Savarkar, Hindutva and Indian Politics

Hindutva (a word coined By Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in a 1923 pamphlet) is generally understood to be a term used to describe movements advocating Hindu nationalism. The BJP, formed in 1980, took up Hindutva only in 1990 and Savarkar in 2000. On May 2002, L.K. Advani spoke of Savarkar in the Andamans and admitted his intellectual debt to his essay Hindutva.

On 26 Feb 2003, at the insistence of the BJP-led government and in the face of opposition protest, Savarkar’s portrait was unveiled in the central hall of parliament by President A.P.J. Kalam.



(See )

From Left: parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhavat, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi.

Frontline columnist A.G. Noorani is the author of the book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection (LeftWord Books, Delhi, 2002). He observes:

“No government with any sense of decency would unveil such a man’s portrait in the hallowed premises of Parliament – there, to face the portrait of the very man he had, as Patel and Kapur found, conspired to murder. Another person familiar with police investigations was the Home Minister of the Bombay Province, Morarji Desai. He had assigned hisbest police officers to the investigation. Desai’s carefully worded judgment on Savarkar in the Bombay Legislative Council on 3 Apr 1948, when R.N. Mandlik referred to “the past services of the Savarkar brothers,” is devastatingly brief: “May I say, Sir, that the past services are more than offset by the present disservice?”

Shortly afterwards, in Apr 2003, an article appeared at the CPI(ML) web site, the beginning and end of which are quoted below:

Unveiling Savarkar: Picture Imperfect

“But because of the then prevalent ideas about chivalry to women, which ultimately proved highly detrimental to the Hindu community, neither Shivaji nor Chinaji Appa could rape Muslim women.”

— V.D. Savarkar, The Six Golden Epochs of Indian History, p. 71.

Savarkar, the first person to ‘theorise’ Hindutva and to advocate rape as a necessary component of Hindutva nationalism, has been honoured with a portrait in Parliament Central Hall. Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament is a symbol of BJP’s blatent assertion of its model of poisonous, distorted “hate nationalism” — the model that killed Gandhi, that held Gaurav Yatras to celebrate the rape and killing of Muslim women in Gujarat.

Also the RSS-BJP, which has no history of participation in the freedom movement, is desperate to hunt for someone from the Hindutva ranks, whom they can claim as a freedom fighter. And Savarkar is the only one whom they can prune and touch up to fit the slot! But Savarkar’s ‘nationalism’, too, is hardly an unadulterated legacy; Savarkar blotted his record of patriotism by his own actions. It is true that Savarkar, in his youth, was a fiery patriot. He was the founder of the Abhinav Bharat Society, which was a revolutionary terrorist group which organised attacks on British authorities. He was the first ever too boldly challenge the British denigration of 1857 as a ‘revolt’ or ‘mutiny’, and to assert, in a book published in 1908, which was banned by the British, that 1857 was India’s First War of Independence.

Unfortunately, Savarkar washed his hands off this history. He was arrested for abetting the murder of the Collector of Nasik. He managed to escape from captivity through a ship’s porthole: the daring escape for which he earned the ‘Veer’ title. But the brave ‘Veer’ facet evaporated rapidly after his re-arrest and trial, when he was taken to the Andamans in 1911. Before spending even a single year there, he sent a petition begging for release. In a letter dated 24 Nov 1913, he repeated this petition, promising to mend his ways, and become “the staunchest advocate … of loyalty to the government … where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” Again in 1925. he sent a petition begging for release, and promising not to engage in politics “without the consent of the Government”. By then, of course, he had produced his essay on Hindutva (1923), and had emerged as a proponent of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and his targets, in his writings as well as his politics, became the Muslims rather than the British.


