How Hindutva Parivar’s ‘ideological ancestors’ supported British, Muslim League against Indians


Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.

—Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1 , 1862

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth

– Voltaire

‘The best defense is a good offence’

PM Modi – the Pracharak who became Prime Minister – must have felt that it would be worthwhile to use this adage much popular in warfare, games, business and even politics, to get the lacklustre election campaign going, which is still struggling to create a narrative in its favour.

What he miserably missed despite his deep knowledge of what his followers like to call ‘entire political science’ is another simple advice repeated ad nauseum by thinking people :

An ill thought and ill prepared offence can lead you to a morass of of your own making.

The idea to search for a ‘Muslim League imprint’ on the main opposition party Congress’s manifesto has proved to be such an occasion.

No doubt neither he nor his plethora of advisers and strategists would have imagined that the use of the time tested trump card with a title capital M would boomerang on them and  questions will be raised – for umpteenth times – about ‘Parivar’s’ ideological ancestry, what did they do during the historic anti colonial movement or especially its peak the ‘Quit India movement’..

The battle of ideologies, as the unfolding elections are being portrayed / understood,  on the Congress manifesto was joined by none other than the 81 year young President of the Congress Party Mallikarjun Kharge.

Questioning Modi’s search for League imprint on the manifesto he called it Modi’s normal style of distraction who are finding themselves nervous to confront the electorate, he brought to the fore many such points which the Hindutva brigade either likes to forget or completely gloss over it.

His factual  retort veered around four-five points  :

One, how these ‘ideological ancestors’ supported British and Muslim League against Indians ; 

Two, how they opposed Mahatma Gandhi’s call for ‘Quit India’ in 1942, which was the movement chaired by Maulana Azad ;

Three, how Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the then President of Hindu Mahasabha – who was anointed to this post after Savarkar – led his party to form governments in Bengal, Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province in the 1940s in coalition with the Muslim League

Four, Quit India movement – when thousands of Indians were in jail or had gone underground to continue the struggle against Britishers and hundreds had died fighting their peaceful struggle against the colonialists , neither Hindu Mahasabha nor Muslim League joined the struggle. In fact, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was then advising the then British governor about how the Quit India movement of 1942 can be ‘combated’ and how the Congress should be suppressed? And for this, he said that ‘Indians have to trust the British’?,”

Fifth, more importantly, Savarkar – who is still revered among Hindutva circles, was campaigning that  Hindus join the British military during its war efforts. His call was ‘Militarise Hindus, Hinduise the Nation’

Looking at the fact that this issue involves key leaders of the Hindutva stream – who are still held in high esteem by their cheerleader – it would be worthwhile to take a detailed look at these ‘big names’

We will discuss briefly the case of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, ( 28 th Many 1883 – 26 th February 1966) freedom fighter turned Hindutva ideologue, author of ‘Hindutva’ – which is considered essential reading in Hindutva circles – a trendsetter among them, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, once his deputy in the Hindu Mahasabha who later joined the RSS inspired Bharatiya Jan Sangh and also Golwalkar, the second Supremo of RSS.

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Turning Muslims into Second Class Citizens ?

A detailed interview of a political or a thought leader when the whole society is in churning is revealing in many ways.

A seasoned American war correspondent Tom Treanor talked with Savarkar in a longish interview which was held in 1944. An extract of this interview when he was perhaps the only Hindu political leader to not be in jail as in the aftermath of the historic Quit India movement, reveals us many things. This interview was later postthumously published in his book ‘One Damn Thing After Another: The Adventures of an Innocent Man Trapped Between Public Relations and the Axis‘.Extracts of Savarkar’s interview during that period were published by a webmagazine ‘Dailyo’. (1)

It emphasises basically two things :

One, Savarkar’s vision for an independent India

Two, his increasing isolation in the galaxy of leaders. 

Looking at the fact that India’s independence was around the corner, every great leader of the anti colonial struggle was in jail, – here was Savarkar envisaging treating religious minorities as a second class citizens and if they do not submit to this plan then even initiating a ‘civil war’.

