Remembering Veer Savarkar (28 May 1883 – 26 February 1966)
by Sandhya Jain on 26 Feb 2009 10 Comments

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, or Veer Savarkar as he was popularly designated, is a son of modern India who was denied recognition for his puissant nationalism, vibrant intellect, and personal valour, due to the pusillanimity of the powers that be in independent India. What distinguishes Savarkar from a legion of dedicated freedom fighters is his articulation of a philosophy of Hindu Rashtra; indeed, he was the first major thinker to do so since Samarth Ramdas inspired Chhatrapati Shivaji to create a Hindu padpadshahi amidst an archipelago of Muslim kingdoms in an age when Aurangzeb Alamgir was a much-dreaded monarch.


Revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries


It is generally ignored that the British Raj was equally alien, hostile and vicious to genuine Hindu nationalists – those who could not be purchased, accommodated (sic) or broken. When the true history of India is finally written by mature historians, the disparity between the luxurious jails afforded to M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the dehumanizing incarcerations faced by men like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the Savarkar brothers will be exposed to public scrutiny.


Savarkar believed in complete political independence, not home rule or dominion status, and his reward was two terms of life imprisonment, totalling 50 years, in the black waters of the Andamans, that too at the tender age of 27 years.


Vinayak Savarkar, born in Nasik, Maharashtra, the second of three sons, was an avid nationalist from an early age, having imbibed the nationalist spirit from the writings of Lokmanya Tilak in ‘Kesari.’ The plague of 1895 affected him deeply - the brutality of British officers and soldiers charged with containing the epidemic provoked the murder of a special officer named Rand and Lt. Ayerst. The Chapekar brothers and their associate Ranade were hanged for these deaths; their sacrifice shook the adolescent Savarkar, who vowed: “I shall wage an armed struggle for the freedom of my country, and shall either perish like Chapekar or like Shivaji become victorious and celebrate my country’s freedom.”


On moving to Nasik, Vinayak Savarkar attracted a group of young boys and set up a secret society called Abhinav Bharat, besides a front organization called Mitramela for public activities. In 1902, he went to Poona to study at Fergusson College. Poona was then the heart of Indian politics because Tilak resided there. At this time Savarkar also came under the influence of S.M. Paranjpe, who published a revolutionary journal, Kal.


Savarkar was catapulted to the limelight at a meeting to protest the partition of Bengal. He publicly proposed the burning of foreign goods, an idea which won Tilak’s approval and resulted in the public bonfire of foreign clothes in Poona. In 1906, on a scholarship facilitated by Shyamji Krishnavarma (the ardent freedom fighter whose ashes were brought back to India by Shri Narendra Modi in August 2003), Savarkar went to study in London.


Savarkar won fame with his book, ‘The War of Independence of 1857,’ scrupulously researched in the India Office library, where he was ultimately denied admission because Scotland Yard learnt of his studies. (The “free” societies of the West are pretty much the same even today; unrelenting monitoring of the activity of atomised individuals gives society a quietist demeanour, making rule by the State or Corporate Leviathan easy). Savarkar got around this problem with help from V.V.S. Aiyer. The final manuscript, in Marathi, was dispatched to India for publication, which proved difficult as police sought to confiscate it, so it was returned, translated into English and printed in Holland.


Madan Lal Dhingra


While abroad, Savarkar tried to acquire knowledge of bomb-making, so as to take the revolutionary path to freedom. His close associates, Bapat, Hemchandra Das and Mirza Abbas procured a bomb manual from Paris; it was translated from Russian and copies sent to India via Hemachandra Das and Hotilal Varma, who gave a copy to Lokmanya Tilak. He also reached out to Irish, Egyptian, Turkish and Chinese revolutionaries.


