Few heroes in history have been subjected to a smear campaign of such ferocity and viciousness as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar—a man who inspired many nationalists and political leaders, including early Communists like M. N. Roy, Hirendranath Mukherjee, S.A. Dange, etc. However, unlike their predecessors, neo-communists with a skewed perspective of history attempted to besmirch the image of the great revolutionary so much that they painted him a “traitor and saboteur” of the Indian freedom struggle.
As we know, the major allegation against Savarkar is that he wrote multiple letters of clemency to the British during his Andaman days. This is a debate that was triggered only post-Emergency. In the post-Emergency period, with nationalism rapidly gaining traction, the new Left was rattled and found in Savarkar a soft target, ascribing to him the paternity of Hindutva. For that, they delved deep into much celebrated “new discoveries” and reappeared with canards and alternative history to replace facts and social convictions.
It is interesting to note that Communist veterans, like M. N. Roy and E.M.S, who were contemporaries of Savarkar, always held him in high regard, notwithstanding their harsh criticism of “Hindutva”. On the contrary, going a step beyond, the New Leftist intellectuals are hell-bent on manufacturing “shreds of evidence”, cooking up new history lessons according to the whims and directions of their political masters.
Both the New Leftist propaganda and unquestionable facts pertaining to the life and times of Savarkar were topics for volumes of publications and are already in the public domain. Were the “new discoveries” about Savarkar actually “new”? Why was Savarkar left untouched by the Leftists of his time? For them, Savarkar was an unquestionable patriot, fiery anti-imperialist, and a brave freedom fighter.
To cement the baseless allegations against Savarkar that began in the post-Emergency period, they cleverly pitted Mahatma Gandhi against him as an ideological opponent, sweeping historical facts under the rug. The so-called clemency letters were the order of the day, and for Savarkar, they were a tactical step towards furthering his revolutionary activities. While the criticism is that nobody of his time knew about his mercy petitions, and writing such petitions were exceptions, the writings of Mahatma Gandhi prove otherwise.
Even though pitching Savarkar against Gandhiji is a favourite exercise for Neo-Communists, they have never revealed to us what Gandhiji thought and wrote about Savarkar. While half of the leftist propaganda has already found its rightful place in the dustbin of history, testing it with the opinions of the towering Communists like M. N. Roy, E.M.S., Dange, etc., hitherto suppressed works of literature by Mahatma Gandhi about Savarkar expose the fraud of leftists.
As codified in his autobiography and myriads of biographies, the life of Savarkar is full of sacrifice and valour that Indian Communists cannot even fathom or imagine, let alone emulate. The entire unparalleled episode of his revolutionary life stands out in the Indian Independence Movement. Despite having a difference in liberating the country from slavery, Mahatma Gandhi maintained a rare, complex and respectful relationship with the Savarkar brothers—V.D. Savarkar and G.D. Savarkar. This is evident in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, which has spread into 100 thick hardbound volumes.
Eyeing political benefits from successive Congress regimes, the Communist historians have been making repeated attempts to besmirch the patriotic image of Veer Savarkar, citing letters of clemency. Contrary to their false accusations, Mahatma Gandhi explains how the Savarkar brothers were denied justice when most political prisoners benefited from the “Royal Clemency”. Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Savarkar are quite revealing. It is interesting to note how Gandhiji saw the contributions of a revolutionary like Savarkar to the freedom struggle, despite their divergent views on the idea of non-cooperation.
“Thanks to the action of the Government of India and the Provincial Governments, many of those who were undergoing imprisonment at the time have received the benefit of the Royal clemency. But there are some notable ‘political offenders’ who have not yet been discharged. Among these, I count the Savarkar brothers. They are political offenders in the same sense as men, for instance, who have been discharged in the Punjab. And yet these two brothers have not received their liberty, although five months have gone by after the publication of the Proclamation,” Gandhiji wrote in an article titled “Savarkar Brothers” in Young India dated 26-5-1920 (Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol 20; Page 368).
It was a common procedure for appealing for conditional clemency in a prescribed format for the political prisoners. From the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, it is beyond doubt he was aware of Savarkar’s clemency letters, which were the order of the day, a majority of the political prisoners of those days applied for and was granted Royal Clemency, which was later projected as an unpardonable and an unprecedented crime by the leftists.
