THE book under review is one more prodigious addition to Harindra Srivastava’s impressive corpus of books on the revolutionaries of India; it also exemplifies his ceaseless engagement with the life, times, and achievements of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Nearly four decades ago, a happily charged moment led him to begin his research on the five most crucial years of Savarkar’s life in London (1906-11), where he lived with a band of revolutionaries, who had committed themselves to the cause of India’s liberation from the British, under the guidance of Pt. Shyamji Krishna Varma. It resulted in his first book Five Stormy Years: Savarkar in London, which was published by Allied Publishers in 1983. It is a thrilling account of Savarkar’s life, his daring activities with the members of the group, his arrest in London, his attempted escape in Marseilles, his trial at Hague and his eventual exile in the Andamans. Its Hindi translation appeared soon after, which was followed by its enlarged version, with a new title: Udit Martand.
Dr Srivastava has been to all those parts of India where Savarkar lived and worked. He has also visited several libraries of London and Europe to study all the relevant materials concerning Savarkar’s activities outside India. To get to know the making of his mind, Srivastava also researched his writings for a doctoral degree from Nagpur University. He published his research work in 1989: The Epic Sweep in the Writings of Savarkar. This was followed by yet another book in Hindi, Kaaljaye Savarkar, which is a well-rounded portrait of Savarkar and his significant achievements in various fields of human endeavour.
Srivastava’s main impulse behind his passionate involvement with Savarkar’s life and activities, which he has followed with the single-minded devotion of a crusader, has been to fight his demonisation by individuals and groups for his views and his marginalisation from the narrative of Indian freedom struggle against the British by political parties, including the Congress and the CPI. He has used all possible evidence to bring into the public domain several lesser known aspects of his beliefs and activities and to repudiate all kinds of charges that have been levelled against him by his detractors to establish that he was a true patriot, who did not hesitate to risk his life and his family for the liberation of his country. Srivastava has supplemented his efforts by producing three documentaries on Savarkar, and contributed substantially to the making of the feature film on him that was produced by Sudhir Phadke and directed by Ved Rahi.
Conceived, designed, compiled, and edited by him, the book under review has the format of a diary, for everything in it has been fitted together to comprise 365 days of a year. It seems the author has seen and read various diary formats that have been published about great people in different parts of the world, and resolved to improve upon them. The result is a unique collection in which every single day of the year is given a full page of the book. On top of the page is a short quotation, representing the wit and wisdom of Savarkar, chosen from among his numerous works, and important speeches and addresses, and related to politics, religion, culture, history, historiography, and many other interesting things. The bottom of the page lists one or several happenings related to his personal and public life, but mostly public, and his major activities connected with his fight against colonial oppression. In the large space between these two textual inscriptions, in the centre of the page, are photographs, sketches, and other kinds of visual material, some of it very rare, about Savarkar, his friends and enemies, and places and things associated with them. In short, the volume is a veritable feast of printed word and visual representation that provide access to a life of commitment, valour, and unbounded love for one’s motherland. The result is a collection that is informative, illuminating, and inspiring. The book has an attractive get up, and the making of a collector’s item.
Perhaps the best way to understand the author’s intention, and to savour the quality of the feast provided, is to examine the content of one or two of its three hundred and sixty five pages. Let us look at the page for January one. On top of the page is a quotation from Kranti Ka Naad, which I translate thus: “The credit for the nation’s victory (against the British) should also go to millions of such people who did not take part in armed or unarmed campaigns, but were full of mute sympathy for the cause and made a silent prayer ‘God, grant freedom to my country.’” And this is no ordinary statement.
In a country where some, and also influential, historians have popularised versions of the country’s struggle for freedom solely from the perspective of its leaders, what historians brand leader-centered historiography, Savarkar’s is a profoundly significant statement, for it gives the freedom movement and its final outcome a breadth that is pleasingly inclusive, for who would not have made a mute prayer for the country’s Independence. In fact, it goes beyond the attempts of those modern-day radical historians who have been working hard to establish the role of the marginalised and the subalterns in the historical process, for his statement stretches it to its farthest possible limit.
