Savarkar: The Eternal Rebel - II
by Shreerang Godbole on 02 Jun 2016 4 Comments

Notwithstanding their extreme ideological differences with Savarkar, contemporary Congressmen and Socialists never questioned his patriotism or bravery. In 1944, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Sacrifice is the link that binds both of us together”.  In 1937, Rajaji lauded him saying, “Savarkar is a symbol of courage, bravery, fearlessness and intense patriotism and he is a foremost leader who has labored hard to ignite the desire of freedom in the Indian people”.


Comrade M.N. Roy bestowed laurels on Savarkar calling him “My inspiration, fearless hero”. It is worth noting that of the two Lok Sabha members who proposed that the House should pass a resolution condoling Savarkar’s death, one was Prof. Hiren Mukherjee, a member of the Communist Party of India.


The first article questioning Savarkar’s universally acknowledged qualities of patriotism and bravery appeared in the English fortnightly Frontline (April 7, 1996). Since then, such scurrilous writing has become routine. It is an indicator of the depth to which our public discourse has fallen in the last two decades.  Condoling his death, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had described Savarkar as a ‘byword for patriotism and courage’. It is a travesty that proof has to be provided for these very qualities!


The anti-Savarkar gang alleges that he played by the rules laid down by the British after his release from the Andamans.  Let us take stock of Savarkar’s anti-British activities during his internment in Ratnagiri.


Release from Andamans was no favor


In 1919, the British Government decided to close down the penal settlements in the Andamans. The demand for Savarkar’s release was gaining momentum throughout the country. The British, however, were in no mood to release him. After his release from the Andamans on May 2, 1921, Savarkar was lodged in Alipore Jail in Kolkata for eight days. From there, he was brought to Mumbai before being placed in solitary confinement in Ratnagiri Jail. By the time he was released from the Andamans, Savarkar was provided with milk and writing material. He was also allowed to move within the Jail premises and meet his co-prisoners. All these concessions were withdrawn in Ratnagiri Jail.


In December 1923, Savarkar was sent to Yerawada Jail. On January 6, 1924, he was released from Yerawada Jail with the following stringent restrictions – (1) he was not to leave Ratnagiri District without prior permission of the British Government and (2) he was to refrain directly or indirectly from taking part in political activity.


The British Government was anxious to deny public exposure to Savarkar. It is not surprising that they chose Ratnagiri, which in those days was a backward district in coastal Maharashtra, lacking railway and telephone facility. Even though the British Government had freed Savarkar from jail, it continued to track his movements. Besides, it ran a smear campaign against him through its agents. Though the restrictions imposed on Savarkar were initially for a period of five years, the Government extended this period on five occasions. If Savarkar had had a tacit understanding with the British, they would have released him long ago!


Anti-British political work in Ratnagiri


Despite the restrictions on political activity, Savarkar cleverly continued working against the British. This is evident from Savarkar’s reminiscences penned by his associates in Ratnagiri and his biography written by his secretary Balarao Savarkar.


Atmaram Ganpat Salvi, editor of the Ratnagiri-based periodical Navshikshan was Savarkar’s associate in Ratnagiri for around 12 years. In his two-part memoirs titled Swatantryaveer Savarkaranchya Sahwasat (In the company of Swatantryaveer Savarkar) published in 1976 and 1982 respectively, Salvi writes (Part II p. 7, 8),


“Though Tatyarao was running his social campaign; his strong willpower against the British rule had not dimmed. Outwardly, he was running the social movement because of Government restrictions. But whenever occasion arose and suitable individuals met him, he would encourage use of explosives and bullets to instill fear in the hearts of the British. He kept alive the armed revolutionary party by selecting brave youngsters such as Wamanrao alias Badi Chavan, Vasudev Balwant Gogate, Vasudev Pawar, Appa Kasar and Vasu Hardikar. 


“In addition to working on these two fronts, he had also opened a front for gathering intelligence. He had planted his confidantes in the offices of the District Collector, Police Department etc. He had turned some others in his favor. During that period, the person involved in releasing confidential orders of the District Collector was helping Savarkar in a spirit of nationalism; Tatyarao got news of the moves against him through such individuals... They sent their reports to the Police Department without writing anything against Savarkar. Hence, the officers would order them to impute anti-British remarks to Savarkar, but they would raise doubts as to how could they do this when he had done no such thing... They were enticed with promotion and rewards but these minds, filled as they were with devotion to Savarkar, did not waver. District Collector Gilligan, District Police Officer O’Sullivan were doing their utmost to send Savarkar to the Andamans again”.


