The situation may have changed since Savarkar made his remarks, but unpleasant facts, even if of a different nature, still remain.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has once again been invoked in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, by his critics. They have been gleefully quoting his following words to claim that he was a supporter of the two-nation theory through which India was partitioned: “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations in the main: The Hindus and the Muslims, in India.”
Savarkar made his remarks in the course of the presidential address he delivered at the all-India Hindu Mahasabha convention in 1937, held in Ahmedabad.
This is a classic of selective quoting, and of cherry-picking. Savarkar said other things in the same context, which demonstrate that he was far from being in favour of a division of the country along religious lines. In the above quote, he was referring to the constant friction that existed between the two religious groups in the backdrop of the freedom struggle. As a matter of fact, he saw no option other than the two sides working together and reducing the gap, which is evident in these following words:
“And as it has happened in many a country in similar situations in the world, the utmost that we can do under the circumstances is to form an Indian state in which none is allowed a special weightage or representation and none is paid an extra price to buy his loyalty.” The use of the term ‘none’ is indicative of the fact that he wished for both the Hindus and the Muslims to live together in India, but without discriminatory favours to either. Savarkar made his remarks in the course of the presidential address he delivered at the all-India Hindu Mahasabha convention in 1937, held in Ahmedabad.
Of course, he was vocal with regard to cooperation from the minority community, given that the political environment in the country had been vitiated by the likes of MA Jinnah, who were pushing for concessions for Muslims while also perpetuating the cause of a Muslim nation. Savarkar said, “The Hindus… are willing to discharge their duty to a common Indian state on equal footing. But if our Muslim countrymen thrust on communal strife on the Hindus and cherish anti-Indian and extra-terrestrial designs of establishing a Mohammedan rule or supremacy in India, then let the Hindus look to themselves and stand on their own legs and fight single-handedly… for the liberation of India from any non-Hindu yoke, be it English our Muslim or otherwise.”
Savarkar was not only forthright in his views — which are being misquoted today — but he was also one of the most perceptive thinkers and articulators of the times he lived in. Instead of blindly singing the Hindu-Muslim tune that large sections of the Congress had adopted, he preferred to live in the world of reality. The reality was that the majority community had been led to believe by various national leaders of the freedom struggle that their efforts would be in vain unless they could win over the minorities to their side. Savarkar had no problems with working with the Muslims, but he was disdainful of the methods employed for the purpose. He observed, “The day we gave the Mohammedans to understand that swaraj could not be won unless and until the Mohammedans obliged the Hindus… that day we rendered an honourable unity impossible.”
He stated that the Hindus should tell their Muslim countrymen that threats of non-cooperation in the freedom struggle unless the minority community leaders’ “anti-national and fanatical” demands were met, would not work. Here again, Savarkar stressed his desire for unity among the two communities on the basis of equality within India. This is what he said: “We wanted and do only want that kind of unity which will go to create an Indian state in which all citizens irrespective of caste and creed, race and religion, are treated all alike on the principle of one man one vote… we are even willing to guarantee any special protection for the langue, culture and religion of the Mohammedans as a minority if they also promise not to infringe on the equal liberty of other communities in India to follow their own ways… and not to dominate and humiliate the Hindus.” Where is the two-nation theory idea here that his critics are accusing him of? And where is the exclusion of the Muslims?
Savarkar’s entire political thought process on the Hindu-Muslim in the backdrop of the freedom movement rested on the approach of that section of the minority community which had cast its lot with Jinnah’s diatribe.
Savarkar, though, did send out a blunt message to the minority group — “If you come, with you; if you don’t, without you. And if you oppose, in spite of you. The Hindus would continue to fight for their national freedom as best as they can.” In that same address, he stressed on the following, yet again establishing his desire for a united India — not a divided nation on the basis of religion. “Hindustan must ever remain one and indivisible.”
There is even more in his speech to show that he did not regard the two-nation religion theory as worthwhile. He said, “Let the India Staten be purely Indian… Let no cognisance be taken whatsoever of man’s being Hindu or Mohammedan, Christian or Jew. Let all citizens of that Indian state be traded according to their individual worth irrespective of their religious or racial percentage in the general population… Can any attitude towards an Indian state be more national than that?”
It’s true that he was strident over the “anti-national designs of the Mohammedans”, but before we jump to the conclusion that he was railing against the community as a whole as part of his communal agenda, bear in mind that he was clear in identifying the people he had in mind: Jinnah and his supporters within the community. “Fortunately for the Hindus, Mr Jinnah and the Muslim Leaguers have deliberately disclosed their real intentions this year at the Lucknow session of the Muslim League more authoritatively, more frankly and even more blatantly than they used to be. I thank them for it. An open enemy is safer than a suspicious friend.”
Savarkar’s entire political thought process on the Hindu-Muslim in the backdrop of the freedom movement rested on the approach of that section of the minority community which had cast its lot with Jinnah’s diatribe. He said, “The Muslims will not tolerate the Vande Mataram song. The poor unity-hankers among the Hindus hastened to cut it (the song) short. But the Muslim would not tolerate even the piece of it cut to order.” He then sarcastically added, “Get a new song composed even by an over-generous Ravindra, Muslims would have nothing to do with it because Ravindra being a Hindu could not but commit the heinous offence of using some Sanskrit words such as ‘Jati’ instead of ‘Kaum’… They cannot be satisfied unless a national song is composed by an Iqbal or Jinnah himself in unalloyed Urdu…”
Here too, Savarkar demonstrates a willingness to accommodate if there was a positive response from the other end. He said, “We would have sacrificed a dozen songs, a hundred words of our own free will if thereby we could really contribute to the unity and solidarity of Hindustan. But we know the question is not so simple as that.” He went on to state that the Muslim antagonism towards the Hindus — at least of those Muslims that had aligned themselves with Jinnah’s communal stand — was the root of the problem, and that the desire by this section of the minority community to “dominate” over the majority Hindus, could no longer be accepted.
Let’s once more return to where the present narrative began— Savarkar’s ‘two-nation’ assertion. He did say that “there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India”, but he also added that the “communal tangles” could be resolved “when the time is ripe”. But, meanwhile, he observed that the problem would not dissolve by a mere refusal to acknowledge it. “It is better to diagnose and treat a deep-seated disease than to ignore it. Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are.”
The situation may have changed since Savarkar made his remarks, but unpleasant facts, even if of a different nature, still remain. The more we refuse to acknowledge them, the less prepared we shall be of resolving them.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.