Great men never die. They always live in the memories, inspirations, conduct and ideals of the society and the nation. While flowing like blood in the arteries of the countrymen, they energise them. Veer Savarkar was also one such great freedom fighter. Savarkar’s intensity, rationality and brilliance are rarely seen elsewhere in the entire freedom movement. The British were most afraid and apprehensive of him. The proof of this was the two sentences of life imprisonment he received. He was one of those few patriots whose other two siblings also contributed immensely to the freedom movement. Two of the three were even sentenced to life imprisonment.
Nation and nationalism were ingrained in him since childhood. From a very young age, he started organising ‘Mitra-Mela’ to inculcate the feeling of patriotism among the teenagers and youth of his home district. By passing the matriculation examination, he had developed such ideological acumen and organisational skills that he boycotted the condolence meeting of Queen Victoria in Nashik in 1901 and in this, he got unprecedented success in bringing teenagers and young people together.
In 1902, when the coronation of Edward VII was being celebrated in the British colonies, Tarun Savarkar opposed it in his district. He was against our participation in the celebration of those who enslaved our country. In 1904, he founded an organisation called ‘Abhinav Bharat’, whose purpose was to oppose British rule.
Leading the youth in 1905, he opposed the dissolution of the partition based on religion by Lord Curzon all over Maharashtra. He was the first person who first lit Holi of foreign clothes and demanded Poorna Swaraj. By 1906, while Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak had dominated the national scene as a brilliant personality, in the same period, Veer Savarkar name was rapidly emerging as an intense patriot among all the youth of Maharashtra. In 1906, due to the efforts of Lokmanya Tilak, he got the Shyam Ji Krishna Varma Scholarship and went to London from India to study law.
In London, too, he formed the ‘Free India Society’ and continued efforts for India’s independence among the talented students who reached there to study from all over India. From there, he also engaged in the activities of Abhinav Bharat in India year through his articles, letters, poems etc. Along with the revolutionaries like Lala Hardayal, Shyam Ji Krishna Varma, Madam Bhikhaji Cama, Madanlal Dhingra, Virendranath Chattopadhyay, Bhai Parmanand, Sardar Singh Rana, VVS Iyer, Niranjan Pal, MPT Acharya etc., he kind of led activities related to the country’s independence in ‘Bharat-Bhawan’. From 1906 to 1907, he translated the book of the great Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini. In 1907-08, taking membership in a library in London, scouting British documents, he wrote an important research book called ‘1857 Ka Swatantraya Samar’, which was the first such book in the world, which the British government banned before it was published. After being unable to publish it in Britain and India due to the strict surveillance and intensive investigation of the British police, an attempt was made to get it published in France, then Germany. But there, too, it failed to be published. Finally, the book came out in Holland, and as soon as it was published, ‘The rebellion of 1857’ was recognised as the First Freedom Movement. Before that, the British used to dismiss it as Ghadar or Sepoy Mutiny.
In 1909, when the great patriot and revolutionary Madanlal Dhingra killed Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a British military officer who kept Indian students under surveillance, Savarkar accepted to fight his case. He wrote an article in the London Times, justifying the murder of Wylie and proving the execution of Dhingra unjust, and when the British sentenced Madanlal Dhingra to death by debating in a closed room, Veer Savarkar united all the Indian students living there and together opposed this unjust decision of the British. He also disseminated that last-feeling statement of the immortal sacrificer Madanlal Dhingra in various colleges-universities of England, which aroused the inspiration of sacrifice, and freedom among the youth.
The British did not want to let him go to the public at any cost. After all this, it was natural that he had become a bother for the British rule. He was arrested and brought back to India, but Savarkar’s virility and courage were so indomitable that he jumped from the ship near Marseille, a port in France, and jumped into the sea. He fell and swam to the shore. Unable to understand the request in the English language, the French Coast Guard re-arrested him and handed him over to the British. He was the first person to be tried at the International Court of Justice in The Hague between France and Britain, in which the decision was given in Britain’s favour. From there, he was brought to India, tried and charged with the murder of Jackson, the District Collector of Nashik. He and his elder brother were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1911 to 1921, he was lodged in the Cellular Jail in Andaman, suffering the unbearable torture of Kalapani. While other political prisoners had very few facilities in the jail, the prisoners sentenced to Kalapani were harassed and tortured for even air-water-light and dry food. They had to either run a crusher or make a rope of coconut jute throughout the day. Their backs used to bleed while weaving ropes and pulling the crusher, and if anyone halted for a moment, they were showered with whips. Those freedom fighters were subjected to such inhuman torture that, at times, even thoughts of suicide flashed in their mind.
