslim majority nation to be carved out of India. He did not get his pound of flesh, hence the idea of Pakistan took root in his heart and became stout within just a few years. All the same, it’s authentic that he deeply regretted over his forming of Pakistan on his death-bed. His dying moments were filled with unlimited remorse for the blunder made by him but he could not reverse the tide of history then. Thus the journey of M.A. Jinnah from a secular nationalist to a communal separatist is understandable.

Contrary to that, the case of V.D. Savarkar is curious and intriguing. It’s perhaps the hardest riddle of modern Indian history comprising the first half of the 20th century. Savarkar was thoroughly anti-British in his early years. When in his teens, he had (alongwith his brother, Ganesh) started a secret revolutionary anti-British society named as Mitra Mela at Nasik which used violent means against the British. This society was rechristened as Abhinav Bhaarat later on. When he pursued his studies at London with the help of a scholarship arranged for him by a well-known Indian revolutionary –  Shyamji Krishna Varma, he founded Free India Society involved in anti-British activities (with the use of weapons), wrote the biography of Italian revolutionary – Giuseppe Mazzini, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1857 revolt and wrote a book terming it as ‘the first war of Indian independence’. And when Sir William Curzon Wyllie was shot dead by Madan Lal Dhingra, it’s himself who openly supported the act. His anti-British stand was crystal clear to all and sundry and when he was arrested and was en route for India through a ship named as S.S. Morea, he made a daredevil attempt to escape by jumping into the sea and reaching the French soil (Marseilles, a port city of France) by swimming. Though this attempt got foiled and he was rearrested, it brought him the tag of Veer (brave) for life.

But what happened to this ‘Veer’ after getting sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to the notorious Cellular jail in the Andamans (popularly known as Kaala Paani) ? Why the hell did this vowed patriot start sending mercy petitions to the British and after his release in 1921, always support the British ? Well, this is a less important question as the answer is not very difficult to guess. He could not endure the pain of this sentence and was mentally not prepared to face it again in his life. The more important question which is nothing less than a mystery, is a different one. Why the hell did he become anti-Muslim and come up with his Hindutva Doctrine and Two-nation Theory ? What was the need ? What instigated him to start thinking differently when he had written a detailed (albeit flawed) account of the 1857 revolt and considered it as nothing short of a war for the independence of the nation called India ? He must have been well aware of the fact that the Hindus and the Muslims had rubbed shoulders with each other in that ‘war of independence’ to boot out the British (actually the East India Company). There was complete communal harmony in that ‘war’. Once the reigns of power in India were formally taken over by the British in 1859 (ending the era of the East India Company), they started sowing the seeds of separatism in the minds of the Indian Muslims because they had understood that to rule, they needed to divide. Savarkar himself also had abstained from speaking anything against the Muslim community till 1911 (in fact, he used to support Hindu Muslim unity). Then ? What acted as the catalyst for him to tread that path of communal hatred ? He was not a devoted Hindu (the same way Jinnah was not a devoted Muslim). He did not believe in the so-called Sanaatan Dharma. In later years, he did not have any cordial relations with the Raashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also. Taking all these facts into account, the activities of that so-called Hindu and so-called nationalist are not easy to understand. I could not understand the same for decades and it remained an unraveled mystery for me.

I am a mystery lover and a diehard fan of Dame Agatha Christie who wrote immortal mysteries for billions of readers like me. In almost all of her suspense stories, she inserted a psychological angle. Diving deep into the mental world of her characters, she used to delve the psychological reasons for whatever they did in the story. While pondering over the contradictions connected with V.D. Savarkar, suddenly a thought came to my mind that the solution to this riddle should be available not in the history but in the discipline of Psychology. Savarkar’s psyche and his basic personality constellation should be examined to find out the reasons for the drastic changes that became visible in his approach, talks and deeds post his release from the Andamans imprisonment.

While studying Psychology for the purpose of my attempts to crack the Indian Civil Services examination during the nineties, I had happened to read a lot about the Psychoanalytic Theory originally propagated by Sigmund Freud. At a glance, it’s a simple theory telling the three components of the personality of a human-being which are Id which is the primary component seeking immediate gratification of all desires, Ego which develops with the process of socialization keeping the individual grounded in reality and Super-Ego which is nothing but the conscience, i.e., the cluster of internalized moral standards. The most important among these three is Ego which makes the person a socially acceptable one, allowing him / her to live in line with the ways of the practical world. It’s Ego which prevents Id and Super-Ego from pulling the one too far towards his / her most basic urges or moralistic virtues. And that’s why the protection of Ego becomes paramount for any (normal) human-being in all the conditions of life. Whenever there is a threat to the person’s self-esteem, certain mental responses known as the Defense Mechanisms come to his / her rescue giving protection from the feeling of anxiety. Since one always seeks to avoid the unpleasant inner state of anxiety, he / she has to resort to one or more defense mechanisms for that avoidance. In my view, Savarkar faced this threat and to protect his self-esteem, he opted for a typical defense mechanism known as Compensation which involves overachieving in one area to compensate for failures in another. How it happened, let’s see. 

In his youth years, Savarkar did not understand himself (including his strengths and weaknesses) correctly. He considered himself a brave person capable enough to take on the mighty British rule. And when due to a sudden daredevil moment that he gifted to himself on 8th July, 1910, the tag of Veer (that is, brave) got attached to his name, this illusion of himself about himself got strengthened. However this illusion was short-lived and he came face-to-face with the stark reality that actually he was not only internally weak but also coward. This truth dawned on him very shortly once his imprisonment sentence began in the Andamans. Now this realization put him in a fix. He had to get rid of the hardships of such a sentence and also not to invite the same for himself in his future life. At the same time, he had to hide his weakness coupled with his cowardice too. Due to his mercy petitions (which bore fruit after a long wait), he was going to be exposed before his countrymen and also his admirers (he must have become a role model for the patriot Indian youths by then). And he could not afford any stigma on his popular persona in the public. How could he accept being seen as a coward after enjoying the public image of a brave man ?