In India, the British harshly crushed even the hint of sedition, and many journalists were arrested for supporting the bomb incident at Muzaffarpur; Tilak was tried and transported for six years, an event that inspired Madan Lal Dhingra, an Indian student in London, to learn shooting and prepare for martyrdom. On 1 July 1909, he assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie at the annual function of the National Indian Association, to avenge the sentence of life imprisonment to Savarkar’s elder brother, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar (Babarao). This sensational murder of an invader on his own home turf was hailed as a revolutionary step in the freedom movement.


Raj loyalists led by the Aga Khan immediately called a meeting in Caxton Hall to condemn the killing. Vinayak Savarkar went along with Gyanchand Varma and V.V.S. Aiyar. A resolution of sympathy for the family was read, Dhingra criticized, and his younger brother brought to the stage to distance the family from the murder. Aga Khan read a resolution condemning Dhingra, put it to vote and hastily declared it as passed unanimously.


This prompted Savarkar to stand up and say, ‘No, Not at all.’ The meeting dissolved in chaos; one Barrister Palmer hit Savarkar in one eye, which began to bleed; Savarkar continued to protest and the person seated behind him hit Palmer on the head with a stick. Surendranath Banerjee left in protest against the attack on Savarkar; the police cleared the hall.


During his trial, Dhingra claimed the police had confiscated his defence statement. The judge permitted him to speak freely in court, but Dhingra was upset that his prepared statement would not reach the public. Savarkar sent an associate to Paris and got the statement – captioned ‘Challenge’ – printed and distributed in many countries: “…I believe that a nation held in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise. Since guns were denied to me, I drew forth my pistol and fired.”


Savarkar’s reward for his exertions was an inquiry at Giray’s Inn, which led to the decision not be call him to the Bar immediately. He went to Paris to inspire the Indian community there, but on learning of police atrocities against his friends and younger brother in Nasik, decided to return to England, notwithstanding the warnings of Madam Cama, Shyamji Krishnavarma and others.


Marseilles: freedom aborted


He was promptly arrested at Victoria Station and after three attempts to free him failed, deported to India for trial, via the ‘S.S. Morea.’ It was reported that the ship would not touch Marseilles, so that Indian revolutionaries did not attempt to free him at the French port. But mechanical problems forced a stop at Marseilles, and Savarkar decided to jump ship – he squeezed himself through a port-hole and dived for freedom.


Reaching French soil, he requested a French policeman to take him to a magistrate. But the pursuing British and Indian policemen caught up with him, bribed the policeman and took him into custody again. Madam Cama, Aiyer and others reached too late, but raised a hue and cry in Paris; the steamer proceeded with its precious cargo to Bombay (Mumbai).


In India, the Abhinav Bharat was preparing for revolution and collecting arms, besides learning how to manufacture bombs on a large scale. This job was entrusted to Patankar, Dr. Parulkar and Bhate, who set up a small factory at Vasai. At some stage they were approached by one Karve, who had his own secret organization, for help in getting revolvers. One of these revolvers was used by a 16-year-old boy, Kanhere, to kill Nasik Collector Jackson, an extremely harsh official, who was responsible for Babarao Savarkar’s trial. Subsequent police investigations revealed that Vinayak Savarkar was the source of the revolvers…


Ultimately, three men were hanged for Jackson’s murder; Savarkar received two sentences of life imprisonment and transportation for life. He said: “I am prepared to face ungrudgingly the extreme penalty of your laws in the belief that it is through suffering and sacrifice alone that our believed motherland can march to an assured, if not a speedy, triumph.” He was taken to the infamous Cellular Jail, and put into solitary confinement.


Cellular Jail


The dehumanizing conditions of Cellular Jail are known to all sensitive Indians, and many freedom fighters committed suicide in despair. Savarkar struggled heroically to sustain prisoner morale, and his efforts even resulted in an amnesty for many. So charismatic was his leadership, that when Tilak died he organised a one-day fast in the entire colony to mourn his passing away!