Savarkar himself admitted that thoughts of suicide also came into his mind, but he decided that it is better to live for the country and do the best for the country after getting out than to suffocate while imprisoned in prison cells. On the one hand, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the then senior politicians of Congress made efforts for the liberation of Veer Savarkar. On the other hand, seventy thousand people from all over the country sent applications to the British rulers for his liberation. Anger and dissatisfaction started growing across the country against the injustice and atrocities being committed in the Cellular Jail on a staunch patriot like him. Eventually, the British government agreed to release him, but with some conditions and affidavits.
Some political parties and ideologies tried to hurt his image by promoting him as his apology for the fulfilment of vested interests. Despite the truth being somewhat different, he has been alleged to have apologised to the then-British government, recited verses in their glory and swore allegiance to them. However, the trend of ‘accuse and run away’ has been prevalent in the political arena. No one puts forward the idea of presenting the necessary evidence for that. Shouldn’t those allegations be put to the test of logic and facts?
First of all, we have to understand the difference between an apology, an ordinary petition or an affidavit. At that time, political prisoners had to give an affidavit or bond to remain courteous-decent-disciplined in the future while being released from imprisonment. Petitions had to be filed. Such a petition used to be a normal legal
process. To publicise it as a mercy petition is a gross insult to a staunch patriot and a sacrificing-ascetic-sacrifice personality like Savarkar. After the victory in World War I, King George V of Britain made a royal announcement to release the captives in India, including other British colonies of the world, allowing them to petition. He used
to show such extra generosity from time to time so that the so-called elite or superiority of the British could be propagated all over the world and considered himself to be the nurturer of democracy, not the occupier of imperial power. After this royal declaration, such petitions or affidavits in India were filled not only by Savarkar
but by all political prisoners. Rather, it was Savarkar who wrote a letter on his behalf to the British government for the release of many other political prisoners lodged in the Cellular Jail. In a letter he wrote in 1917, he said, “If his release becomes an obstacle in the release of other political prisones, then the British government should seriously and positively consider the release of other Raj prisoners except him.”
It is also a fact that this petition, which his opponents publicised as ‘Mercy Petition’, was filed with the consent of the then Congress leadership. Under the chairmanship of Bipin Chandra Pal, the then Congress leadership and organisation also passed a resolution, and a petition was sent to the British government to release Savarkar. Later, CPI’s founder Shripad Dange, great revolutionary Shachindranath Sanyal and Barindra Ghosh were also released from Cellular Jail based on a similar ‘petition’. Motilal Nehru had given a similar bond to the then Viceroy to get Jawaharlal Nehru released from Nabha jail. On 25 January 1920, Gandhiji himself had advised Veer Savarkar’s younger brother Narayan Rao to file the petition again. On 26 May 1920, he wrote a long article in ‘Young India’ raising the demand for the release of the Savarkar brothers. And then we must remember that a single letter, petition or so-called apology does not diminish the importance or contribution of a national hero. This petition of his may be part of his strategy too. Rather it was a strategic plan. Does Shivaji’s four letters of apology to Aurangzeb diminish his importance? It was better to get out and live a life dedicated to active-meaningful-purpose and nation, society and culture than waiting to die suffocating in an anonymous dark cell while serving the punishment of Kalapani and leading a passive life.
As far as the alleged admiration of the British government or royalty towards him is concerned, this allegation is baseless and unrestrained because if such a thing had happened, why would the British government release him conditionally? Why would they keep him in the Ratnagiri district conditionally for 13 years instead of just 5 with all the strict conditions and restrictions? Why was there no special exemption or leniency towards him? What kind of facilities did the Britishers provide to his near and dear ones even in jail, how generously they were with him, and how much did they oblige him by placing him in any post or by providing representation? What history is replete with such instances? Even while leaving India, he took full care of the interests and protection of his people. There are many such incidents and evidence that before the transfer of power, he made sure that the interests of the people who spy or inform him were properly taken care of, even in the government of independent India. On the contrary, Savarkar’s bachelor’s and advocacy degrees were revoked even after his release, and he was closely monitored. Moreover, he remained the only freedom fighter who was equally monitored by the governments before and after independence and a tremendous victim of the government’s wrath. In comparison to him, many other politicians who participated in the freedom movement, without any circumstantial compulsion or pressure, had praised the British rule on one or the other issue at different times.