Gandhiji offers a brief biography of G.D. Savarkar in the article: “Mr. Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, the elder of the two, was born in 1879 and received an ordinary education. He took a prominent part in the Swadeshi movement at Nasik in 1908. He was sentenced to transportation for life with confiscation of property under Sections 121, 121A, 124A and 153A on 9th June 1909, and is now serving his sentence in the Andaman. He has, therefore, had eleven years of imprisonment. Section 121 is the famous section which was utilised during the Punjab trials and refers to ‘waging war against the King’. The minimum penalty is transportation for life with forfeiture of property. 121A is a similar section. 124A relates to sedition.153A relates to promotion of enmity between classes ‘by words either spoken or written’ or ‘otherwise’. It is clear, therefore, that all the offences charged against Mr. Savarkar (senior) were of a public nature. He had done no violence. He was married, had two daughters who are dead, and his wife died about eighteen months ago.”
After giving a brief account of G.D. Savarkar, Mahatma Gandhi introduces Veer Savarkar: “The other brother (Veer Savarkar) was born in 1884, and is better known for his career in London. His sensational attempt to escape the custody of the police and his jumping through a porthole in French waters are still fresh in the public mind. He was educated at the Fergusson College, finished off in London and became a barrister. He is the author of the proscribed history of the Sepoy Revolt of 1857. He was tried in 1910, and received the same sentence as his brother on 24th December 1910. He was charged also in 1911 with abetment of murder. No act of violence was proved against him either. He too is married, had a son in 1909. His wife is still alive.”
Detailing the content of the letters of Savarkar, Mahatma Gandhi states: “Both these brothers have declared their political opinions, and both have stated that they do not entertain any revolutionary ideas and that if they were set free, they would like to work under the Reforms Act (Government of India Act, 1919), for they consider that the Reforms enable one to work thereunder so as to achieve political responsibility for India.” With Mahatma Gandhi quoting the conditions proposed in the original letter, the big leftist lie of “cover-up” against Savarkar falls flat. Gandhiji speaks a self-evident truth that those, including Gandhi, were fully aware of the content of the letters of Savarkar. Noticeably, it did not prevent him from calling Savarkar “a faithful son of Bharat and brave”. As Gandhi hailed Savarkar, he was “clever” enough to take advantage of the situation wherein seeking clemency was the norm, which has been extended to most of the revolutionaries and political prisoners in the country during that period as vouched for by Gandhiji.
“What is more, I think, it may be safely stated that the cult of violence has, at the present moment, no following in India. Now the only reason for still further restricting the liberty of the two brothers can be ‘danger to public safety’, for the Viceroy has been charged by His Majesty to exercise the Royal clemency to political offenders in the fullest manner which in his judgment is compatible with public safety,” Gandhiji further writes.
“I hold therefore that unless there is absolute proof that the discharge of the two brothers who have already suffered long enough terms of imprisonment, who have lost considerably in body-weight and who have declared their political opinions, can be proved to be a danger to the State, the Viceroy is bound to give them their liberty. The obligation to discharge them, on the one condition of public safety being fulfilled, is, in the Viceroy’s political capacity, just as imperative as it was for the Judges in their judicial capacity to impose on the two brothers the minimum penalty allowed by law. If they are to be kept under detention any longer, a full statement justifying it is due to the public,” he continues his arguments.
“This case is no better and no worse than that of Bhai Parmanand who, thanks to the Punjab Government, has, after a long term of imprisonment, received his discharge. Nor need his case be distinguished from that of the Savarkar brothers in the sense that Bhai Parmanand pleaded absolute innocence. So far as the Government are concerned, all were alike guilty because all were convicted. And the Royal clemency is due not merely to doubtful cases but equally to all cases of offences proved up to the hilt. The conditions are that the offence must be political and the exercise of Royal clemency should not, in the opinion of the Viceroy, endanger public safety. There is no question about the brothers being political offenders. And so far the public are aware there is no danger to public safety. In answer to a question in the Viceregal Council in connection with such cases the reply given was that they were under consideration. But their brother has received from the Bombay Government a reply to the effect that no further memorials regarding them will be received and Mr. Montagu has stated in the House of Commons that in the opinion of the Government of India, they cannot be released. The case, however, cannot be so easily shelved. The public are entitled to know the precise grounds upon which the liberty of the brothers is being restrained in spite of the Royal Proclamation which to them is as good as a royal charter having the force of law,” Gandhiji concluded his article.
