Savarkar: Prince of Revolutionaries – I
by Shreerang Godbole on 30 May 2016 4 Comments

Hindutva-baiters have a deeply entrenched image of pro-Hindutva individuals and organisations in their minds. Sadly for them, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar refuses to be strait-jacketed into that image. Their refrain is that Hindutva and rationalism are mutually incompatible values. ­However, the fact is that they can neither endure Savarkar’s rationalism nor digest it. The tribe of Hindutva-baiters claims a monopoly on the field of literature, poetry and drama. However, the only litterateur who effortlessly dealt with all forms of literature was pro-Hindutva Savarkar!


It is a pet theory of Hindutva-baiters that Hindutva forces did not participate in the freedom struggle. Yet Savarkar was the prince of revolutionaries! They claim that Hindutva is an obscurantist ideology, but their self-proclaimed progressivism pales in comparison to Savarkar’s thought and action. They claim Hindutva and rationalism are mutually incompatible, but can neither endure Savarkar’s rationalism nor digest it.


Mani Shankar Aiyar, A.G. Noorani, Shamsul Islam are persons who unfailingly indulge in an annual mud fest in the hope that some muck may stick to Savarkar. Gandhi’s death anniversary is usually the time for this annual ritual. This year, one Niranjan Takle (principal correspondent, The Week) has joined the ranks...  


Allegations against Savarkar


This journalist (sic) has leveled certain serious allegations against Savarkar in the Kochi-based ‘The Week’ (24 Jan 2016). The allegations are hackneyed and discredited. But incessant repetition may cause unsuspecting persons to think that there could be an element of truth in them. Rather than indulging in alleged research, this journalist would have been well advised to read Savarkar’s biography and copious writings. As ordinary readers have neither the time nor the resources to investigate the truth, it becomes imperative to systematically rebut these baseless allegations.


The allegations of the anti-Savarkar brigade can be broadly classified as follows:  

The extreme hardships in the Cellular Jail, Andamans broke Savarkar’s morale. Hence, he submitted mercy petitions to the British Government and got himself released. His book Mazi Janmathep (The Story of my Transportation for Life) makes no mention of these mercy petitions. His official jail ticket does not mention that he was yoked to the oil-mill in the Andamans. He availed concessions in the Andamans that were rarely given to other prisoners.


Even after his release from Andamans, he played by the rules laid down by the British. Opposing the Congress and creating rift between Hindus and Muslims was the common program of Savarkar and Viceroy Linlithgow. His role in the Quit India Movement was dubious and helpful to the British. He supported the anti-Jew agenda of Hitler. During World War II, he advocated a policy the militarization to oppose Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA and to help the British war effort.


Savarkar put forth the two-nation theory. There is no historical evidence to suggest that he was a proponent of united and undivided India. He was opposed to the tricolor flag.

Justice Kapoor Commission proved that Savarkar was a party to the conspiracy to kill Gandhi.


Flights of fancy


Before proceeding, we shall pause to see how this journalist put his foot in his mouth. By saying that the jail history ticket of Savarkar had no entry of him being yoked to oil-mill, Takle slyly suggests that this inhuman punishment was never meted out to Savarkar. He writes that Savarkar was let off with mild punishments compared to other political prisoners. He has lifted a picture of Savarkar’s so-called mercy petition from Shamsul Islam’s book. Presto, the original word is ‘petition’; the word mercy is never mentioned! It has been inserted as a skillful after-thought.


A portion of this petition has been selectively highlighted. The portion that has not been highlighted clearly mentions that Savarkar was yoked to the oil-mill and meted out the harshest punishments compared to other prisoners.


Elsewhere, Takle quotes a statement of co-prisoner Barindra Ghosh that mentions the Savarkar brothers being yoked to the oil-mill. This journalist, who bears a Maharashtrian name, displays colossal ignorance of the intellectual streams in Maharashtra. He calls author Y.D. Phadke a ‘staunch Savarkarite’ when Phadke spent a lifetime in demeaning Savarkar and the Hindutva movement. He was usually seen in the company of liberals and progressives (i.e., socialists)!


Harshest punishment for Savarkar!


As per rules, prisoners were released from the Cellular Jail after six months. They were free to live with their families in the colonies on the Andaman Island. Before Savarkar, no one was continuously confined to the Cellular Jail for more than three years. This rule was not applied to Savarkar. He was kept in that hell-hole for a whopping eleven years.


The most hardened Pathan warder was appointed to keep watch on him. The badge around his neck had the letter ‘D’ which signified the most dangerous prisoners. He was sent to a corner cell which the jailer Barrie could watch comfortably from his bungalow. Savarkar had to suffer solitary confinement for the first six months. He was yoked to the oil-mill for the first time on August 16, 1911.


