For most Indians of my generation, Savarkar is a somewhat shadowy figure – rarely mentioned in any detail in history books; even less so at public events or occasions that commemorate India’s independence. For a small few though, he is the archetypical hero – the one who fought fearlessly against the British, the “Veer” (brave).
As some of you would know, by the time India became a republic in 1950, Savarkar was already on the path to oblivion. A few years later, he died – unsung and hardly mourned. In the 45 years since, he has become a deeply polarising figure in the pantheon of leaders who fought for India’s Independence.
I had long wanted to read more about him…but something or the other always prevented a detailed research. In the meantime, I stumbled on this piece by Sh Arvind Lavakare – and felt this was as good a place to start. On this occasion of his 128th birth anniversary, I hope to begin a re-examination of this great historical figure. Today, excerpts from “A Saint vs. A Patriot” by Sh Lavakare (emphasis added):
…That same cocktail of political ideology had previously caused President K R Narayanan to sit so long on the Vajpayee government’s recommendation of a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar that it was finally forced to wither away. It’s the same ideology that recently boycotted the ceremony to install Veer Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament and even appealed to the nation’s President to refrain from unveiling the portrait.
It was perverse enough that this bunch of democratically elected leaders should have shown total irreverence to the norms of parliamentary democracy by daring to obstruct a decision of a Parliamentary committee that included representatives of that cocktail. What is worse is that in opposing Savarkar’s posthumous entry into Parliament, this bunch of politicking creatures overlooked the totality of the revolutionary and inspiring incandescence of freedom that was lit by him in the early 20th century when the country’s British masters were crushing our aspirations and milking our resources.
The life of Savarkar (1883-1966) was so uniquely variegated that it is almost unbelievable that one individual could possess such an intellect, such talent, such intensity as to be a firebrand freedom fighter from childhood, a potential barrister, a writer of history, of poetry and Sanskrit prayers, a social reformer, and a distinctive political ideologue with a prophetic vision on the fate of Kashmir, the formation of Pakistan along with its subsequent hostility, the mass Muslim infiltration from East Bengal into Assam and China’s hoodwinking Nehru on his Panchsheel.
He suffered six months of solitary confinement, seven days standing handcuffed, ten days of cross bar fetters and other tortures in the cellular jail on the infamous Andaman islands of old where he was sent in 1911 to serve a total of 50-year life imprisonment for his alleged involvement in two cases: the murder of the English district magistrate of Nashik and efforts in Bombay to ‘overthrow the legally formed government of the country.‘ He was in the Andaman prison till 1921, from where he was shifted first to Alipore jail and then, in January 1924, released from prison but confined in his movements to Ratnagiri district (in present Maharashtra) with stringent conditions. It was in May 1937, when Jamnadas Mehta of the Tilak Democratic Swaraj Party agreed to support the new Cooper ministry in Bombay on the express condition of Savarkar’s unconditional release, that Savarkar was finally rid of colonial shackles. And he soon plunged into politics, becoming the president of the Hindu Mahasabha, even as those engaged in the freedom movement sought his views and advice. Included in that lot was Subhas Chandra Bose whom he inspired to make India free through military action.
But the Congress and Communists of 2003 are not moved by all that Savarkar did or suffered in trying to win freedom for his beloved country, by how Savarkar kindled the minds and hearts of millions, including Bose and Bhagat Singh. They choose, instead, to complain that Savarkar submitted amnesty petitions to his colonial masters for his early release from the Andaman prison and made promises to them of constitutional conduct instead of willing to suffer pain and all, death included, as the price to be paid for upholding his cause. This bunch of politicking creatures also believe Savarkar was a part of the conspiracy which led to Nathuram Godse assassinating Mahatma Gandhi but was let off by the court on a mere technicality. And, finally, this bunch brands Savarkar as a Hindu fanatic, who must have no niche whatsoever in this oh-so secular country of ours. Therefore, they proclaim, Savarkar has no place on the walls of our august Parliament in New Delhi.
Image courtesy: www.Savarkar.org
What is concealed in the criticism of Savarkar’s pleas for release is the remark that McPherson, Britain’s home secretary, put on one such petition. As cited by Shyam Khosla in Rajasthan Patrika of February 26, 2003, that note said, ‘It will be dangerous for the British Empire to release Savarkar. His pleas are a ruse to get out the jail. Once out he will organise an underground movement against the British. I therefore reject the petition on the ground that it will be a danger to public safety.‘ Need more be said? And if prison life had, as alleged, transformed him into a pro-British imperialist, why did Bose, Nehru and M N Roy welcome him to full freedom in 1937? Why did S M Joshi and Achyut Patwardhan want him to join their political party? Why did his Hindu Mahasabha vehemently oppose the Cripps Mission proposals of 1942 and the Cabinet Mission’s plan of 1946?
Regarding Savarkar’s connection with Godse, the Special Court appointed for the trial did not accept the evidence of Digamber Badge who had turned approver and stated that Savarkar had blessed the assassins in their mission. In Godse’s reply to the charge sheet against him — reproduced fully in May it Please You Honour (Surya Bharti Prakashan, New Delhi, 1987) — he had categorically denied the prosecution’s stand that he was guided in his action by Savarkar and that, but for Savarkar’s complicity, he could not have acted the way he did. What’s more, Godse’s reply stated ‘I take the strongest exception to this untrue and unjust charge and I further regard it as an insult to my intelligence and judgement.’ (Ibid page 45). Indeed, Godse’s reply indicated his disenchantment with Savarkar’s belief that free India having got its own government, all parties should conduct their propaganda on constitutional lines rather through anarchical tactics and undemocratic conduct. (Ibid page 56).
In any case, the question remains: Why didn’t the prosecution under Nehru’s Congress government appeal against Savarkar’s acquittal? The answer is in the silence. There’s finally that visceral accusation of Savarkar’s Hindutva and his alleged two-nation demand.
The riposte to that is the excerpt below from Savarkar’s presiding address to the Hindu Mahasabha’s Ahmedabad session of 1937 cited at page 117 of “The Tragic Story of Partition” (Jagaran Prakashana, Bangalore, 1984) by (RSS leader) H V Seshadri.
‘Let the Indian State be purely Indian. Let it not recognise any invidious distinction whatsoever as regards the franchise, public services, offices, taxation on the grounds of religion and race. Let no cognisance be taken whatsoever of a man being Hindu or Mohammedan, Christian or Jew. Let all citizens of that Indian state be treated according to their worth irrespective of their religion or racial percentage in the general population.’
Even 66 years after Savarkar spoke the above words, have you got a better enunciation of what secularism should mean for the Indian nation? Silence is the answer. In that silence lies the Indian tragedy of prejudiced and pernicious eyes that see a jewel in a pseudo-saint and a thorn in a true patriot.
To round off this tribute, a couple of quotes on Veer Savarkar courtesy, “Rediscovering Gandhi by RP Misra. The first by C Rajagopalachari,
Savarkar was a symbol of courage, bravery and patriotism, an ’abhitirth’ in the long battle for freedom.
And this one by the late PM Indira Gandhi:
Savarkar was a great figure of contemporary India and his name is by-word for daring and patriotism. He was cast in a mould of a classic revolutionary and countless people drew inspiration from him.
Additional references: An essay on Veer Savarkar by Sanjeev Nayyar based on Dhananjay Keer’s biography (can be downloaded from here) and Information on Savarkar gathered by British Secret Police between 1906-09 .
Related Post: “Eclipse of the Hindu Nation” – Excerpts from Chapter 1