The real Savarkar: A British stooge, Hitler’s admirer or a Bharat Ratna?

In Gandhi's 150th year, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the controversial Hindutva ideologue of the BJP, is set to become an Indian idol, a Bharat Ratna. Illustration - Prathap Ravishankar

Several years ago, a puny little man, who was fond of wearing round black caps and perfumed jackets, thundered at the princes of India: “But anyone who might have actively betrayed the trust of the people, disowned his fathers, and debased his blood by arraying himself against his Mother — he shall be crushed to dust and ashes, and shall be looked upon as a helot, and a renegade.”

Bear in mind these fiery words of admonishment and warning as we revisit the legacy of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the controversial Hindutva ideologue whom the BJP wants anointed as 'Bharat Ratna'.

In his lifetime, Savarkar was known by many names. In Bhagur village of Nashik, where he was born in 1883, he was known as Tatya as a child. When he grew up, a Marathi journalist lionised him as 'veer (brave)' for his revolutionary writing and strident opposition to the British. In the cellular jail of Andaman, where he served nine years and ten months before begging for clemency, Savarkar was known as the “suave and polite” prisoner number 32778. And in a 1969 report by Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur, he was identified as one of the conspirators in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

So, who exactly was Savarkar? And does he really deserve India's highest civilian honour?

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