What were the interactions between Savarkar and Dr. Ambedkar?

In pursuance of the resolution of the Mahad municipality, which in 1924 had declared to have its water tank open to the Depressed Classes, Ambedkar decided to lead a satyagraha with his followers to take water from the tank and establish the rights of the ex-untouchables. The one leader who fearlessly and whole-heartedly supported Ambedkar’s struggle was Savarkar. Savarkar said that untouchability must be condemned and abolished not only as the need of the hour but also as the command of the true religion; not only as a matter of policy or as an act of expediency but also as a matter of justice; not only as a matter of obligation but also as a service to humanity. Savarkar said that the notion of purifying oneself with animal urine was more ridiculous and despicable than the notion of defilement at the human touch. Savarkar, therefore upheld the satyagraha of the ex-Untouchables at Mahad and declared that the pious and bounden duty of the Hindu world at large was to restore full human rights to their co-religionists (Keer, Dhananjay; Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission; Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1954, p.75)

In the month of September 1929, Ambedkar went to Ratnagiri in connection with a murder trial at the Sessions Court. Savarkar who was in internment in Ratnagiri, seized this opportunity and extended to Ambedkar an invitation signed by hundreds of citizens to address a meeting at the Vithoba temple, a very important centre where battles for social reforms had been fought and won by Savarkarites. The reactionaries ran for an injunction. The question became the talk of the town. Just then, Ambedkar received a wire from Bombay demanding his presence, and Ratnagiri lost an opportunity of vitriolic and valuable speeches on one platform by India’s two great revolutionaries (Keer, ibid, p. 128).

On 13 October 1935, at a depressed Classes Conference in Yeola (near Nashik), Ambedkar exhorted the Depressed Classes to sever their connections with Hinduism and seek solace and self-respect in another religion, but warned them to be very careful in choosing the new faith and to see that equality of treatment, status and opportunities were guaranteed to them unreservedly. It was at this Conference that Ambedkar thundered, “I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.” Savarkar who was interned in Ratnagiri warned the Depressed Classes against changing their religion. Savarkar observed that there was no possibility of their receiving treatment of equality under Christianity or Islam in India. He pointed to the prevailing riots between touchable Christians and untouchable Christians in Travancore. Turning to the rationalistic side of the problem, Savarkar said in a bold and fervent appeal, “Truly speaking, any ism in the sense of religion contains something which is not amenable to reason and which is based on belief. Those who hold that the existing religious opinions are not amenable to reason or logic should not hug irrational prejudices to their bosoms. Ambedkar, therefore should embrace a religion which is based on principles that are not averse to logic and reason.” Savarkar, then fervently appealed to Ambedkar to wait for some time more; for according to Savarkar, untouchability was on its wane. Savarkar also warned that they (Depressed Classes) would add to their sorrows and disabilities, for all of them would not renounce the Hindu faith and those who do so would not get riches, position or posts simply for the asking. What the Moghul emperors could not do for the converts, others would not even dream of achieving. What they should do, Savarkar concluded, was to fight out valiantly for equality by the side of the progressive Hindus and rise in the scale of life ( Keer, ibid, 243, 244, 247).

Ambedkar’s thesis Annihilation of Caste was originally prepared in 1936. Almost all leaders of thought and action replied to Ambedkar in their own way. A reply also came from Savarkar who held much the same views in respect of the annihilation of caste. But he objected to Ambedkar’s remark that the Hindu’s life had been a life of continuous defeat and pointed to some of the glorious chapters in history (Keer, ibid, p 273).

When World War II broke out in 1939, different Indian leaders viewed the global war differently. Gandhi broke down before the British Viceroy at the very thought of destruction of the British House of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey. He claimed that the Congress was an all-representative body. On 14 September 1939, Congress leaders declared that a free democratic India would gladly associate herself with the free nations for mutual defence and asked the British Government to declare their war aims in regard to democracy and imperialism, and particularly to India. A few days later, a joint statement was issued by seven leaders Savarkar, NC Kelkar, Jamnadas Mehta, Ambedkar, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Sir Cowasji Jehangir and Sir VN Chandavarkar declaring that Gandhi’s claim that the Congress was an all-representative body, was a fascist one and would prove a death-blow to Indian democracy (Keer, ibid, pp 313-314).

During the first quarter of 1941, Ambedkar was busy with the problem of recruitment of the Untouchables, especially the Mahars who are famous for their fighting qualities. Ambedkar saw the Governor of Bombay and voiced his grievances against the militarization policy of the Government which excluded the Mahars on the basis of a senseless distinction between martial and non-martial classes. Thereupon, the Government decided to raise a Mahar battalion and Ambedkar issued an appeal to the Mahars to seize the opportunity both for their sake and for the sake of their country. Savarkar, who wished the Hindus to be reborn into a martial race, expressed the hope that under the able guidance of Ambedkar, the Mahar brethren would be re-animated with the military qualities and their military uplift would contribute to the consolidation of the Hindus (Keer, ibid, p 325).