Hence the trick that came to his mind to protect his image as well as his self-esteem was to completely change his track and compensate for his failure in the field of freedom struggle by overachieving in the field of communal politics. He shifted his attention from the nation to the Hindu religion and his shrewd mind showed him the way to attack the Muslims under the pretext of protecting and furthering the so-called Hindutva. He could attack the Muslims only and not the Christians because the British themselves were Christians and he could do anything but invite their resentment. Therefore he targeted the Muslims only though his Punyabhoomi concept (people having their holy land outside India) covered the Christians too. Thus a cunning intellectual (and a prolific writer) prepared ground to cover his own shortcomings by misusing his genius to the peril of billions of Indians in future.

Besides, since he had left the path of patriotism which involved freeing India from the British, he had to stay relevant in the Indian political scenario too because he still had a long life to live (when released in 1921, he was only 38 years old). And the only way, he could do so was to go ahead with the religious rhetoric and presenting himself as a champion of the Hindu interests (though in an enslaved and colonialized nation). Since he was violent by nature (almost all the cowards are), he did not mind communal riots in various places due to communal tension and spread of mutual hatred. The political independence of India was not his goal (which, he knew very well, in any case, was going to be achieved in the forthcoming times). Then what could he do to remain active in the field of politics (in the garb of religion) except coming up with newer ideas (just like our present prime minister) ? And that’s how, the Two-Nation Theory came into existence. And it was caught in no time by Jinnah and the AIML to their advantage.

Treading the path of communalism is always like riding a lion. Once rode, you cannot afford to come down from it. Savarkar also could not. Perhaps he never wanted to. He also must have understood by then that his erstwhile patriotism was fake (or at least hollow). And unlike Jinnah, he was not going to get any political power in free India. All he could do was to make efforts to salvage his image of being brave and being a patriot. Such things can never be admitted by anyone (or allowed to be known to the other people even after own demise). In his autobiography, he has attempted self-aggrandizement (by showering exaggerated praise on himself) and distorted historical facts (it happens with many autobiographers and that’s why a number of autobiographies are not reliable). A careful examination of this reality can help understanding him and his thought-train.

Savarkar might have been the instigation behind the ghastly act committed by Nathuram Godse and his accomplices on 30th January, 1948. However I don’t think, he had any pin-pointed goal to be termed as Gandhi’s assassination. Since Savarkar was pretty confused about his acts and their consequences during the late forties, Gandhi’s assassination was a collateral damage alongside the havoc that prevailed during, prior to and after the partition of India due to his useless activities which were not going to do any good to him, leave aside anybody else or India at large. By his activities, he was only highlighting an eternal truth that when a person cannot do anything positive, he does negative things to feel important (and show off own importance).

Jinnah was a loser (despite becoming the president of Pakistan). Savarkar too was a loser. Both these losers caused irreparable damage to not only India but also humanity. Jinnah died with remorse in 1948. And Savarkar died with his cowardice in 1966 at the ripe old age of 83 years when he chose to embrace death by going for fast unto death (he had given up consuming food, water and medicines) because when the release of Nathuram Godse’s aides got celebrated by a group in November 1964 and subsequent events started leading to a deep enquiry into the conspiracy of Gandhi’s assassination, his sixth sense hinted him that he was going to be held guilty for that as a result of any such enquiry. Since unlike his title, he was not brave enough to face the consequences of his acts (as he was not half a century ago), he opted to lay down his life instead.

These are my subjective conclusions derived through deductive reasoning.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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6 Responses to Solving the Savarkar riddle

  1. Interesting view point. I think if you could also give reference list (name of books etc) for historical events then the article would gain more value. In the age to whatsapp university references are needed for articles concerning historical figures.

    • Hearty thanks Vikas Ji. Actually the core of this analysis is subjective and based on my deductive reasoning. Rest are the facts already available in public domain. Still your observation has substance. Will try to do something about it.

  2. Matheikal says:

    Nice to see you back to writing profusely.

    Savarkar is an interesting case study. Isn’t he a forerunner of our present Veer who boasts of a 56-inch chest?

    • Hearty thanks Sir. Yes, he also boasts of his bravery (actually his power) and courage. But he is not a loser. He has gained whatever he wanted to. And this success of himself does not appear to be threatened in any manner in the foreseeable future. He has caused enough harm to India and is likely to cause further. But that’s the bad luck of the Indian masses the same way the partition of the country was.

  3. sydbarett says:

    MathurSaab, Sarvarkar was never in the same league as Jinnah. Even after his lame attempts at reviving his career post release, he had very little mass appeal pre-independence or even during remainder of his lifetime. To his credit though his efforts towarding winning a right wing affiliation was a fantastic long term investment and seems to be earning him serious dividends. I’m sure he would be smarting watching his revival in the 2020s when most of his more accomplished colleagues seem to have fallen by the wayside.

    Your summation/last para is quite amusing and most definitely food for thought. Clearly our freedom fighters had very little understanding of what a “win-win” situation was and how to go about achieving it. Otherwise everyone would have come out a winner ! Maybe they just needed a bit of HR training ;-P.

    Then again, Partition was always going to be a suboptimal solution for all involved. And to that extent maybe everyone was a “winner” ! Reminds me of a very popular Rabindrasangeet song “Amra Sobai Raja”

    • Well, I have carefully gone through your thoughts and will ponder over them once again. Perhaps I will get a new insight by churning them repeatedly. Hearty thanks Nishant for patiently reading my post and adding value to it.

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