Uday Mahurkar’s latest book, ‘Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition’ may be one of the most challenging works in Indian writing that attempts to decode multidimensional personality of Savarakar. Presently in office as India’s Information Commissioner, we discuss the book and beyond, with this veteran journalist, columnist, and author in our Book Reader segment. He speaks to The New Indian’s Editor-in-chief Aarti Tikoo (AT). Excerpts.
AT :In the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of new literature emerge on controversial figures like Veer Savarkar. Is the right wing in India trying to rewrite history?
UM : It is a correction. It is trying to rewrite history which was wrongly written. Truth cannot be hidden. For many decades post India’s independence, truth was suppressed. Now, it is all coming out. It’s a natural process.
AT: Our textbooks paint a very negative image of nationalists such as Veer Savarkar. Why are we not making corrections in the textbooks (especially NCERT)? Why is the onus now on authors to correct history?
UM: The process has begun. Ever since the government came into power in 2014, conscious efforts are being made in this direction. We even have a new education policy in place. In this case, I wanted to project the right things Savarkar did, before the nation. For long, he has been portrayed as a demon by a section of left wing thinkers and allied parties. I always found something lacking there. After all, he was a great patriot and he even passed the most rigorous imprisonment in cellular jail. There is so much that people do not know about the man – his efforts to prevent partition, his vision for India’s national security… All that needed to be brought out.
AT: You titled the book, Veer Savarkar, The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition. Do you think the partition could have really been avoided?
UM:It wasn’t a goal on the part of the Congress. Savarkar joined politics in 1937. Subhash Chandra Bose, SM Joshi, Achyut Patwardhan invited him to join the Congress, but he refused. According to him, they had gone so far ahead on the path of minority appeasement, that it could not retrace its steps. And, to indulge in Muslim appeasement at the cost of rights of the majority, or the Hindus, would have meant his betrayal to the nation, and therefore, and he made it very clear that he was fighting for equal rights. He did not demand special rights for the majority community. In fact, “great poet” Muhammad Iqbal visualised today’s Pakistan in the 1930 session of Allahabad when he said that he saw a separate homeland for Muslims in “today’s Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab and NorthWest Frontier Province”. Exactly six years later, as part of Anglo Muslim conspiracy, Sindh was detached from Bombay state or Bombay presidency, so to say. As for Savarkar, he saw this as an Anglo British conspiracy from day one.
There is a view that had India remained united, it would have been a loose Federation, because that is what the Bristish had offered – either the partition or a loose Federation. Do you think that would have been a better idea?
It was the Congress’ Muslim appeasement policy that the Muslim League took full advantage of, and what led to the partition. Savarkar made it clear that right from the start that indulging in Muslim appeasement at the cost of Hindu rights amounts to the betrayal of the nation. He minced no words when at the time of joining Hindu Mahasabha, he said that it was better to stand in the last row of patriots than to be in the first row of betrayers.
The word Pakistan was coined by a Gujjar Muslim from Punjab called Rehmat Ali Chaudhary, while he was studying in Oxford. The scheme was given shape by Jinnah. The name Pakistan has been in the public domain since 1932, much before Savarkar came into politics.
AT:You say it was an Anglo-British conspiracy. But even if we were to look at the evidence that you have presented in your book, is there substantial evidence to this theory?
UM:There is enough evidence to believe. Sindh was one province where the majority of Hindus was substantial in many areas. When the partition took place, Karachi had 51% Hindus. It was not like Punjab or Bengal, where the Muslim majority was thick.
AT:Would you say that the Congress got fooled by the British? Or are you saying that Congress was part of the Anglo-British conspiracy against India?
UM:I wouldn’t say that. Congress was so obsessed with the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity that it could not think beyond that. I have called it Hindu-Muslim unity at Hindu cost. It started from 1916 onward. The Lucknow Pact was the first step, followed by the Khilafat movement where the Muslim appeasement policies of Congress went up by several notches as compared to 1916. And then they continued it all through.
What was the first mistake committed by the Congress?
Lucknow Pact was the first mistake. As I have written in my book, the Pan Islamist strategists could not befool three people in Indian politics — Veer Savarkar, Dr. Ambedkar and BS Moonje. BS Moonje was a very well known and respectable Mahasabha leader. He is the person who can be credited with forcing the British to open army recruitment to all castes. Earlier, only the members of the Kshatriya community were recruited.
AT:The book suggests that Veer Savarkar could have been India’s security strategist, had the Congress really listened to him. What was the security perspective from his point of view?
UM: He believed that in India, all should be treated equally. He was not fighting for special treatment for the Hindus. His language may be harsh about the Muslims, but the fact remains that his Hindu manifesto states very clearly that in independent India, all castes and religions will have equal rights. He goes a step further to say that should anybody try to hinder the prayers of religious minorities, the state will step in and protect them. Most important, he says that the nation will not allow creation of a nation within a nation in the name of religious minoritism. So, his theory is very expansive, and not just limited to Hindu-Muslims. He was a great visionary of India’s security and diplomacy.