The fiftieth birthday of Ambedkar fell on 14 April 1942. The main function in the series of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations was held at Chowpatty, Bombay on 19 April. Glorious tributes were paid to Ambedkar on his golden jubilee. The most important tribute full of appreciation and estimation came from Savarkar. Offering his hearty felicitations to Ambedkar on his Golden Jubilee, Savarkar observed, “I heartily join you all in offering my felicitations to Dr. BR Ambedkar on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee. His personality, erudition and capacity to lead and organize would have by themselves marked him out as an outstanding asset to our nation. But in addition to that, the inestimable services he has rendered to our motherland in trying to stamp out untouchability and the results he has achieved in instilling a manly spirit of self-confidence in millions of the depressed classes constitute an abiding patriotic as well as humanitarian achievement. The very fact of the birth of such a towering personality among the so-called untouchable castes could not but liberate their souls from self-depression and animate them to challenge the super-arrogative claims of the so-called touchables. My own persistent efforts for the last thirty years or so on my own lines to uproot untouchability and the response I had been receiving throughout India on the part of the Hindus of all castes, touchables and untouchables, convince me that untouchability, at any rate in the public sphere and the civic life of our nation, is bound to be swept away within a couple of decades whether it is found amongst the untouchables, castes themselves in relation to each other and this uprooting of untouchability is bound to contribute inevitably to the solidarity and strength of the Pan-Hindu cause even if some may not be aiming at this ultimate effect. That is why I appreciate the Herculean efforts of Dr. Ambedkar to raise the depressed classes to the level of full citizenship and am confident that even his occasional anti-Hindu utterances and attitude cannot but lead ultimately to the strengthening of the Hindu Sanghatan movement. With great admiration for the man and his work I wish Dr. Ambedkar a long, healthy and eventful life. VD Savarkar, 15 April 1942” (quoted partially in Keer, ibid, p 333, quoted in full by Bhide Guruji in Free Hindustan dated 14 April 1946).

On 02 June 1942, the Viceroy appointed Ambedkar as a Member of his Executive Council. Almost never before in the history of India, a member of the Depressed Classes held such a high office in the governance of the country. Ambedkar received hundreds of congratulatory letters and wires. Among those who congratulated Ambedkar was Savarkar (Keer, ibid, p 335).

In 1948, Savarkar was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Gandhi. The Nehru government was hell-bent on implicating Savarkar. Ambedkar was then Law Minister in the Nehru government. He secretly met Savarkar’s counsel LB Bhopatkar and expressed his sympathies and anxiety for Savarkar’s well being. Ambedkar opined that there was not an iota of evidence against Savarkar. The whole cabinet had to bow down to the whims of one man (meaning Nehru) in implicating Savarkar, said Ambedkar. He warned Bhopatkar that Nehru was prepared to go to any lengths to implicate Savarkar.

In 1952, Ambedkar declared that as there was no untouchability in Buddhism he would convert to that religion. Savarkar replied to Ambedkar’s statement in his “Six Glorious Epochs in Indian History”. Quoting descriptions of contemporary Chinese travelers, Savarkar said that those castes (like Chandals) that did not stop killing animals, no matter what punishments were meted to them by Buddhist rulers, fled their villages and had to announce their arrival with bells or drums. On 01 August 1956, Savarkar wrote an article, “You will be worse off by embracing Buddhism.” He questioned whether the Mahars (the caste to which Ambedkar belonged) could honestly say that when they became Buddhists, their feelings towards Chamars, Maangs and Dhors whom they regarded as untouchables would change overnight? He also questioned why Ambedkar who was showering abuses on Hindu Dharma and accusing it of superstition kept mum on the numerous superstitions in Islam and Christianity. Savarkar had made a deep study of Buddhism. He debunked Ambedkar’s contention that Buddhism was free of superstition. “You make fun of tree-worship by Hindus, then how come you worship the Bodhi tree”; you criticize the offerings made to Brahmins; but the burden imposed society by lakhs of alms-seeking Buddhist monks was at least a hundred times more; you say that Buddhism does not believe in God, deities, soul and re-incarnation but from Manchuria to Indo-China millions of Buddhists have raised the Buddha to the status of God and they believe in Indra, Varun, Laksmi, Saraswati, Yakshas and Kinnars and narrate stories of the Buddha’s numerous past lives” was his pointed counter to Ambedkar and his followers. When Ambedkar finally embraced Buddhism, Savarkar termed it as a change of sect rather than a change of religion. He said that so long as Ambedkar remained an Indian Buddhist, he continued to remain in the ambit of Hindutva as his fatherland and holy land continued to be Bharat.

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