When Mahatma Gandhi met Veer Savarkar

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Mahatma Gandhi and Veer Savarkar. (File Photo: IANS)

New Delhi  When one thinks of two persons poles apart in terms of political ideology in pre-Independent India, one can easily think of the two gentlemen who later went on to become phenomena we still discuss — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Gandhi went on to be called “Mahatma”, while the title “Veer” was bestowed on Savarkar. Mahatma believed in an independent but undivided India, while Savarkar had a “Hindu nation” in mind. So how would have the two, who were contemporaries, dealt with each other with such contrarian views?

As the world celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the man who has come to be known as the “Father of the Nation”, Gandhi has been made to look like the mascot of the “liberal left”, while Savarkar has been made to look like the face of “Hindu right wing conservatives”.

But in spite of the smear campaign, the two freedom fighters used to respect the views of each other. In fact, the two were in absolute agreement on any issues.

In spite of the array of differences between the two, both had strong views on Hinduism and were firm believers of the faith.

However, their interpretation of Hinduism was starkly different. In 1909, Gandhi was invited by the Indian diaspora in the UK to attend an event on the occasion of Dussehra. The same event was attended by Savarkar, then a student in London. The two finally shared a stage.

While Gandhi talked about Lord Ram as selfless and conciliatory, Savarkar spoke about Goddess Durga as the epitome of “Vinashkari” (destroyer), someone who killed the evil.

Many of Savarkar’s followers would be surprised to know that the man pitched for an inclusive India where all religions have a right to belong and thrive around Hinduism. And Gandhi was in agreement to what Savarkar had said.

The Congress of today may very well make fun of Savarkar, but Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue J. Nandakumar argues, “Mahatma Gandhi called Savarkar ‘a faithful son of Bharat… brave, clever and frankly, a revolutionary’. In an article published in Young India, Mahatma Gandhi fiercely argued why eRoyal Clemency’ should be given to Veer Savarkar and his etalent should be utilised for public welfare’.”

Gandhi and Savarkar both opposed untouchability, but supported the very root cause of untouchability, that is, the Varnashrama Dharma.

They had more in common. Both justified division of labour between men and women where women were restricted to the private sphere, while the public sphere was for men. However, Gandhi acknowledged that women can venture into public domain but only for nationalist purposes.

In an article titled “Masculinity and Nation: A study of Gandhi and Savarkar”, Indraprastha University researcher Rashmi Gopi wrote: “Gandhi supported feminine-masculinity but never endorsed masculine-femininity. On the part of Savarkar, he never acknowledged women’s role as independent agents in public sphere. Thus the underlying assumption for both of them was that women are different from men and women have to be always under the guidance of men.”

Decades after sharing the stage in London, the same Savarkar was put on trial on allegations of hatching the plot for Gandhi’s assassination. Though he was acquitted, he continues to remain a “villain” for many.

But what no one can alter is the fact that both Gandhi and Savarkar agreed on multiple issues which will be considered as retrograde in today’s time. And whenever Gandhi and Savarkar had strong disagreement, they had agreed to disagree.