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Though poles apart, Ambedkar, Savarkar held 'identical views' on caste, two nation theory

By Rishi Shrivastava* 

Indian modern political history has an entirety of thoughts of icons, miscreants and leaders who shaped the future of Indian political discourse. The ideas that drove post-colonial India were contradictory in ideological, political, economic, social and contextual aspects. In this shaping of the post-colonial nation that was vulnerable in all of the dimensions, various hurdles have come into existence. Many national leaders who were in the same ideological bloc have become rivals with their own set of ideas and views about social issues and nation-building.
One of the prominent debates that emerged out of this ideological tussle was between Dr BR Ambedkar and VD Savarkar, who were highly contrary to each other in most of the facets, but also had some parallels while agitating for the anti-caste struggle. In the contemporary milieu, both these figures have become giants in the political discourse and more relevant than ever in history before. The ideological believers of these political figures have entirely opposite views of glimpsing at the history and future discourse of the Indian nation.
VD Savarkar’s journey of exploring India’s political history began when he wrote the book “The Indian War of Independence” in 1909, declaring that the 1857 revolt was the first forceful opposition that Indians did against the British colonial regime. As it was earlier believed that the 1857 revolt was only limited to sepoy mutiny and could not be regarded as a revolt that represented the Indian identity to it.
However, the arguments of Savarkar about the 1857 revolt are criticised by many academicians. They considered that several uprisings had occurred before the 1857 rebellion. It also did not comprise a pan-Indian imagination and was only defined to the northern belt of British India with dynamics of caste and religion politics. Thus, Savarkar’s idea of defining India as a nation was built after he combined the factors and characteristics of India into a uniformity that eventually led to the 1857 uprising, which he called the first war of independence.
Savarkar’s ideas of nation-building, colonialism and religious politics have changed drastically through time. His earlier works primarily include bringing the community’s collective identity together against the colonialists, where he celebrated the unity of Muslims and Hindus (see Taneja, 2007). However, the claims considering Savarkar’s early work as a humanist and secular embedded by the unity of Hindu and Muslim are still contested.
Nevertheless, after his return from imprisonment in the black waters of cellular jails, Savarkar took a radical turn on the politics of the Hindus, Muslims, Hindutva, other religions and the idea of India. His book titled “Essentials of Hindutva and Hindu Padshahi” describes the idea of Hinduised India (pan-Hindu unity), who are Hindus, what the Hindutva way of life signifies for the people living here, who are the people who qualify for the entity of Bharat and what cultural traditions it encompasses. Savarkar has dealt with a miscellany of questions in his imagination of a Bharatakhand.
The political regimes and organisations later incorporated the notion of Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra into their doctrinal backdrop. Hindu Mahasabha was such a radical nationalistic far-right Hindu organisation that Savarkar was an active member and later became president for seven years in 1937 (Copland, 2007).
Savarkar’s nation’s vision imagined the land only for Hindus. He was one of the first pioneers of the two-nation theory that defined the concept of two nations separate for Hindus and Muslims. The 1930s and 40s were the critical time when Savarkar’s radicalised beliefs initiated an appeal among the countrymen to envision a nation that holds a civilisational value, common culture and is solely for the Hindus.
On the other hand, his contemporary, Dr Ambedkar was weaving his idea of nationalism and trying to awaken the national spirit among the depressed class (Dalits) from their long history of exploitation by the savarna in the form of a caste system. Ambedkar’s nationalistic beliefs do not take account of the religious supremacy that beholds a common culture among Indians as compared to Savarkar.
Ambedkar has explained about the assertions of nationalism and nationality in his book “Pakistan or the Partition of India, 1945”. He defines nationality as a, “consciousness of kind, awareness of the existence of that tie of kinship”, and whereas nationalism as “the desire for a separate national existence for those who are bound by this tie of kinship” (Singh, 2016).