How do you plan to treat the Mohammedans ?”

Tom Treanor asked Savarkar this question without much introduction.

As a minority, the position of your Negroes” replied Savarkar.

Continuing the conversation the reporter asked :

And if the Mohammedans succeed in seceding and set up their own country?”

As in your country,” said the old man, waggling a menacing finger. “There will be civil war.

It was not difficult to understand why he was not put in jail when every big, small leader or activist was in jail or had to go underground. Thanks to his unsolicited help to the Britishers in their war efforts- who had no qualms in running a campaign in different parts of United India wherein he asked Hindu Youth to join the military.

His slogan was ‘Militarise Hindus, Hinduise the Nation’

It just showed his tremendous hatred for the Muslims and had believed that if Hindus join the military in large numbers, it will help/ establish his vision of Hindu Rashtra – where Muslims could be compelled to lead lives as second class citizens – when Britishers leave

Interviewer Tom Treanor could easily foresee how Savarkar was butteressing Jinnah’s case.

If Savarkar has his way, the Mohammedans will get what is known in the trade as sweet damn-all. It’s the sort of attitude which makes Mr Jinnah argue for Pakistan, which is the plan to allow the Mohammedans to secede from the Hindus. (-do-)

What is interesting to note that despite the fact that Hindu Mahasabha was sharing power with Muslim League and few other parties to run provinicial governments in Bengal and North West province, and despite his services to the British empire asking Hindu youth to join British army, for the Britishers also he was a ‘spent force.’

A G Noorani, constitutional expert and political commentator, in his book ‘Savarkar and Hindutva’  shares details of the minutes of the then Head of the Political Department in the India Office named John Percival Gibson. According to him he minuted on August 1, 1944 that ‘he did not consider it necessary to acknowledge’ a cable Savarkar had sent to the Secretary of State for India, Leopald S Amery on July 26, 1944 which claimed that the Mahasabha was ‘the only all-India representative body of Hindus’. (Page 92)

Noorani notes that Savarkar adopted the same tactics normally adopted by fading politicians – to remain in the news – which comprised of not only issuing regular statements to the Press but see to it that they are more and more rabid.  ( – do-).

With the arrival of independence and newly independent India’s embarking on a path of inclusive development rather increased his isolation and his dream of ushering into a Hindu Nation lied completely shattered.

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Hitler’s Fan Club in Colonial India

Hitler’s fan club in colonial India, had many big names on the list.

Savarkar was one of them.

Born on May 28, 1883, to a Marathi Brahmin family, Savarkar was attracted towards anti British movements and was even instrumental in establishing Abhinav Bharat Society (Young India) drawing inspiration from Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’ in school days. He went to England to study law where he got further involved in radical political activities. Inspired by the 1857 uprising against Britishers and with an aim to communicate its aims to the dormant masses he even a wrote a book in Marathi titled ‘The Indian War of Independence of 1857’ which talked in glowing terms about the Hindu Muslim unity displayed during this War. Looking at its ‘explosive content’ the government immediately proscribed the book but despite this the book went into many editions, was translated in English and other languages.

Dedicated to the ‘Martyrs of 1857’ the list of heroes included in the book had names like Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmi Bai, Nana Saheb, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Azimullah Khan, Tatia Tope, Bahadurshah Zafar, Begum Hazrat Mahal and many others.

Later he was arrested for instigating radical/violent activities in London as well as his connections to similar activities back home in India and was sentenced to two transportations of life and sent to Cellular Jail in Andamans. It appears that the tough life in the jail – which was endured by other prisoners without any compromise – broke his spirit and he sent petitions to the British government for early release. A G Noorani in his book ‘Savarkar and Hindutva‘ provides details of this episode in his life.

