Sunday, July 14, 2024

Savarkar & Communists : love-hate saga

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Even as the most vitriolic opposition for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar comes from the Left parties in India, but a cursory reading of the history will tell you that he was not the villain he’s made out to be during the first forty years of an independent India. The founding fathers of Communism in India were not only great admirers of Savarkar, they were always willing to walk the proverbial extra mile to accommodate and even rever the man so passionately hated by their successors in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

While Savarkar was the national president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1948, the year when Gandhi was assassinated, its Bengal branch was headed by Nirmal Chatterjee who had the declared support of the Communist Party of India in his two successful bids to enter the Lok Sabha, first in 1963 and then again in 1967.

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As Nirmal retired from active politics due to bad health, the newly created CPM sent his son Somnath Chatterjee to the parliament on its own ticket from the same constituency. Somnath of course went on to become a legend in the Left circles.

The founding member of CPI MN Roy was so obsessed with Savarkar that when he went to see the man after his release from Andaman Jail, the western attired Roy changed into a dhoti-kurta to impress the Hindutva legend. As per J.B.H. Wadia in his book “MN Roy, the man: an Incomplete Royana”, Roy even touched Savarkar’s feet during the meeting.

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Another founding member of the Communist Party Hirendra Nath Mukherji literally forced a homage to Savarkar in the parliament after his death in 1966. This despite the fact that Savarkar was never a member of the either house and the state government of the ruling Congress Party in Maharashtra did not even acknowledge the passing away of the Hindu nationalist.

In the words of Sripad Amrit Dange, yet another founding member of CPI, Savarkar was the greatest revolutionary there ever was.

Even left leaning Bhagat Singh made a reading of Savarkar’s biography compulsory for every member and f his Socialist Republican Party.

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It wasn’t just the Communists, Indira Gandhi herself called him a “remarkable son of India” who inspired the lives of many across the country. “His name was a byword for daring and patriotism. Mr Savarkar was cast in the mould of a classical revolutionary and countless people drew inspiration from him…Savarkar’s defiance of the British government has its own place in the freedom struggle” was how she responded to Savarkar’s death in 1966.

Even Mahatma Gandhi whose murder was and is still attributed to Savarkar despite an honourable dischayby the court, used to admire Savarkar as a “faithful son of Bharat, brave, clever and frankly a revolutionary.” In an article published in Young India, Mahatma Gandhi fiercely argued why ‘Royal Clemency’ should be given to Veer Savarkar and his ‘talent should be utilised for public welfare’.

Carry forward to 2003 when we see the Left parties along with Congress boycotting the function to unveil Savarkar’s picture in the parliament. So what led to this present state of affairs where Savarkar’s name is an anathema to the self proclaimed secular parties in the country !

The left-centrist narrative in this country like everywhere else in the world has been traditionally challenged by the right leaning parties and in our context it was Jansangh which came up as an alternative to Hindu Mahasabha which was fast losing appeal in a newly liberated nation where Nehru and Congress had successfully captured the imagination of the masses. The bloody partition was over and the priorities of the people were changing at a rapid pace.

Jansangh for its part was also espousing the cause of common man under the shadow of Gandhian Socialism. From Shyama Prasad Mukherji (early 50s) to it’s final days under Deen Dayal Upadhyay (late 70s) it focused on the upliftment of the society using socialist means. The declared aim of “Antyodya” by Upadhyaya was to take the benefits of prosperity to the last vulnerable man, and creating a setup where the interests of the individual and the society were no longer different from each other.

Even as the struggling Jansangh gave way to Bhartiya Janata Party in 1980, the initial days of the new getup were still on the same lines with the leadership talking about Swadeshi & Khadi. But after the rout at the hustings in 1984 where the party could manage just two seats in the country (even Atal lost to Scindia in Gwalior), the party took a huge leap of faith and decided to focus on Hindutva as their political ideology.

We were already in fifth decade since independence and the political setup in the country was already undergoing an upheaval following the introduction of OBC factor in the politics post Mandal Commission. While Congress still dominated the polity in the majority of the states, Left were firmly in West Bengal and Tripura and happily placed in Kerala. They had enough numbers from the three states to keep them relevant on the national stage.

Regional parties had come to dominate in the South and North was being gobbled up by the forces of Social Justice in a very conclusive manner. The communal partition in the society had taken a back seat to the fault lines on the basis of caste, language, regional and ethnicity. North-South divide was complete, East was well alienated from the rest of the country and except for Mumbai, even West (Gujarat & Maharashtra) were no longer interested in the central politics.

In a nutshell, every ideological divide within the majority community was being exploited to the hilt and every political party, national and regional, were well ensconced with their respective brand of politics. They all had cornered their respective niche in the exiting political scheme of things and the very thought of bringing the entire Hindu population on a common plank of Hindutva as espoused by the BJP, was threatening to sound the death knell for the entire political dispensation in the country.

Now no one wanted to antagonise the majority community directly, yet the majoritarian politics of BJP had to be checkmated for the political survival of the rest of the parties. Hence targeting Savarkar as a fascist and branding him as an agent of the British was seen as an alternative to discredit the man and Hindutva ideology he invented and espoused. This was accepted as the only counter strategy to the overwhelming response BJP was getting across the country.

So it is the compulsion of political survival that forces the Left and the Congress to attack, defame and even ridicule the very icon their ancestors in their parties praised, admired and even worshipped.

In the words of Janaki Bakhle of the University of California, Berkeley “Savarkar’s influence in modern India rivals that of M.K. Gandhi”, as she argued that Savarkar was among the four most important anticolonial nationalists along with Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. Turns out that she was not far off the mark.

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