In December 1911, to coincide with the coronation of King George V, several political prisoners were released or had their punishments remitted. For Savarkar, there was neither release nor remission.


Again in 1920, all but some thirty political prisoners were released. Those released had been imprisoned with or after Savarkar. Nevertheless, to describe in Savarkar’s words, “We remained as we were, not a day’s remission was given!”


Savarkar refused to work on June 8, 1914 for which he was given the punishment of standing in handcuffs for eight days. He again refused work on June 16, 1914 for which he was shackled to chains for four months. He was punished with cross-bar as a severe punishment for refusing yet again on June 18. Prisoners who were ill were given milk, but Savarkar was given half-baked chapati or water and rice.

Savarkar faced such severe punishments at least 20-22 times. Even though he was promoted to Class II in the Jail on November 2, 1916, he was neither allowed to speak with his brother nor did he get any reprieve from any physical task. As per rules, prisoners were allowed to meet relatives after five years. However, Tatyarao (Savarkar’s nickname) and Mai (his wife) first met on May 30, 1919 – after eight years. At that time, the jail authorities did not allow the trunk containing his favorite food items and kerchiefs inside and forfeited it.


It is clear that compared with the other revolutionaries, the British Government treated Savarkar maliciously. Hem Chandra Das and Barindra Kumar Ghosh, accused in the Alipore bomb case, were brought to the Andamans in 1908. The British pardoned and released them in 1920. Like Savarkar, Sachindranath Sanyal who was accused in the Lahore Conspiracy also submitted to the government that “if allowed to agitate in the interest of the nation, why should we choose the revolutionary path?” He was released, but not Savarkar. To say that Savarkar was given mild punishments compared to other prisoners flies in the face of truth. 


For one who organised his co-prisoners, taught the illiterate among them to read and write, organised their strikes, refused to carry out  prison tasks, organised Shuddhi (purification of converted Hindu prisoners) campaigns, propagated Hindi, sent out information about the prison conditions,  contemplated on the ten principal Upanishads over a period of one year, etched five thousand lines of lofty verse on the prison walls when denied paper or pencil and then committed them to memory, who composed tranquil lines even while on his death-bed, the accusation that prison hardships had broken Savarkar’s morale is downright mean, to put it mildly. 


British officers were particularly wary and malicious in their dealings with Savarkar. The following three excerpts from ‘Source Material for a History of Freedom Movement in India, Volume 2’ published by the Bombay Government show how desperate the British Government was to prevent the release of the Savarkar brothers:

-                    “Bombay Government does not recommend any remission of the sentences passed upon Ganesh Damodar Savarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar” (p. 467)

-                    “Government of India agrees that the Savarkar brothers should not be released under the Royal Amnesty” (dated 8 December 1919, p.469)

-                    “The Government of Bombay by their letter No. 1106/36, Home Department, dated 29th February 1921, informed the Government of India that the Governor in Council was not in favour of the transfer of the Savarkar brothers from Andamans to a jail in the Bombay Presidency, as that would lead to a recrudescence of agitation in their favour.”


Efforts for the Release of Political Prisoners


In his book ‘The Story of My Transportation for Life’, Savarkar has spelt out how and why he made efforts for the release of political prisoners. It was precisely because he felt no shame in these efforts that he makes no attempt to hide these facts as claimed by Takle. On the contrary, he looked upon these efforts as being in the interest of his motherland.


In 1920, the political prisoners got an opportunity to secure their release by signing a bond. Not everyone agreed with Savarkar’s argument that political prisoners should sign these undertakings and secure release. Savarkar narrates how he brought the dissenters to his point of view. He writes, “All these discharged prisoners had to sign a pledge that they would abstain from politics and revolutionary activity for a certain number of years. And if again they were tried and found guilty of treason, they would come back to the Andamans to serve the remainder of their life-sentence. Since the receipt of the wire to which I have already referred on a previous page, a hot discussion went on among us whether we should at all sign such a pledge for procuring our release. My advice to my friends was that there was nothing wrong in it as it referred to a future contingency and was in the best national interest.


“I quoted to them instances from the life of Shivaji. Of his dealing with Jay Singh and Afzal Khan; I told them of Guru Govind and his flight after the incident of Chamkore; nay I drew upon the life of Lord Krishna himself, in order to convince them of the correctness of the step they were taking. The most obstinately proud among them would not be persuaded even by these parallels from the past. Their this stubbornness on the subject, after all that they had suffered for the cause, inspired me with great hope for the future of my country. But at last I could convince them of my point of view, and they all signed the pledge without demur, and thus broke open the lock of the jail in the Andamans.”