In fact, when Nehru promoted non-alligned movement and did not oppose the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1954, under the pretext of a doctrine called Panchsheel, Savarkar was the only one who pressed the alarm button. He warned Pandit Nehru, that if we adopt a weak stance with China, its thirst for swallowing land will increase, and China would attack India and swallow our land. That is exactly what happened. In another statement, he pushed the idea for a policy to pump up the armaments especially, if those around us were doing so. In that sense, he was a votary of India going nuclear from day one.
AT:When we refer to our founding fathers, there are others too. For instance, Sardar Patel, whom the right wing looks up to as an idol and as somebody who saved India and integrated the entire country. Would you say that Savarkar and Patel were on the same page? Or were they on two different tangents?
UM:They were on the same page. But, Savarkar goes further. He delineates his vision and the policy in very clear cut terms. According to him, ‘no two nations can be permanent friends or permanent enemies, because the definition keeps on changing according to the needs of the nation.’ Then, he says, an enemy’s enemy has to be seen as our friend. That was also his advice to Subhash Chandra Bose. Not many people in India know that Bose’s decision to flee India and seek the help of Germany and Japan and Axis powers to free India from British rule was inspired by Savarkar. The two met in 1940, following which Bose decided to look out. It is recorded in Savarkar’s 1952 speech when he folded his Abhinav Bharath, the secret revolution organisation.
AT:India is not aware of this side to Savarkar. The perception is that Savarkar was a coward and he did not stand up for the freedom struggle of India. There are even allegations that he was an agent of the British and that he pleaded several times before the British to set him free. Where did this come from?
UM:My book is completely based on facts. And the facts clearly state that Savarkar is the greatest symbol of India’s integrity and unity. He stands against fragmentation, and is a promoter of ‘nation first’ theory. If every Indian were to adopt his nation first ideology, the country will progress by a speed which will be many times faster than today.
AT:Would that mean that Veer Savarkar was essentially a freedom fighter and a hardcore nationalist who was misunderstood by people?
UM:Misrepresented, not understood, misrepresented by interested parties. For instance, he noticed in 1938 itself that the Muslims were entering the army in large numbers. He was proven right when in 1939, when the Second World War began, the percentage in terms of population ratio of Muslims was recorded as much higher in the army. He even took up a campaign for Hindus to join the Indian Army in large numbers. Clearly he could see through the divide. Even the Muslim League was aware. The Congress leaders of the time said that partition will happen over their dead bodies, but eventually, Savarkar was proven right after seven years.
AT:How do you say they (the Muslim League) knew?
UM:Muslim League opposed the recruitment of Hindu soldiers between 1939 and 1944. They opposed Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha at least four times and even protested to the British saying that the large number of Hindus joining the army was a threat to ‘them’. To be honest, they meant, a stronger Hindu military would be a threat to the future Pakistan. Just imagine, had India been weaker in military terms at the time of partition, Pakistan would have attacked right away. After all, they only raised the slogan: “Has ke liya Pakistan, Ladke lenge Hindustan” (We got Pakistan easy, but we would fight to get hold of India). In that sense, Savarkar’s vision was unparalleled. He could see things ahead of their time. That is why I have called him the father of India’s national security and diplomacy.
AT: Are you saying that the Congress Party accepted partition over the dead bodies of Hindus? And that this offer by the British was accepted only because they wanted to keep Hindus and Muslims united?
UM:They wanted to avoid a civil war. You see what happened? Riots erupted. Muslim League started triggering riots. Savarkar could clearly see that the Congress was caving in because it was bound by the commitment of complete non-violence. So he had no answer to the riots. He strongly maintained: if you surrender to the Civil War, then there is no way out. And if on top, they acquire more weapons, the threat would only get bigger. You have to match aggression by aggression.
AT:Are you saying that today, Muslims in India, who did not go to Pakistan but were in support of Pakistan (for example, in UP) will ask for another Partition?
UM:I’m talking about Pakistan. He had said it right then, By agreeing to partition, Hindu-Muslim problem will be solved. But India will have greater problems at hand. In that context, he was not commenting on the Indian Muslims. He was commenting on the formation of Pakistan.
AT:Those people who launched the movement for Pakistan, stayed back – well most of them. Do you think the idea of Pakistan is still alive in India?
UM: Not all, but in some sections, yes. There is a very big Wahabi movement in the country. A part of this Wahabi movement has designs which are not conducive to national integration, and we are seeing it happen in Kerala and many other places. But I’d still like to believe that a very large section of Indian Muslims want to remain in the mainstream. And I think any policy has to take into consideration this factor in Kashmir also today.
I haven’t been to Kashmir but I am aware of the situation. There is a significant section which uses India. As has emerged in the encounters or the liquidation of the terrorists in the last six to seven years, 90% of the information has come from Muslims, either in police or civilians in Kashmir. So there is a significant section of Muslims in Kashmir, who are part of the civil society but are scared of the terrorists.
