Left and Right misunderstood Savarkar: writer Sampath

Vikram Sampath. (DH Photo)

Narratives on Hindutva icon Savarkar's place in history has often vacillated between his mercy petition to the British and long years of incarceration in the Andamans.

But both the Left and the Right have misunderstood him, mainly due to the lack of any informed research since the last book on him in 1966, said writer Vikram Sampath, whose recent book has attempted to bridge this gap.

On day one of the Bangalore Litfest, Sampath recalled how Savarkar reinterpreted 1857 from a British-branded Sepoy Mutiny to the first war of Indian independence.

The first secret society he founded on the 1857 model and the book he wrote on that experience inspired a generation of Indian revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh included.

To this contention by Sampath, moderator R Jagannathan had a counter: Savarkar had once proposed a Hindu-Muslim united fight against colonialism. What was the turning point?

Sampath called out Mahatma Gandhi for that change of heart. Gandhi mobilising entire groups of people to the freedom movement on communal lines did not go well with Savarkar.

"Using the dangerous Khilafat movement where thousands were killed, it was appeasement to an alarming extent. Savarkar's was an intellectual response," he said.

But what about the mercy petition? Sampath wanted to see that in perspective. "The whole mercy petition was available to any prisoner on life sentence. Some would call his signing a tactic, better to get out and regroup later."

Why did Savarkar define his Hindutva on territorial terms? Sampath had a counter-question: "What is wrong in owing allegiance to your country? It was not a religious marker, but a cultural, national marker." 

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