Savarkar explained his stand in no uncertain terms thus, “Whatever good I could do in the Andamans or whatever awakening I might bring about among its people was nothing in comparison with what I could do in India as a free man. On the other hand, in order to win my freedom, I would not stoop low or lend myself to anything mean or treacherous such as would bring disgrace on my country or be a blot on her fair name. Freedom thus obtained would have harmed the cause and would have been, as I regarded it, an immoral act.”


Hence, if one gets a sure opportunity for freedom without resorting to such conduct, it should be availed. Till such an opportunity presents itself, it is better to lie low and try to achieve national interest to the extent possible and let the days pass. Even so, those not facing the Government’s wrath or surveillance should be used to do such acts. When there is no one else who is willing or capable to run the public movement in the given circumstances, one should do it himself. When one sees the possibility of release, one should not forgo it deliberately. However, in the absence of a definite possibility, one should not sit back and helplessly watch the torture of compatriots in the Andamans in the fear that they will not release us.” Comment is superfluous. 


Savarkar made two-fold efforts to secure the release of all political prisoners (and not just himself!) from the Cellular Jail. To this end, his revolutionary comrades established contact with Germany. Consequently, the German warship ‘Emden’ plied around the Andaman islands.


The second type of effort involved arranging for memoranda to be submitted to the British! In a letter dated March 3, 1915, Savarkar instructed his younger brother Dr. Narayan Rao to arrange for public petitions to the Government for the release of all political prisoners. All these letters have been published in the book ‘Echoes from the Andamans’. As a result, Provincial Conferences were held at various places demanding the release of the political prisoners and petitions containing thousands of signatures were submitted to the Government.

Savarkar had another motive in mind while insisting that public memoranda be submitted for the release of political prisoners. In the letter written on August 5, 1917 to his younger brother, Savarkar writes, “…as soon as the War ends please do see if a public Petition for our release could be sent. Such a petition and resolution do not in themselves bring such a release, but they at any rate make it more acceptable if it ever comes. For I for one would indeed feel it a shame to go back to a people which dares not... to remember those who loved and love and will never cease to love the land of their birth and rightly or wrongly but fell fighting for Her!”


After learning that an application containing 75,000 signatures was submitted to the government, he says in the letter written on July 6, 1920, “That huge petition … at any rate elevated the moral status of the political prisoners and therefore of the cause for which they fought and fell. Now indeed our release if at all it comes is worth having, as the people have expressed their desire to have us back.”


Savarkar’s sense of self-respect is clearly evident in a letter dated March 9, 1915. He writes, “If Indians are willing and petitions to that effect go at the end of the war we may be released and if Indians are not willing to have us back neither the Government can release us nor it is worthwhile to have that release … I have no wish to thrust myself on any people unwilling to have me back.”


Savarkar’s selflessness while striving for the release of political prisoners becomes apparent in a letter that he wrote to the Governor General during the World War I.  he wrote that the colonial self-Government offered by the British and release of the political prisoners were not two separate entities but one should be applied with the other to make it successful. He wrote, “As my main purpose in sending this application is setting free the political prisoner class, I will not be left unsatisfied even if I myself am not released. On the contrary, if the political prisoners are not given general mercy because I will have to be freed, then I will be happy if the Government releases those hundreds of prisoners who can be released without releasing me”.


What was Savarkar’s physical condition when he wrote these applications? In March 1917, he weighed 119 pounds. By 1918, he had come to 98 pounds. It was during this time that he had written a heart-rending sentence to his younger brother, “This mortal body is wasting day by day”.


Savarkar could overcome the physical and mental hardships in the hell-hole of the Andamans as well as the wiliness of the British by following the precepts and practice of Sri Krishna. It was not for nothing that he wrote in a poem composed while on deathbed in the Andamans, “In the alien territory of the crematory, to ease such travel in this land, a letter of introduction I have from Sri Krishna himself”!  


Savarkar’s alien adversaries were fully aware of his true worth and the danger he posed to them. No wonder then that they tried hard to keep him behind bars for as long as they could. Is it too much to expect his countrymen to grasp this same truth?  


(To be continued…)

The Week(Kochi, 24 Jan 2016) carried an article making serious allegations against Veer Savarkar; the author rebuts the allegations.

28 May 2016 is V.D. Savarkar’s 133rd birth anniversary; this year also marks the 50th anniversary of his atmarpan

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