AT:Let me rephrase. Had we stayed united in 1947, do you think we could have existed as a harmonious society — with Hindus and Muslims having different political views, different ideologies… Would the ideology of Pakistan have stayed alive?
UM:The ideology of Pakistan was allowed to fester. Pakistan did not exist in 1940 when Jinnah passed the Pakistan resolution on March 23 that year. Many Muslim leaders from different parties had opposed the resolution. Had Congress formed a joint front of Congress, Hindu Mahasabha and those Muslims who opposed partition, the story could have been different.
AT:Are you saying that the Congress made the mistake way before the partition? And had they really listened to Gandhi, Nehru and Savarkar, both the partition and the civil war between Hindu-Muslim could have been avoided?
UM:Absolutely. Congress accepted partition to avoid civil war and ended up accepting partition as well as civil war. A lot of people say that Muslim power got divided because of partition and therefore how was partition bad? I don’t agree with that. If you really look at it, only Hindus in Pakistan were driven out in 1947. As compared to 1947, only 8% Hindus are left in Pakistan only 8%. In Bangladesh, only 28% Hindus are left. This would not have happened and there would have been a sense of balance in the society.
AT:There is another point of view that says if we were one country, it would have been a challenge to govern/regulate certain areas, such as the North West Frontier Province, which Americans call the wild west of Pakistan.
UM:I don’t think so. We have to look at the situation before Pakistan was born. There was Badshah Khan. We must not forget that in the last 1945-46 Central assembly and Provincial Assembly elections before partition, people of the state voted for Congress. These are the same people you call ungovernable. So it is basically a self goal. Pakistan was a self goal.
AT:Are we still doing that self goal?
UM:There has been a remarkable change in the policies and strategies in the last seven years. But coming back to Savarkar’s vision, we won the 1965 war, but we did not conquer Lahore. We were only 13 kilometres from Lahore and India accepted a ceasefire under world pressure. Then there is Tashkent. We gave it our best on the ground, but we lost on the negotiation table.
True, in the 1971 war, Indira Gandhi did a good job of partitioning Pakistan, but the end result in spite of holding 93,000 soldiers, was that we could not settle the PoK issue. On top of that, we had to return those three tehsils-subdistricts that we won in Sindh. There was a considerable Hindu population in those districts, who assumed that they could now be a part of India. But when they learnt that those districts had been given back to Pakistan, there was a huge migration. Over one lakh people migrated to India fearing retaliation from Pakistani authorities. So we have continuously lost on the negotiation table. Had Savarkar been there, this would not have happened.
AT: Would you say that India has been lacking in the right security strategies and the right security experts, who never really could understand geopolitics? For, till date, we do not have a Veer Savarkar-like figure.
UM:In my view, there have been appreciable changes in the last seven years. The title of our introduction is ‘Dawn of the Savarkar era’. What is that, you would ask? Removal of 370 is the dawn of the Savarkar era. Ram Mandir being built is the dawn of the Savarkar era. I really wonder that even after the breaking, demolishing and destroying of 1,000s of temples by the Muslim invaders and partition, how is it that it took us this long to build Ram temple. Why can’t Kashi and Mathura be freed from the mosques attached to the temples? Why can’t Muslims say that we will move the mosques outside these spaces or that we’ll have a new mosque built, as has happened under court orders in Ayodhya?
AT:The Vajpayee government looked at this issue almost along the same lines as the Congress. In fact, Vajpayee went out of his way to approach Pakistan and make friends with the neighbor even as it was constantly conspiring against India in the Kargil War? Much later, Pakistan also perpetrated Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. What has shifted in the right wing thinking, because after all, Vajpayee-Advani they also come from the Savarakar school of thought? Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah also come from the same school of thought. Why has there been so much difference between these two strands of the BJP?
UM:I think Vajpayee was misled by the political leadership. And now it is very clear that it was not Nawaz Sharif, it was Parvez Musharraf, who planned Kargil. So he got beasted by the politicians. PM Modi is a different player. He follows Chanakya and Krishnaniti. So he has a mind of his own. I find him closest to Savarkar’s vision because, earlier, we used to overthink our actions and policies, keeping the world leadership in mind. Now that is changing. As Savarkar used to say: ‘We will do what is good for us; Let the world think the way it wants’.
AT: So, in conclusion, we are saying we have had a similar set of security experts in the last 70 years, but it’s the political leadership that has changed the course in India now?
UM:I would not go that far. But certainly, PM Modi has a mind of its own and he thinks along the same lines as Savarkar in terms of national security and diplomacy. I’ve read Shivaji very closely. He was the greatest Indian in 1,000 years. In fact, my next book is on him. So, to understand Savarkar and Modi, it is very important to read Shivaji. Because, both draw from Shivaji’s vision.