Testimony of a Royist activist


Narayan Sadashiv Bapat alias poet Ulhas has written his reminiscences of Savarkar during his stay in Ratnagiri (Smrutipushpe, 1979). Bapat was a supporter of MN Roy and took part in secret activities during 1939-1945. He wrote copiously and transmitted his writings with the help of various Left activists. Following are some excerpts from his book –


“The platform of the Patit Pavan Temple was used in one way or another for the political struggle for independence. For example, inviting the Gorkha leaders from Nepal and initiate the strengthening of Indo-Nepal relations was nothing but Tatya’s ‘politics’. Though some naive brethren failed to understand this, the British Government knew it well... We celebrated the 75th death anniversary of the Rani of Jhansi... Tatya did not come formally for the function, but in reality, it was under his guidance that the program was conducted by me while I was still a school-going student.


“Those who state that Savarkar had become ‘moderate’ because he corresponded with the Government for his release or transfer from the Andamans should be counted as fools. Even in his dreams, Savarkar never deserted the flame of revolution. The first speech that I heard on Lenin was in Tatya’s house in the weekly meeting of the study group. Tatya had in his collection all the available English and Marathi books on the Russian revolution and revolutionaries.  He would distribute these books as prize or give them away for reading. The Shraddhanand weekly run by the Savarkar brothers eulogized the revolutionaries in the Meerut Conspiracy as no other newspaper did... Hordes of satyagrahis in the agitation against the Salt Act would come to meet Savarkar whenever they arrived in Ratnagiri. In spite of ideological differences, Tatya would bless them generously. He would occasionally don a Gandhi cap too...


“Comrade Yusuf Meherally would come over many times and speak with Tatya for a long time. During this period, some revolutionary youth from Punjab came and met Tatya... (Savarkar) engaged secretly in political writing while in Ratnagiri and sent his writings regularly to Mumbai so as to make it available to thousands of countrymen. Tatya would keep proscribed literature in his house. When a raid seemed imminent, there would be a sudden hurry to transfer it elsewhere...  When Barrister Vithalbhai Patel died abroad during his banishment from the country, Tatya was very grieved. He was ill then. To the doctor who came to see him, Tatya said, ‘‘Doctor, Vithalbhai Patel died abroad. He had none whom he could call his own over there. If I die tomorrow, at least my own people will be around me to grieve.”


Support to Revolutionaries


On 9-11 September 1924, Muslims in Kohat town of North-West Frontier Province ran riot killing around one hundred and fifty Hindus. After Savarkar wrote a sarcastic article in the Pune-based English newspaper Mahratta, the Government informed him that he was violating the condition of refraining from political activity. Savarkar retorted, “Looking at the way the Government has interpreted my article, I will also have to reconsider my articles and conditions”.


While in Ratnagiri, Savarkar maintained contact with his former revolutionary comrades. In April 1925, V.V.S. Aiyar, Savarar’s erstwhile associate in Abhinav Bharat met him. Savarkar wrote a heart-rending obituary on Aiyar when the latter died accidentally two months later.


In March 1926, Savarkar wrote a letter to the Home Minister asking permission to fight elections to the legislature, but his plea was rejected. Savarkar wrote an article on the prosecution of armed revolutionaries in the Kakori conspiracy in Shraddhanand weekly dated September 7, 1927. In the Congress session held at Madras on 26-28 December 1928, Shapurji Sakalatvala called for complete independence for India. The Congress session also expressed sympathy for the revolutionaries in the Kakori Conspiracy. Writing in Shraddhanand, Savarkar expressed his satisfaction thus, “The irrationalism that had eclipsed Indian politics in the interim is a thing of the past. The national tendency has inclined once again towards valor”.


When Kshirodavasini, the mother of the revolutionary Sanyal brothers of Kakori Conspiracy fame passed away, the news of her death received scant attention in the press. Savarkar wrote an article in her honor in the May 3, 1928 issue of Shraddhanand. On April 25, 1928, Savarkar came to Mumbai ostensibly for a wedding ceremony. On that occasion, several of his colleagues from Abhinav Bharat came together in the wedding mandapa.