In September 2004, UPA Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, a brash Sonia Gandhi loyalist, ordered the removal of the commemorative plaque honouring Savarkar from the Cellular Jail. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mumbled some inanity, and the Italian-born Roman Catholic kept mum, as is her wont in every crisis that hurts the Hindu people.


Another great triumph of Savarkar was to protest the conversion of Hindu convicts to Islam, force the authorities to step in and put an end to it (YES, it DOES require State Power), and begin the return movement. Savarkar also ardently promoted Hindi and started a library in prison.


In 1921, the Savarkar brothers were shifted to Ratnagiri jail and subjected to gruelling punishment, which tempted Vinayak to contemplate suicide. To overcome depression he began mentally writing the story of his life since his first arrest (published 1926 as ‘My Transportation for Life’). In Ratnagiri he also wrote his famous thesis on ‘Hindutva’ and ran a re-conversion movement in jail.


He was shifted to Yeravada jail, where the Governor met him to discuss conditions for his release. He was freed in January 1924 on condition that he reside in Ratnagiri district and refrain from politics for five years. Savarkar remained in Ratnagiri for 13 years (as government extended his tenure there), till June 1937. He was permitted to leave the district twice, once on account of an epidemic soon after his arrival, when he went to Nasik.


Fight against untouchability


Throwing himself into social work here, Savarkar addressed many meetings, the first of which was in the untouchable B----i colony. His leadership inspired the people, and for the first time at the annual Ganpati festival, the murti of the Mahar community (to which Bhimrao Ambedkar belonged) was given pride of place at the head of the procession.


Even on his return to Ratnagiri, Savarkar devoted himself to re-conversion and the removal of untouchability. In 1925, one Mahadev Laxman Gurav asked Savarkar to preside over the installation of a murti in the Hanuman temple. Savarkar ensured that the palanquin was jointly carried by Mahars, Mangs, Chambhars, Brahmins, and Marathas.


The same year he brought back one Jadhav, who had become a Christian, to the Hindu fold. The next year, a Brahmin family which had converted to Christianity, was brought back. He scuttled attempts to debar untouchables from Hindu temples, and set up the Patitpavan Mandir for all Hindus.


Rebuffing Congress


Savarkar was finally released on 10 May 1937. He refused the invitation of S.M. Joshi and Achyutrao Patwardhan to join the socialist wing of the Congress, as the party had abandoned its pure form of Indian nationalism and was indulging in pseudo-nationalism, according to which there could be no Swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity.


In the princely state of Kolhapur, Savarkar averred that the princely states were monuments to the former Maratha Hindu Empire, and that a number of social reforms had taken place in these states. He prophesied in 1938: “When Hindustan is free and comes to her own, the States too will and must join hands with us all to remove any artificial barriers that stand on her way of unity…”


Warning that a minority had already demarcated a portion of the country where it was in majority and named it ‘Pakistan,’ he asked how Hindus could remain indifferent when other communities became so politically conscious.


In December 1937, Savarkar was elected president of the annual session of the Hindu Mahasabha, in Ahmedabad. He strongly contested Gandhi’s assertion that there would be no Swarajya without Hindu-Muslim unity, pointing out that this had made the Muslims obdurate. His own attitude to freedom and Hindu-Muslim unity was: “if you come, with you; if you don’t, without you; and if you oppose, in spite of you the Hindus will continue to fight for their national freedom.”


Sindhu River


Savarkar’s ashes were never immersed as per Hindu custom, on account of his last testament that they were to be immersed only in the river Sindhu in a time when India was re-united.


Savarkar’s allegiance to the Sindhu derived from a holy mantra which invokes the divine waters and is recited when bathing: “Gange cha Yamune chaiva, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmade, Sindhu, Kaveri, Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru (Oh, Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Saraswati! Oh, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri, come and mingle with this water with which I bathe).


Partitioned India has been deprived of the Sindhu, which for Savarkar was the holiest of these holy rivers because it was on the banks of this river that the ancient Vedic Rishis sang the first stanzas of the Sama Veda.