It is [also] a sad commentary on the bankrupcy of the “secular” parties of the mainstream Parliamentary Opposition. Shivraj Patil and Pranabh Mukherjee of the Congress, as well as CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee were all on the panel that had approved of the portrait in a meeting held 5 Dec 2002. Now these parties are condemning the fact that Savarkar’s portrait has been put up opposite that of Gandhiji’s. But the fact is that they are ‘putting on their gloves after the bout is over”, as the editorial of the Hindustan Times put it. Comrade Chatterjee admits that he was guilty of “a mistake and an oversight”.

If the Sangh’s communal fascist agenda is to be defeated we must put up an uncompromising challenge to it on all fronts — its symbols, its language, its ideas and each of its acts of actual and symbolic violence needs to be vigilantly combated at every step.

— Kavita Krishnan

Home > Liberation > Year_2003 > April > Unveiling Savarkar: Picture Imperfect

[The links above are to the CPI(ML) site.]

Kavita Krishnan’s remarks on Savarkar are pertinent, but she seems to have failed to understand the concept of Hindutva. We will discuss this below. But first the timeline:

Timeline (1947 – 2004)

15 Aug 1947 India’s independence
12 Sep 1947 RSS chief Guru Golwalkar meets Gandhi at Birla House
30 Jan 1948 Gandhi assassinated in Delhi
04 Feb 1948 RSS banned
05 Feb 1948 Letter from PM Nehru to Sardar Patel on RSS activity
Jun 1949 Golwalkar sends text of RSS constitution to Indian Government
12 Jul 1949 Ban on RSS lifted
13 Jul 1949 Golwalkar released from prison
07 Oct 1949 Congress Working Committee asks RSS members to join Congress
15 Dec 1950 Sardar Patel passes away
27 May 1964 Nehru passes away
Oct 1964 Gopal Godse and others released
12 Nov 1964 Religious programme to celebrate release of Godse et al. Godse re-arrested
1965 end Gopal Godse finally released
1966 Indira Gandhi appointed Prime Minister; Savarkar commits suicide; Kapur Commission
1969 Kapur Commission submits its report; bank nationalisation
1975 Indira Gandhi imposes emergency
27 Mar 1977 – 28 Jul 1979 Morarji Desai Prime Minister
1980 BJP formed
31 Oct 1984 – 01 Dec 1989 Rajiv Gandhi takes over as Prime Minister after his mother’s assassination
21 Jun 1991 – 10 May 1996 P.V. Narasimha Rao Prime Minister
10 Mar 1998 – 13 Mar 2004 A.B. Vajpayee Prime Minister


  1. gives a detailed chronology of Savarkar’s life.
  2. lists all the Prime Ministers of India

As stated in the opening paragraph, L.K. Advani admitted his intellectual debt to Savarkar in 2002. Kavita Krishnan on her part points out that his book on the 1857 Mutiny was extremely important. The chronology at mentions that Savarkar was awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Nagpur and Pune. His contribution to human knowledge is therefore obvious.

But we still have to go into the matter of his involvement in the Gandhi Assassination and his sometimes objectionable views. Excerpts of L.K. Advani’s autobiography are available at He states, on the assassination (Excerpts: Phase 2):

“The person who committed this sinful crime was Nathuram Vinayak Godse, an activist of the Hindu Mahasabha from Maharashtra. He had once been a swayamsevak of the RSS, but had left the organisation nearly fifteen years ago due to his strong ideological differences with the Sangh. he had in fact become a bitter critic of the RSS, charging that ‘the RSS has made Hindus impotent’. His main grouse was that the RSS had sublimated the ‘militant spirit’ among the Hindus, making them incapable of aggressive action. He ridiculed the Sangh’s focus on character building. His articles in the Marathi magazine Agrani from 1933 onwards show how bitter he was towards the RSS.”

The same excerpt of Advani’s autobiography points out that the Kapur Commission exonerated the RSS of all involvement in the case. Information about the Gandhi Assassination Trial and the subsequent Kapur Commission may be found at

Group of accused in Gandhi Murder Case
Standing: Shankar Kistaiya, Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa, Digambar Badge
Sitting: Narayan Apte, Vinayak Savarkar, Nathuram Godse, Vishnu Karkare
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Savarkar was set free due to lack of evidence while Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were hanged. Gopal Godse was sentenced to life imprisonment.