The true significance of Savarkar’s statement can be judged by the fact that along with the radical historians the novelists too have been compelled to deal with the problems of historical representation in their fictional accounts. But long before this, Savarkar had the uncanny insight to understand the process of history because of a realistic perspective on its true actors. It is because of this that he could say with conviction that our people’s revolt against the British was not a mutiny, as the imperial historians made us believe, but our War of Independence. It is believed that even Winston Churchill admired this book.
Quite appropriately, page one contains the photograph of young Savarkar, looking sharp and thoughtful. The years chosen—1900, 1905, and 1914—are for listing three happenings of January 1. On this day in 1900, at the tender age of seventeen, Savarkar established a strong organisation ‘Mitra Mela’ in Nasik. On the same day in 1905 appeared the first issue of the monthly magazine ‘Indian Sociologist’ in London, under the editorship of Shyamji Varma, Savarkar’s mentor and guide. And on the same day in 1914, because of multiple ailments, Savarkar had to be readmitted to the Port Blair jail hospital. The most interesting aspect of the chosen happenings is that they deal with three different periods in Savarkar’s life, and all of them cry for gloss. What does or what did ‘Mitra Mela’ stand for? What was the Indian Sociologist all about? An academic journal or what? And why did Savarkar have multiple ailments in Port Blair? All the references are quite provocative, compelling us to look for more. Srivastava puts the readers in the inquisitive mode.
Let us move from page one to some other page, say the page of November 13. The thought on top of the page in a rough translation reads thus: “The evil plan of erasing references to the efforts of armed revolutionaries in the freedom struggle of the country was made by enemies outside the country as well as by pusillanimous insiders, as if they had girded up their loins to write only false history.” This statement is remarkable not only as a proof of Savarkar’s awareness of the problems of historical representation but also because it anticipated what actually happened even after our country got Independence. We were made to believe that the only worthwhile struggle was of leaders who swore by non-violence and spent their time in prisons. Because of this, the revolutionaries got sidelined; this included even Subash Bose. Because he was implicated in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, Savarkar became a kind of an outcaste, an anathema. This was used by interested groups to whitewash his numerous contributions in the emergence of a free India.
The happening of the day is Savarkar’s invitation to Dr Ambedkar to join him in a Hindu dinner party. Since Ambedkar could not make it because of his prior engagement, he sent in his apology. This invitation shows Savarkar’s respect for Ambedkar as a human being and as the leader of a section of people who were not allowed within the Hindu fold. Savarkar held no such views; the event thus highlights another trait of Savarkar’s personality. Quite fittingly, we get the picture of Ambedkar in the background of the Indian Parliament, reminding us that Ambedkar was a key member of the Constitution drafting body, which made us a democratic nation.
Although I have analyzed only two pages of the diary to demonstrate what it promises, its every page has something new to offer. The pages of January 15 and June 27, for example, contain statements of two former army chiefs of the country, which are quite revealing. After the Chinese aggression of 1962, General Cariappa said that if the country had followed Savarkar’s plans for defending the country, the Chinese would not have dared to do what they did. Field Marshal Manekshaw said that if Savarkar had been the Prime Minister of the country, the army would not have left Lahore after capturing it in 1965.
Srivastava’s earlier books have succeeded in making people re-think on Savarkar’s role in the freedom struggle of the country. When Srivastava’s last published book Kaaljayee Savarkar was launched on February 26, 2007, two of the key speakers were the veteran Congress leader and former cabinet minister Vasant Sathe and the socialist leader George Fernandes. Both of them spoke glowingly about Savarkar and his work. Srivastava has brought about a kind of revival of the Savarkar phenomenon in other parts of the world as well. I know of at least five young scholars working on a reassessment of Savarkar’s work in the top-ranking universities of Europe. I am sure his new book will stimulate more and more people in and outside India to know more about Savarkar and his true place in the making of modern India.
(Vishram, 255-C, Manyee Vali Colony, Gurgaon-122 001)