These compliments were considered to be either natural or the result of contemporary circumstances and understanding. Then why unilateral-unrestrained allegations against Savarkar ji? From time to time, Gandhiji wrote letters to the British government and expressed his gratitude to them in different contexts, expressing his loyalty to them. He has publicly written such letters in which Indians have been advised to be loyal to the British, being ruled by the Britishers has been described as the privilege of Indians.
From all his letters and writings, it seems that he has been engrossed many times while mentioning the many favours of the British. In the letters written by Gandhi to the then Viceroy during the First World War, he does not tire of telling the participation of Indian soldiers on behalf of the British as his duty. So does all this diminish his importance in the freedom struggle? Rather, we accept his statements from a larger perspective by considering his political skill, candour, and policy-tactic to be adopted for the big goal. It is fair and reasonable as well.
Congress leaders like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Surendranath Banerjee, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and many social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy openly advocated British rule and their way of life. If their contribution was not underestimated on this basis, then why question and allegation Savarkar, who has lived every moment of life for the nation? Ambedkar had also lobbied the Britishers on many occasions, even as an immediate opposition to independence, to get the desired rights to the post-independence Dalit society. So does that diminish his importance and contribution? Rather, it is also justified as the result of discriminatory behaviour at the social level in those days.
Some scholars and people with shallow knowledge of the context of history criticise Savarkar on the ground that he opposed the ‘Quit India Movement’ started by Gandhiji in 1942. Is it not true that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the President of Congress at that time, many leaders like C. Rajagopalachari, and Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, who participated in socio-political movements, raised many questions about the timing and methods of the ‘Quit India Movement’ had done. Rather, some historians even believe that during 1941-42, under the pressure of plans and efforts of the armed military struggle waged by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose against the British for the independence of India, without any well-planned plan, concrete strategy and determined-thoughtful The ‘Quit India Movement’ was started in a hurry by Gandhiji with the same goal, which did not take even a few weeks for the British to crush it. All the big leaders of the Congress were arrested by the British, and as expected, the entire movement became leaderless. Apart from the violent resistance of the youth students, this movement did not have any widespread adverse effect on the British government. Savarkar wanted the Congress to clarify its stand on the demands of the Muslim League for the partition of India, the society, which traditionally considers this country to be their motherland-virtue land, should get equitable rights in the event of the British agreeing to the demands of the Muslim League, the lives of Hindus. There should be minimal damage to the goods, and it was not unreasonable to wish so. Rather, he travelled around the country, encouraging the Hindus to undergo military training. How praiseworthy, useful and far-sighted this effort and encouragement of Savarkar appear if we consider it in the context of Jinnah’s ‘Direct Action’ and ‘Genocide of Hindus’ in Pakistan after Partition!
Will the so-called intellectuals who raise questions on Savarkar’s concept of Hindutva and motherland put Ambedkar in the dock? Because he had also warned and alerted the then leaders and society about Islam’s aggressive, intolerant, disruptive, and expansionist tendencies. He had clearly said that the brotherhood of Islam is limited only to its followers. The Muslim will never consider India as his homeland because he sees himself as more attuned to the invaders. He believed that the Muslims would never assimilate indigenous rule, as he was guided by the Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah, and his supreme faith was in Islamic beliefs, Islamic symbols, and places considered sacred from the point of view of Islam.
The truth is that both these politicians were able to objectively assess the past, present and future by standing on the solid ground of reality. It was his vision, not narcissism. Both of them were outspoken critics of any such artificial-imaginary-flabby unity after the Partition,
which would shatter or bleed at the slightest pressure or injury. Savarkar ji believed that as long as there is a Hindu majority in India, the basic character of the state will remain secular. Those who advocate empty and passionate secularism, please tell me whether Pakistan or Bangladesh, which had separated from India, could provide an un-Islamic or democratic system?