On November 17, 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai succumbed to injuries sustained in a brutal lathi-charge made by police on people protesting against the Simon Commission. The next day, a condolence meeting was held in Ratnagiri.  Savarkar could not make a political speech. But one of his followers named Moghe put forth Savarkar’s views. Savarkar exhorted the youth ‘to come out openly to avenge Lalaji’s death’. Savarkar also wrote two articles on Lalaji. In retaliation for Lala lajpat Rai’s death, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Chandrashekhar Azad killed Police Inspector Saunders.


In an article written in Young India, Gandhi denounced this killing, calling it ‘this curse of assassination’. For Gandhi, Saunders’ killing was more painful than the sorrow of Lalaji’s death. In reply, Savarkar wrote an article titled, “Is this a curse of assassination or a curse of revenge?0 and put forth the case of the revolutionaries. As per a reminiscence recorded by Savarkar’s follower Vaman Chavan in the daily Loksatta (May 28, 1972), both Bhagat Singh and Rajguru had secretly met Savarkar in Ratnagiri.


Savarkar was of the view that revolutionaries should not sacrifice their lives recklessly, rather they should retreat a bit to take larger strides. On September 13, 1929, a revolutionary Jitendranath (Jatin) Das embraced death after 63 days of fasting in the Lahore jail. Thereafter, Savarkar wrote an article in Shraddhanand titled, ‘Commendable! Venerable! Respectable but not imitable’.


A reading of this sheds light on why Savarkar accepted the restrictions put up by the British at times. Requesting that men like Bhagat Singh should not fast the way Jatindranath did, Savarkar writes, “So long as Hindustan is enslaved, big and small rights should be wrested as much as possible, self-seeking should be given up in little and limited measures; but one should never forget that till the foreign rule, which bestowed those favors, is there, one cannot say when they could be snatched away. It is a design on the dust, hence no one should give too much importance to trivial issues and make it a matter of pride and pledge to give the invaluable life at a dirt-cheap price... The exception of martyr Jatindranath is venerable, commendable – but it is an exception. It is not imitable for all. When Shivaji was captured, he did not stop consumption of food and water, but he kicked Aurangzeb in his chest and ran away. See the situation and make changes accordingly! But stick to the basic strategy!”


Savarkar attempted to keep memories of the revolutionaries alive while in Ratnagiri (and later too). After Alluri Sitaram Raju (Rama Raju, 1897-1924), a revolutionary in Andhra Pradesh, became a martyr, Savarkar paid a tribute to him through a heart-touching article in Shraddhanand. During the same time, Savarkar wrote the biography of martyr Vishnu Ganesh Pingle. During April 20, 1929 to March 1, 1930, Savarkar wrote five articles on Swatantryakavi Govind. When the revolutionaries raided the government armory in Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) on 18 April 1930, he wrote three articles justifying them in the Shraddhanand. Of them, the third one titled ‘Say us armed, but not tyrant’ eulogized the arms so much that the British shut down the weekly Shraddhanand.


Encouraging young revolutionaries


Shankar Moghe, Ganesh Vaishampayan as also famous revolutionary Prithvisingh Azad met Savarkar in Ratnagiri and started the revolutionary work in Mumbai. These men were involved in the firing on Lamington Road in Mumbai (9 October 1930). While advocating the revolutionary work, Savarkar felt affinity for the patriots of other ideologies as well. A co-diner was organized in Patit Pavan temple on March 8, 1931 in honor of the 35 people who suffered jail during the Salt Satyagrah. Savarkar’s pain knew no bounds when he heard of hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on March 23, 1931.


However, instead of crying over it, he instructed the youths in his inner circle to avenge the hangings. On his instructions, the youths took out a morning walk in the town and sang the song on Bhagat Singh written by Savarkar and chanted the slogans of goddess of freedom.


Before firing shots on Sir John Ernest Buttery Hotson, Home Member and Acting Governor of Bombay, in the library of Ferguson College, Pune, on 22 July 1931, V.B. Gogate and young Atmaram Nana Patil from Kolhapur had met Savarkar. In July 1931, the collector Gilligan called Savarkar and threatened, “The recent movements of yours are objectionable and you will have to undergo life term”. When Savarkar’s disciple Vamanrao aka Buddy Chavan fired shots at a British sergeant in the Dhobi Talav area of Mumbai on April 26, 1934, the police carried searches of his house in Ratnagiri and put him in jail for fifteen days.


 A review of Savarkar’s anti-British political work in Ratnagiri has been done in this article. We shall subsequently discuss the objections of his detractors to his politics …


(To be continued…)

The Week(Kochi, 24 Jan 2016) carried an article making serious allegations against Veer Savarkar. In a series of articles, this 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

See also

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