Ambedkar was evident in his vision that the entity of a nation must not only hold a political setting which will include the state, territory and government to it, but it first has to mature into the heart and mind of the people by an emotionally connected construct that they have the desire to live together harmoniously, and that is how the desire of national is raise from the foundation of its past.
Ambedkar's perspective of India does not stand in the way of the idea of a nation. According to him, India’s civilisational journey has always been in the control of the brahmins and savarnas, who restrained the distribution of resources and defined the laws of the society. The class and caste system in Hindu society never allowed the vulnerable depressed class to represent themselves as part of the discourse. The larger section of society has always been marginalised by the power-holding class. Moreover, if India arose as a nation-state after the withdrawal of the colonial government, the elite savarna class would again be going to vanquish the nation’s power.
Ambedkar believed, if Muslims felt connected to Pakistan to live separately in their own religious space, they should have autonomy to go
In juxtaposition, Ambedkar views the imagination of a separate nation for Muslims as somehow a valid demand. Accordingly, he wrote in his book that “Muslims, thus, had plenty of nationalist spirit.” But “the Muslim spirit of aggression is his native endowment and is ancient as compared with that of the Hindu.” The national spirit among Muslims is much more ancient than that of Hindus. If Muslims desire and feel a connection for Pakistan to live separately in their own religious space, they should have the autonomy to go with their choice.
Ambedkar has also quoted Savarkar’s idea of the two-nation theory that if he thinks that Muslims are a separate nation from Hindus, then they (Muslims) also have the right to claim their nation with cultural autonomy as Hindus. Ambedkar was contesting with Savarkar on him “othering” the religious minorities of India.
Savarkar was an advocate of the two-nation theory, but he did not support the division of the country but; instead, he signified for the hegemony of the Hindu nation over the Muslim nation, who were living in the same land. According to Ambedkar, it was just the disguised desire of the Savarkar to pose Hindu majoritarianism among Muslims to live in the same land with the authority of Hindus over them.
Savarkar positioned his idea of Hindu nationalism by defining what Hindu Rashtra refers to, and all the people who consider it as their matrubhoomi/ pitrubhoomi, karmabhoomi and punyabhoomi are part of this nation. The idea of Savarkar was problematic in the sense that it accepted people who considered Bharat as their own land. However, they did not qualify for considering India as their holy land (Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians).
In most of the arguments of the nation and nationalism, Ambedkar was highly critical of Savarkar. Nevertheless, both have a string of commonality as they fought against the caste system in their own ways. However, the motivation for each other’s struggle against caste varies.
Savarkar insisted on making India a land of a common culture, civilisation, common rashtra and a common race (jati) by abandoning the caste in the Hindu way of life. In contrast, Ambedkar emphasises establishing equality and solidarity between the upper caste and the depressed classes by making them conscious of their existence and pressing for more rights for Dalits. 
He propagated Buddhism and its principles as a counter to Hinduism as Buddhism emerged to counter Brahmanical supremacy. Ambedkar’s ways created a meaningful impact on society, and he was massively successful in creating a tremendous movement against casteism in society.
Ambedkar and Savarkar both hold iconic positions in the Indian political history, but their ways and ideas of defining India and its future significantly contrast. Savarkar defines India with a Hindu nationalistic vision, whereas Ambedkar was more focused on the society, which was driven by freedom and equal opportunity for Dalits. However, their struggle for a casteless society was somehow the same but contradicted their absolute rationale that would lead India’s future.

References

  1. Taneja, N (2022, February 2). The Myth of Early Savarkar and His “Nationalist”1857 Book
  2. Debnath, K (2018, July 5). Ambedkar’s ideas of nation-building in India
  3. Savarkar, VD (1923). Essentials of Hindutva
  4. Copland, I (2002) Crucibles of Hindutva? V.D. Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the Indian princely states, pages 211-234
  5. Singh, S (2016, July 15). Revisiting Ambedkar's Idea of Nationalism – India Foundation
  6. Babar, A (2018, November 22). Dr BR Ambedkar and Naga Nationalism.
  7. Ambedkar, Dr BR (1945). Pakistan Or The Partition Of India.
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*Student pursuing Global Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi

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