There the soil, the climate, the air, the tone, the customs and the behaviour – is nothing very different from us. The creation and fortune of Bangladesh were also possible with the help of India, but what the hellish situations and violence Hindus are going through today can be experienced by any sensitive and aware person himself. Leave these two countries. Is there any Islamic country that has been successful in giving secular rule? We have the example of Turkey, which had secularism at its foundation, but today organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabi ideology are the central axis there. Will there be any doubt that even after lakhs of efforts, Gandhiji himself could not prevent the tragedy of Partition and completely failed to estimate and assess the religious-community situation after independence? In their idiosyncrasies or prejudices, those who call Veer Savarkar, a supporter of two-nationalism, pitting him with Jinnah, should listen to his speech at a function in Lahore in 1939. While answering a question in that program of the Hindu Mahasabha, he clearly said that his concept of the nation is completely different from that of the Muslim League and Jinnah. He was strongly against those who divided the nation based on religion. According to him, all citizens should be equal in the eyes of the law. No minority, no majority. No neglect, no privilege. Whoever considers India to be his holy land and fatherland is India’s resident. Such a broad concept of nationality, such a definition he handed over to his time and society.
The truth is that Swatantryaveer Savarkar was a realistic thinker and visionary politician who looked beyond the times. His importance is diminished neither by the fabricated charges levelled against him nor by his advocacy of Hindu interests. Every part of his body was dedicated to the nation. He was an advocate of a united India. On the strength of his intense intellect and logical-factual reasoning, he got the revolt of 1857 called the ‘First War of Independence’. He took the concrete and decisive initiative to eradicate untouchability by establishing Patit Pavan Mandir. He made innovative experiments and efforts to free the society from seven shackles like Rotibandi, Betibandi, Sparshbandi, Vyasbandi, Sagarbandi, Vedoktabandi and Shuddhibandi. He campaigned vigorously for the converts to return to their original religion. He strived for the betterment of society throughout his life. He had great respect from all the big politicians of the time.
Veer Savarkar has been praised from time to time by strong and influential politicians like Gandhiji, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. His untouchability abolition and untouchability program greatly influenced Gandhiji and Ambedkar. Patriots and revolutionaries like Subhash Chandra Bose, Shachindra Nath Sanyal, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri, Sardar Bhagat Singh, Durga Bhabhi, Sukhdev, and Rajguru had taken inspiration from his works and thoughts on one level or the other. Former Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi had described his death as an irreparable loss to the nation. His contribution to national life was appreciated openly.
He released a postage stamp in honour of Veer Savarkar in the year 1970. Along with this, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi donated Rs 11,000 from her account in the Savarkar Trust. Not only this, Indira Gandhi had ordered the Film Division in the year 1983 to make a documentary film on the life of the ‘great revolutionary’. The present Congress leadership and all the leaders who oppose Savarkar should ask themselves whether their legacy and ideology are different from Indira’s Congress? After independence, a committee was formed by the Congress, in which Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Jai Prakash Narayan and Vijayalakshmi Pandit. Under the leadership of this committee, a book on India’s freedom movement – ‘To The Gates of Liberty’ was published. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the preamble, and Savarkar’s two articles ‘Ideology of the War Independence – Swadharma and Swaraj’ and ‘The Rani of Jhansi’ were included in it. A special feature of this book was that this committee had put the adjective ‘Veer’ in front of Savarkar’s name.
The court honourably acquitted him on the false charges of Gandhi’s assassination. But the fact is also that Savarkar himself was very concerned and sensitive about the health and safety of Gandhiji. He had been warning the then Government of India from time to time about his safety. He also understood the role and importance of Gandhiji in the making of independent India better than many other leaders of his contemporaries. Even after independence, he lived the life of ‘इदम न मम, इदम राष्ट्राय’. Any grateful society and nation always place respect and pride on such true and brave sons of the motherland. The nation will always remember him as a true patriot, passionate poet, realistic thinker, visionary historian, skilled strategist and visionary politician. In the words of Late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, one of the most popular and successful Prime Minister of India –
“सावरकर मने तेज, सावरकर मने तप, सावरकर मने त्याग, सावरकर मने तर्क, सावरकर मने तारुण्य!”
According to him, “Savarkar is not a person, but a collection of concepts; he is not a spark, but embers; he is not constrained, but expansive.”