Moreover, Maharashtra has a special love for the Sindhu. Chhatrapati Shivaji had conquered much of the south, but the conquest of north India was that fulfilled by Bajirao who crossed the Narmada and rode up to Delhi. The victorious army drank the waters of the Yamuna and the Ganga, the Satluj and the Jhelum, and reached the banks of the Sindhu and hoisted the Bhagva flag over Attock.


The waters of the Sindhu, therefore, have a special place in Maharashtrian hearts.


Akhand Bharat


The Akhand Bharat to which Savarkar and many uncompromising nationalists dedicated and sacrificed their lives includes a quest for the return of India’s pristine boundaries sundered at Partition. More than a desire for the reunion of lost territory (62 districts), it is a craving for the restoration of a lost civilisational harmony whose cultural-religious symbols survive in the form of 218 tirthas now in Islamic custody in Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively. Some of the more exalted sites include:-


West Punjab (present-day Pakistan):-


# The banks of the Saraswati river, where the Saraswat Brahmins enunciated the Vedas.

# Birthplace of famous Sanskrit grammarian, Rishi Panini.

# Takshashila (Taxila), the university of Acharya Chanakya.

# Katasraj, of the Mahabharata yuga, where Yaksha discoursed with Dharamaraja Yudhisthira.

# Shalivahana Kot (Sialkot), birthplace of purna bhakta and hutatma, Dharamvir Bal Hakikat Rai.


# Jhelum, where Raja Puru (Porus) defeated the world conqueror, Alexander.

# Luvpur (Lahore), Kushpur (Kusur), cities established by Maryada Purushottama Rama’s sons, Luv and Kush.

# Moolistan (Multan), where Bhakta Prahlad was born and at whose anguished call, the Lord Narasingha burst forth.

# Nankana Sahib, birthplace of Sant Shiromani Guru Nanak Dev ji, where he is reputed to have admonished Jabir Babur regarding the true sanctity of Mecca.

# Panja Sahib, where Guru Nanak Dev ji Maharaj is reputed to have humbled Bali Kandhari.

# Gujranwalan, birthplace of Hari Singh Nalwa, the reputed general who inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the Pathans of Afghanistan.

# Murariwala, in Gujranwalan, birthplace of Swami Rama Tirtha.

# Lahore, Samadhi of Dharam Raja Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

# Vir Shiromani Singh’s son, Bappa Raval, took revenge for the infamy wrought upon mothers and sisters auctioned for 2 dinars in Afghanistan, and established Rawalpindi; also famous for the Chavani of Lord Shankar’s Ganas.

# Shri Anandapur, origin of the Sri Paramhans Advaita Matham, Kasba Tehri, District Kohat. 

# Seat of Guru Baba Pir Rattan Nath ji Maharaj, at Purushapura (Peshawar), who spiritual seat is now established at Jhandewalan, New Delhi.

# Tomani Sahib (Baddo-ki-Gosainyan), in Gujranwalan.


Sindh (present-day Pakistan):-


# Where King Dahir sacrificed his life while fighting the Muslim invaders, and whose Queen, Rani Ladi Rani, similarly sacrificed her life on the battlefield. Their two daughters, Suryamal and Parimal, went all the way to Baghdad to meet Mohammad bin Qasim and avenge the deaths and defeat of their parents in 712 AD.

# Mahatma Jhule Lal tapasya sthal; birthplace of Deval Rishi, inspirer of the Shuddhi andolan; Shakti Peeth of Higlaj Devi; and the city of the great civilisation of our ancestors, Mohenjo-daro.


East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh):-


# Dhakeswari Devi temple in Dhaka.

# Birthplace of revolutionaries Surya Sen (Master da), Puliyan Das, Binay, Badal, and Dinesh, Hemchandra Ghosh, who were inspired by Swami Vivekananda.


Occupied Kashmir (by Pakistan):-


# Sharadapeeth, established by Adi Shankaracharya.


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