One is surprised to find that a leader of his stature whose heroic deeds in the prime of his youth for the cause of freedom struggle had electrified the nation had started sending letters of apology and demanding amnesty after being sent to Andamans as part of his punishment for life imprisonment. He even disregarded the fact that an All India Defence Committee had already come up for his release and the Congress Party then had urgently taken up his case before the British regime.But as the book ‘Penal Settlement in Andamans’ by Mr R.C. Mazumdar  vividly demonstrates he was really so demoralised with the tough conditions existing there that he promised to serve the government in any capacity in exchange of his release.

After a long time British government conceded to his request and sent him home, put restrictions on him, asked him to not to participate in political activities. He was finally released when there were provincial elections in India in late 30s and Congress party led government came to power in the then Mumbai province.

One can clearly see two phases in his life :

First phase which lasted till few years after he was transported for life to Andamans – when he was all for Hindu Muslim unity.

Second phase, where he emphasised Hindu Unity and propounded the theory of Hindu Nation.

His transformation was so complete that he is considered a ‘pioneer’ theoretician of the Hindutva movement.

Coming back to Hitler, although reports of Hitler’s crimes against humanity were then common knowledge but Savarkar was all praise for him. For example, he had endorsed the persecution of Jews in Germany, noting

 “Germany has every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to Fascism and events have justified that those isms and forms of governments were imperative and beneficial to them under the conditions that obtained there.”

Or in a speech delivered in 1940 (after the Second World War had commenced), he said:

There is no reason to suppose that Hitler must be a human monster because he passes off as a Nazi or Churchill is a demigod because he calls himself a Democrat. Nazism proved undeniably the savior of Germany under the set of circumstances Germany was placed in.

This fascination for Hitler was so much that he even publicly attacked Nehru for his opposition to Hitler and had no qualms in hailing the way Hitler treated the Jews.

In fact, he was drawing lessons for India, and was of the firm opinion that Muslims of India could be treated in the same manner as the Jews in Germany.

A look at the history of Hindu Mahasabha, which he headed then, tells us how he justified the ethnic cleansing of Jews and wanted to repeat the feat here.A spokesman of the Hindu Mahasabha – the organisation which he headed then – had openly claimed ( March 25, 1939) that ‘Germany’s crusade against the enemies of Aryan culture will bring all the Aryan nations of the World to their senses and awaken the Indian Hindus for the restoration of their lost glory

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For a ‘policy of responsive cooperation’ with Britishers

Trajectory of Savarkar’s one time deputy Shyamaprasad Mukherjee was not qualitatively different

Born in 1901,  Shyamaprasad Mukherjee started his political career in 1929 and became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 to espouse the cause of the Hindus in India and was a close associate of Savarkar. He was the opposition leader in the state when a coalition government led by Krishak Praja Party – Muslim League coalition was in power 1937-41. Later he joined the Ministry headed by Fazlul Haq as a Finance Minister and continued sharing power during the tumultuous times of the ‘Quit India’ movement when the Britishers faced mortal challenge to their rule. The experiment to share power with Muslim League by the Hindu Mahasabha then was not limited to Bengal alone, it extended to  Sind and as well as NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and was part of a conscious policy adopted by the Hindu Mahasabha.

Prof Shamsul Islam, in his well researched book ‘Religious Dimensions of Indian Nationalism : A Study of RSS’ (2) sheds light on this unique experiment when ‘[H]indu Mahasabha and the Muslim League had a coalition government in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) also.’ (Page 313) He quotes Baxter :

‘In the Frontier, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan formed a ministry which combined Muslim Leaguers, Sikh Akalis and Mahasabhaites, and placed the Congress led by Dr Khan Sahib temporarily in the opposition. The Mahasabha member of the Cabinet was Finance Minister Mehar Chand Khanna.’ (3)

As a close associate of Savarkar, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, who later became President of Hindu Mahasabha in 1944, was a party to all these decisions and had no qualms in British efforts to suppress people’s movement against the British rule. In his book ‘History of Modern Bengal’ Ramesh Chandra Mazumdar provides details of his letter to the then Bengal Governor on suggesting measures against the Quit India Movement. According to him

