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Films building up Majoritarian Narratives: Swatantraveer Savarkar

Ram Puniyani Ram Puniyani
08 Apr 2024

Films are a potent medium for moulding social understanding in various ways. Till decades ago, we had films which reflected social realities and promoted progressive values. The films like 'Mother India', 'Do Bigha Zameen' and 'Naya Daur' are just a few of them. Some biopic films have also contributed a lot in disseminating social common sense, which is close to reality and promotes inclusive values. Attenborough's Gandhi and Bhagat Singh were exceptionally inspiring. Many of these were based on immaculate research and brought out the true spirit of the people on whose lives they were based.

With the ascendance of majoritarian politics, identity politics related to divisive issues and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, many in the film World have been coming out with films which promote a particular narrative, a divisive one, which is based on sectarian views of politics and history. The common theme among these is a tilting of truth and, in most cases, the glorification of Hindu Nationalist icons. The underlying theme of most films is the clever undermining of truth and building up of 'fiction as fact'. One of these was heavily promoted by the likes of Prime Minister Modi and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat; 'Kashmir files'. The affluent BJP supporters bought the tickets for this film in bulk and distributed these in their areas to encourage people to watch it. The worthies who promoted these claimed that the truth of these events was finally being brought to the fore.

Another one was the Kerala Story, where the figures of those being converted to Islam and recruited for IS were exaggerated to the sky. Many other fiction-like films flopped at the box office, like 72 Hoorain, which tried to present 'Islamic Terrorism', presenting the political problem as religious. This film suppressed the social understanding that similar allurements of Apsaras in Swarg and Fairies in Heaven are also present in the mythologies of other religions.

These films were mainly to promote Islamophobia. On another level, the movie on Godse (2022) was an attempt to glorify Godse by putting together many falsehoods that Gandhi did not try to save Bhagat Singh from hanging, and he opposed the Congress resolution mourning Bhagat Singh's death. And now comes the film 'Swatantaraveer Savarkar' by Randeep Hooda. This one takes the portrayal of fiction as truth to the next level. It claims that Bhagat Singh met Savarkar and told him he wanted to translate his book, 'First War of Independence', from Marathi to English!

What is the truth? Many revolutionaries read this book and appreciated it. It was written in Marathi around 1908 and translated into English a year later. Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 and, as a matter of fact, never met Savarkar in his life!

The film shows Savarkar stating that we shall win Independence by 1912, i.e. 35 years before we actually got Independence. The fact is that Savarkar was in Andmans from 1910 and had started writing mercy petitions and by 1912 had written three of them. In these petitions, he sought an apology from the British for his earlier actions and committed to serving the British loyally if he was released. And that's what he did after his release by the British. Our freedom struggle picked steam in 1920 when, due to the Non-Cooperation movement, most people started associating with the freedom struggle.

The film goes on to question why no Congressman was sent to Andmans, and most of them were sent to Indian jails alone. This may not be factually true. As such, after 1920, the anti-British movement took the path of non-violence led by Gandhi-INC. The sentences given to them were of different types, such as imprisonment in jails. Andaman or hanging (Like for Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru) were for involvement in acts of violence. As non-violence was the basic credo of the movement led by Gandhi, they were neither sentenced to death nor sent to Andamans.

The film argues that the Country received Independence not through non-violence but through violence. The prominent revolutionaries operating in India belonged to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. After Bhagat Singh and his comrades were killed or hanged, there was no significant violent movement. Savarkar's Abhinav Bharat had abandoned the anti-British stance with Savarkar's mercy petitions. Subhash Bose, who formed Azad Hind Fauz, was killed in 1945, and the soldiers of Azad Hind Fauz were imprisoned and kept in Red Fort as prisoners. It was the INC which formed a committee to defend these soldiers. In this, Nehru took the lead in creating the committee to release these prisoners of war.

There are claims in the film that it was Savarkar who advised Bose to form the army and fight the British. This is totally in contrast to the actual facts. Bose, after leaving Congress, had made up his mind to fight the British through armed might with the help of Germany and Japan; when Bose was fighting against the British, Savarkar was urging Hindu Mahasabha to get the Hindus recruited to the British army to help the British,

"Addressing the Mahasabha's Calcutta session, Savarkar urged all universities, colleges, and schools to 'secure entry into military forces for youths in any and every way'. When Gandhi launched his Satyagraha the following year, Savarkar, at the Mahasabha session held in December 1940 in Madura, encouraged Hindu men to enlist in 'various branches of British armed forces en masse'.

Subhash Chandra Bose wrote about Savarkar: "Savarkar seemed oblivious to the international situation and was only thinking about how Hindus could secure military training by entering Britain's army in India." Bose concluded that "...nothing could be expected from either the Muslim League or the Hindu Mahasabha".

Bose, in an address to Indians via Azad Hind Radio, said, "I would request Mr Jinnah, Mr Savarkar, and all those who still think of a compromise with the British to realise once for all that in the world of tomorrow there will be no British Empire".

Regarding associating Savarkar with Subhash Bose in the film, Chandra Kumar Bose, Netaji's grand nephew, told Hooda after seeing the trailer, "Please refrain from linking Netaji with Savarkar. Netaji was an inclusive secular leader and patriot of patriots."

The film is yet another one based on distorting the truth to strengthen Hindu Nationalist politics, with an eye on the forthcoming elections.

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