Another note by Gandhiji, published in the Complete Works Vol 23 (page 156), titled “Horniman and Company”, begins apologetically, expressing his helplessness in the case of the Savarkar brothers after people complained to him as to why he was reluctant even to write about the brothers. “Friends have accused me of indifference about Mr. Horniman, and some have also wondered why I rarely write about the Savarkar Brothers.”
“If I mention Mr. Horniman’s case or that of the Savarkar Brothers, I can mention it not to influence the Government’s decision, but to stimulate the public in favour of non-co-operation. I would be delighted to have Mr. Horniman back as an able and brave comrade. I know that he was unjustly deported,” defenceless Gandhiji explains.
“The Savarkar Brothers’ talent should be utilised for public welfare. As it is, India is in danger of losing her two faithful sons, unless she wakes up in time. One of the brothers I know well. I had the pleasure of meeting him in London. He is brave. He is clever. He is a patriot. He was frankly a revolutionary. The evil, in its hideous form, of the present system of Government, he saw much earlier than I did, He is in the Andamans for his having loved India too well. Under a just Government, he would be occupying a high office. I therefore feel for him and his brother. Had it not been for non-co-operation,” he wrote.
Gandhiji was in constant touch with the Savarkar Brothers regarding the transportation for life of both G D Savarkar. Dr Narayan Rao Savarkar, brother of Veer Savarkar was the one who looked after the case for the Savarkar Brothers who were imprisoned in Andamans. The correspondence between Dr. Savarkar and Gandhiji indicates that Gandhiji suggested to draft a petition for the release of the Savarkar brothers after they were denied clemency under the amnesty.
On January 18, 1920, Dr Narayan Rao Savarkar wrote to Mahatma Gandhi, “Yesterday, I was informed by the Government of India that the Savarkar Brothers were not included in those that are to be released. The telegram runs as follows: ‘Your telegram 8th inst. Savarkar Brothers have not been included in those receiving clemency under the amnesty.’
“It is now clear that the Indian Govt. have decided not to release them. Please let me hear from you as to how to proceed in such circumstances.
“They (my brothers) have already undergone a rigorous sentence for more than ten years in the Andamans and their health is utterly shattered. Their weight has come down from 118 to 95-100.
“Though they are given a hospital diet at present, their health does not show any sign of improvement. At least a change to some Indian jail of better climate is most essential for them. I have received a letter from one of them very recently (a month back) in which all this is mentioned. I hope that you will let me know what you mean to do in this matter.”
In a reply to Dr. Savarkar, on January 25, 1920, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “DEAR DR. SAVARKAR,
“I have your letter. It is difficult to advise you. I suggest, however, your framing a brief petition setting forth the facts of the case bringing out in clear relief the fact that the offence committed by your brother was purely political.
“I suggest this in order that it would be possible to concentrate public attention on the case. Meanwhile, as I have said to you in an earlier letter. I am moving in the matter in my own way. Yours sincerely.”
In fact, the writings of Mahatma Gandhi on Savarkar should be viewed as a “new” discovery pertaining to Savarkar, as there has been a concerted effort to suppress these historical facts. Gandhiji is, in fact, busting the Communist lies against Savarkar that have cast a shadow of doubt over one of India’s bravest sons for the last several decades. For Communists, history is not just a tool for revealing something favourable for their cult but concealing truths bitter to them—this is passed off as academic exercise. The years ahead are more frightening as we outlive the “freedom fighters” and the national sentiments attached to their lives.
This critical juncture of time should not become fertile ground for propagandists who are working to destroy the cultural and social fabric of the nation. On the eve of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, independent researchers and historians should make sincere efforts to shed more light on the warm, respectful, and multi-layered relationship cherished by V.D. Savarkar and Gandhiji, the two bright stars of Hind Swaraj.
(J. Nandakumar is the National Convenor of Prajna Pravah and a member of the National Executive of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Former editor of Kesari Malayalam Weekly, he had authored half a dozen books, including a biography (in Malayalam) of V.D. Savarkar)