“[S]hyam Prasad ended the letter with a discussion of the mass movement organised by the Congress. He expressed the apprehension that the movement would create internal disorder and will endanger internal security during the war by exciting popular feeling and he opined that any government in power has to suppress it, but that according to him could not be done only by persecution…. In that letter he mentioned item wise the steps to be taken for dealing with the situation …. “ (4)

He was clearly of the opinion that

..Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any Government that may function for the time being” (5)

He even promised the British government that the government led by them would make every effort to suppress the movement in Bengal. :

The question is how to combat this movement (Quit India) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, especially responsible Ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people. In some spheres it might be limited during the emergency. Indian have to trust the British, not for the sake for Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defense and freedom of the province itself. You, as Governor, will function as the constitutional head of the province and will be guided entirely on the advice of your Minister. (6)

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Hate as Harmony !

The discussion about Modi-Shah’s ‘ideological ancestors’ would remain incomplete without RSS’s Second Supremo Golwalkar.

It would be worthwhile to know how he was keen so that the cadres of RSS do not join the independence movement or how his world view regarding Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities was not at all different from that of Savarkar, how he was similarly inspired by the ethnic cleansing of Jews in German and thought of imitating such experiments against the ‘other’ etc, (7)

Perhaps it would be useful to know how in his first theoretical contributions for Hindutva’s cause appeared as a pamphlet titled We or Our Nationhood Defined (1938) and how it was so straightforward in its appreciation for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Jews by Hitler and such an unashamed proponent of the submergence of ‘foreign races’ in the Hindu race that later-day RSS leaders tried their best to create the impression that the booklet was not written by Golwalkar but that it was a mere translation of Rashtra Meemansa by Babarao Savarkar.

One can also discuss his second book ‘Bunch of Thoughts, which talks of Muslims, Christians and Communists as ‘internal threats’.The chapter on ‘Internal Threats’, which has three subsections titled Muslims, Christians and Communists, begins like this:

“It has been the tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security that aggressors from outside. Unfortunately, this first lesson of national security has been the one thing which has been consistently ignored in our country ever since the British left this land (sic).”

The book has also made equally controversial statements on the Indian Constitution as well as on affirmative action and denigrates the independence struggle and its heroic participants.

One can go on enumerating instances highlighting the ideological limitations of the Golwalkarian project which acted as a hindrance to the building of modern India. It is clear to any impartial observer that the way he tried to divide a wedge between the broad unity of the Indian people on the basis of religion, the way he lauded experiments in ethnic cleansing in Western Europe and the way he glorified Manusmriti till his end, demonstrate that his project was essentially inimical to the cause of social harmony.

It is a different matter that despite espousing a sectarian agenda the Golwalkarian project of remaking of Indian society continued to move ahead, albeit slowly. The “success” of the Golwalkarian project in winning over a chunk of our society to its side, definitely demands a separate treatment beyond this note.

Not that the Sangh had second thoughts about his vision, they rather continued to show their adherence to it by organising the “successful experiment” in Gujarat in 2002 or how the CAA-NPR-NRC triad represented the culmination of Golwalkar and RSS’ vision. The only problem they have is the presentation of the vision. Looking at his controversial pronouncements from time to time on various issues of social-political concern and his transcending of the ‘calculated ambiguity’ on many occasions—a hallmark of the organisation which he built—it is not surprising that he has always come under a barrage of attacks from all those who opposed the Hindutva project. The best strategy seems to be to disremember him in public and fully implement his essence in practice.  (8)

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative

Notes :


2.  Media House, Delhi 2006

3.  Craig Baxter, Jan Sangh, The Biography of a Indian Political Party’ Philadelphia : University of Pennysylvania Press, 1969, Page 20

4. History of Modern Bengal’ Ramesh Chandra Mazumdar Part II, Page 350-351

5. Prabhu Bapu (2013), Hindu Mahasabha in Colonial North India, 1915-1930, Constructing Nation and History, Routledge, pp 103

6.  A G Noorani (2020), The RSS and The BJP : A Division of Labour, Leftword Books, Page 56

7. ;



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