Those who have an ideological baggage to sell tend to overdo things, making them look foolish in the process. The latest example is the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the way it fell into a booby trap. This is supposed to be a scholarly organisation with no links to politics and politicians. But it has now been pushed into taking political sides. The result is that the ICHR lost, and the political operators did not win.
The objective of the ICHR is to “promote and give direction to historical research.” It is autonomous, but the Indian notion of autonomy is that it must fit into the Government’s scheme of things. That notion created no problems when men like Manmohan Singh were in the pilot’s cockpit. Things changed when the cockpit was occupied by a party that makes no effort to hide its ideological agenda. Thus, the celebration of freedom under the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav turned out to be a celebration of things other than Azadi.
To begin with, they conceptualised the Mahotsav on the grandest possible scale. Citizens of India were to participate in cultural activities organised across the country for 75 weeks preceding the 75th anniversary of Independence Day. The Government formally announced the celebration with a statement reminding citizens that “The Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has often shared his vision of building a new Atmanirbhar Bharat by the year 2022.” Proposed activities ranged from “Prime Minister’s scheme for nurturing young authors” to “design competition for iconic structure in Nav Bharat Udyan.”
Everything is centred round the Prime Minister’s vision, all the details emerge from the Prime Minister’s initiative. Which is encouraging. It means that the Prime Minister is focused on the nation’s emergence into an all-new, modernistic entity that is bound to overtake other nations with atmanirbhar dynamism. The Amrit Mahotsav put out publicity material with a garland featuring eight national leaders. One omission was as significant as one inclusion. Jawaharlal Nehru did not figure in the garland while VD Savarkar did. The political partisanship could not be more strident.
It would be interesting, academically and intellectually as well as politically, if the present dispensation achieves even a modest degree of success in removing Nehru from the formative history of India. Including Savarkar as a primary influence could be equally challenging. It was Nehru who ensured that the foundations of democracy were laid strongly enough so that even parties that he detested would be equal partners with others as democracy demanded. As a result those who detested him have a chance now to see if they can erase him from history.
Savarkar was nowhere in the picture when democracy was finding its roots in India. He was in the Andaman jail, accused of various assassination charges. He kept himself busy there with appeals to the British authorities for mercy. In one appeal, he said, “I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like... Where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” A Savarkar supporter tabled questions in the Imperial Legislative Council asking: “Is it not a fact that Mr Savarkar and his brother had once in 1915 and at another time in 1918 submitted petitions to the Government stating that they would, during the continuance of war, serve the Empire by enlisting in the army?”
It is ironic that despite support by those in power, Savarkar has not found acceptance in public estimation in the country. But his historical importance can never be belittled. It was he who conceptualised the political philosophy of Hindutva. (The credit for coining the term is given to Chandranath Basu, a Bengali writer regarded as the doyen of economic nationalism in Bengal.) By deepening the communal divide, Hindutva destabilised the freedom movement and, thus, helped the
British. As President of the Hindu Mahasabha, he also promoted the Two-Nation theory, just as Jinnah did for parallel reasons.
Upon release from prison, Savarkar stood by his words and actively collaborated with the British imperial rulers. Just as Subhas Bose raised the Indian National Army to fight the British, Savarkar helped the colonial government recruit lakhs of Indians into its armed forces. This is why Savarkar never received a place of honour among India’s freedom fighters. It’s also why Narendra Modi’s advocacy will not carry much weight. On Savarkar’s 132nd birth anniversary, Modi bowed before the departed leader’s portrait in remembrance of “the true son of Mother India” and “his invaluable contribution to India’s history.” There are not many takers for that line even half a century after Savarkar’s passing.