As stated at INDIA JUDGMENTS.COM, “The release of the conspirators in the Gandhi murder case in 1964 and the resultant celebrations in Pune and Ketkar’s remarks that he was aware of Nathuram Godse’s desire to kill Gandhi, led to a public outrage and resulted in the forming of the Pathak Commission, … ” [Dr. G.V. Ketkar was the grandson of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.] The Kapur Commission was set up in 1966.

Savarkar committed suicide on 25 Feb 1966. The Kapur Commission was set up some months after his death. Former Chief Presidency Magistrate of Bombay, Oscar Henry Brown, who signed Savarkar’s affidavit, reproduced at INDIA JUDGMENTS.COM, retired from the Bombay Court in the same year. Although I was too young at that time to understand him fully, he told my father, a few months after the suicide, if I recall correctly, that Savarkar committed suicide just when the commission was about to be set up, and that he also had some trouble with his family. [See my last post.] Oscar Brown unfortunately was a tricky man to deal with, so I did not attempt to question him on this matter.

The Kapur Commision finally exonerated Savarkar for want of sufficient evidence, however with the remark that the facts on the whole demolish any other theory but the conspiracy of Savarkar and his group in the murder. The RSS, on the other hand, was entirely exonerated. The BJP, despite its intellectual debt to a man of learning, need not have pushed so far for Savarkar’s recognition.

Coming finally to the matter of Hindutva, Savarkar’s definition was a clear definition of Indian culture, which philosophers would do well to understand. Before going into it, we should also take note of what journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni observed in his IBNLive blog article dated 15 Feb 2009:

“A leader is to be judged by which seminal ideas he injects into the life of a nation. Advani has initiated a nationwide debate on two interrelated and critically important ideas: the true meaning of secularism and the true basis of India’s national identity. He has called the latter Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism. Interpreted wrongly and narrowly, it can cause a lot of harm to our national fabric. However, if it is understood in a broad and enlightened sense, the sense which Advani has explicated in his book, it is indeed the guarantor of India’s survival.”

Savarkar’s definition of Hindutva is given in his 1923 pamphlet published at Nagpur. It is explained in the Economic and Political Weekly article “A Matter of Definitions” by S.H. Deshpande dated 27 Apr 1991. In the first four pages of Savarkar’s pamphlet we find the following:

“Hindutva is not a word, but a history. Not only the religious or spiritual history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cogent term Hinduism — ‘Hinduism’ is only a derivative — failure to distinguish between these two concepts has given rise to much misunderstanding.”

For Savarkar, Hindus are a people with a common religio-cultural heritage. Who are the contributors to this culture? He mentions Vedic seers, Dayanand, Jina, Mahavira, Buddha, Nagasena, Nanak, Guru Govind, Banda, Basava, Chakradhara, Ramadas, Rammohan Roy. It willbe clearly seen from this list that it includes representatives of all tha main sects or religions, Vedic or non-Vedic, ancient or modern.

Deshpande goes on to give some excerpts from Savarkar’s writing. The following one is the most relevant:

“Hindutva — “Hinduness” — is more comprehensive than the word ‘Hinduism’. Hinduism concerns itself with the religious systems of the Hindus, their theology and dogma. But this is precisely a matter which the Hindu Mahasabha leaves entirely to individual or group conscience or faith. The Mahasabha takes its stand on no dogma, no book or school of philosophy — whether pantheist, monotheist or atheist.”

Savarkar’s 1923 pamphlet seems just as important as any published work that he was recognised for, but his personal views very often are not worth going into.

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One Response to Savarkar, Hindutva and Indian Politics

  1. bishwarup says:

    it is hard for an ordinary Indian like me to get any reason to worship a man like savarkar. its amazing how history is distorted and praise is placed upon wrong people by those who know history better than us. just i don’t know why is it done in this way?

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