Vaibhav Purandare’s “Savarkar: The True Story of the Father of the Hindutva” reads like a biography by a Savarkar apologist

19 August 2019

Is the annihilation of caste—involving actual social reform—possible under a Brahminical vision of authority? Are they mutually compatible? Or they are so incompatible that it is impossible to reconcile the two? These questions are sidelined every time a sympathetic researcher tries to locate the social-reformer impulse within the core idea fuelling Hindutva’s supremacist politics—the establishment of Brahminical hegemony. The results of such scholarship are always disappointing because instead of examining the actual relationship between the annihilation of caste and Hindutva hegemony, it creates a fairy tale that hides the reality.

The journalist Vaibhav Purandare’s book Savarkar: The True Story of the Father of the Hindutva, published this August, purports to look at the Hindutva ideologue differently. Its title suggests that the book will extricate VD Savarkar from the reverential halo in written depictions of him by his followers. But a few pages into the book, one realises that the author, like other sympathetic biographers of Savarkar—including Dhananjay Keer, Chitra Gupta and DN Gokhale—holds his subject in such high esteem that he is unable to retain the detachment crucial to achieving historical objectivity if attempting to write the life history of one of modern India’s most complicated and contradictory figures.

The tenth chapter of the book, for instance, seeks to portray Savarkar as a social reformer who “favoured a wipe-out of the caste order” and who “set himself to the task of obliterating the blights of untouchability and superstition that was taking a devastating toll on Hindu society and sought to replace these with an inclusive and scientific outlook.”

“A breach of custom during the popular Ganesh festival in Ratnagiri in 1924 marked the beginning of his crusade against Untouchability,” Purandare states. He goes on to explain that Savarakar used inter-caste dining and temple entry for Dalits as his two-pronged strategy to achieve this objective. He informs us how the construction of a separate temple for lower castes at Ratnagiri—named Patit Pavan and opened in 1931—constituted a high watermark of his revolt against the orthodox Hindus.

Purandare ignores that there was a double standard to Savarkar’s social-reform initiatives since his entire political philosophy—of Hindutva—was aimed at strengthening the Brahminical hegemony. Social stratification is the bedrock of this hegemony, and there is no record to suggest that Savarkar ever tried to challenge the Brahminical vision of authority.

Dhirendra K Jha is a political journalist. He is the author of Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva and a co-author of Ayodhya: The Dark Night. His latest book is Ascetic Games: Sadhus, Akharas and the Making of the Hindu Vote, published in April 2019.

Keywords: VD Savarkar Hindutva book review Hindu Mahasabha BR Ambedkar