Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (28 May 1883 – 26 February 1966), popularly known as Veer Savarkar (“brave” in his native Marathi language), was an Indian independence activist, politician, lawyer, writer, and the formulator of the Hindutva philosophy.
Savarkar as a reformer
He advocated for validating religious myths/blind faith against the test of modern science. In that sense he was a rationalist and reformer.
Savarkar’s revolutionary activities
Savarkar’s revolutionary activities began while studying in India and England, where he was associated with the India House and founded student societies including Abhinav Bharat Society and the Free India Society, as well as publications espousing the cause of complete Indian independence by revolutionary means.
Savarkar published The Indian War of Independence about the Indian rebellion of 1857 that was banned by British authorities.
He was arrested in 1910 for his connections with the revolutionary group India House. Following a failed attempt to escape while being transported from Marseilles, Savarkar was sentenced to two life terms of imprisonment totaling fifty years and was moved to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but released in 1921.
Savarkar and Hindutva
While in prison, Savarkar wrote the work describing Hindutva, espousing what it means to be a Hindu, and Hindu pride, in which he defined as all the people descended of Hindu culture as being part of Hindutva, including Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. The words Hindu and Muslim was popularised as religions by the ruling British after their 1872 census, to replace “Hindi” which was the term used earlier to describe all people from India. (Hind).
As a response to the right wing Muslim league, Savarkar joined the Hindu Mahasabha and popularized the term Hindutva (Hinduness), previously coined by Chandranath Basu, to create a collective “Hindu” identity as an essence of Bharat (India). Savarkar was also a pragmatic practitioner of Hindu Philosophy.
Savarkar and Indian National Congress
In 1921, under restrictions after signing a plea for clemency, he was released on the condition that he renounce revolutionary activities. Serving as the president of the Hindu Mahasabha (Hindu Grand-Assembly) political party, Savarkar endorsed the idea of India as a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) and opposed the Quit India struggle in 1942, calling it a “Quit India but keep your army” movement. He became a fierce critic of the Indian National Congress and its acceptance of India’s partition. He was accused of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but acquitted by the court.
Resurfacing of Savarkar in the popular discourse
The airport at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar’s capital was renamed Veer Savarkar International Airport in 2002.