People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 21

June 02,2002



Putting The Facts Straight


Rajendra Prasad


ACCOMPANIED WITH MUCH fanfare and half-page advertisements in several national dailies, union home minister L K Advani visited Port Blair last month to rename the Port Blair Airport as Veer Savarkar Airport. Savarkar was incarcerated in the Andaman Cellular Jail and it was to celebrate the memory of this ‘Hindutva icon’ that the airport was renamed. To leave none in doubt that Savarkar was being celebrated as the Hindutva hero, a plaque was put in Savarkar’s cell a few days before Advani’s visit. The plaque hails him as the leader who gave the country the “mantra of Hindutva, equality among Hindus, Hindu nationhood, Akhand Bharat” (Hindustan Times, May 5).


While at Port Blair, Advani also regretted that Savarkar had not been given his due for his role in the national movement. The home minister of India seemed totally oblivious of the fact that Savarkar, during his jail term at the Andamans and subsequently after his release, had petitioned the British several times, seeking clemency and offering complete cooperation. Comparing such a person with our heroes and martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev is an insult to these heroes and martyrs whose opposition to the foreign rule was total and uncompromising to the point of sacrificing their lives. Advani and his penpushers (like Balbir Punj, in The Asian Age, May 17) cannot understand why a person as sectarian and bigoted as Savarkar can never become a hero of a pluralistic Indian society. No amount of obfuscation of Savarkar’s bigrophical details or abusing the communists can hide the ugly reality of Savarkar’s abject surrender.    




LET US SEE what are the facts of the Savarkar case.


Savarkar went to London in 1906, at the age of 23, to study law and there he formed "Free India Society." The British police arrested him on March 13, 1910 and shipped him to Bombay on July 1, 1910. On the way, he jumped into the sea near Marsailles to escape but was again captured and brought to Nasik. He faced two cases: one in Bombay where he was sentenced for life on December 24, 1910 for his "efforts to overthrow the legally formed government of the country" and the other in Nasik where he was sentenced to transportation for life on January 30, 1911 on a charge of sending weapons which were used to kill an Englishman, Jackson, in Nasik.  Subsequently, Savarkar spent 13 years in prison, upto 1921 in the Andamans and the rest in other jails, mostly in Ratnagiri. He was finally released in 1924.


The following narration will show how Savarkar's "Veeratva" (heroism) ended once he had to face the wretched conditions in the Cellular Jail, which he himself has described in his letters and autobiography. It is a pathetic story. It is a story wherein Savarkar is seen as one of the most servile of the prisoners, begging for his release and concessions. Let us quote from an infamous Savarkar letter:


"In the end, may I remind Your Honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency, that I had sent in 1911, and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian government? The latest development of the Indian politics and the conciliating policy of the government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now no man having the good of India and Humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore, if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty's loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge. Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the government? 


“Hoping Your Honour will kindly take into notion these points."


Thus, Savarkar himself admits to having written a letter for clemency within one year of his incarceration in the Andamans. He reminds the Member (Home) in 1913 about it and gives an assurance to the government that "my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking upto me as their guide."


Unaware of Savarkar's clemency petition, the Congress and other forces in the national movement were agitating for his unconditional release in the early 1920s when his family started negotiating with the British authorities. In 1922, his family approached the Bombay Presidency government for his release; this was rejected. On further petitioning, he was released on the following conditions:


“(1) That the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar will reside within the territories administered by the Governor of Bombay in Council and within the Ratnagiri district within the said territories, and will not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of government, or in case of urgency, of the district magistrate.


“(2) That he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of government for a period of five years, such restriction being renewable at the discretion of government at the expiry of the said term.”


Savarkar went further and made the statement:


"I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and the constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the reform a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in future."


The reference to reforms is to the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals of 1919, which were rejected by all sections of the national movement.


The story of Savarkar's abject surrender does not end here. When the government took exception to an article he wrote in Mahratta of Pune on March 1, 1925, Savarkar sent an explanation, at the end of which he thanked the government for having given him an opportunity to explain himself and hoped that in future too they would be pleased to be as kindly disposed towards him. The conditions of Savarkar's release remained in force till 1937 when the elected government revoked them. Savarkar became the president of the Hindu Mahasabha immediately thereafter.




LET US NOW see how this ignoble chapter of Savarkar's life is treated by the penpushers of Hindutva. Mr Balbir Punj belittles the martyrdom of Madanlal Dhingra, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh or Udham Singh by saying that their martyrdom "is no doubt heroic. But it is more gallant to defy death and emerge, as if out of one's own graveyard, like Savarkar to pursue a cherished national mission throughout one's life" (underlining added).


What is the cherished mission, cherished by Mr Punj and his ilk, following Savarkar? The "cherished mission" was described by Savarkar himself in his 1937 presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha: "India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations, in the main, the Hindus and the Muslims."  This statement on “two nations” was made full three years prior to the Muslim League’s resolution of 1940, demanding Pakistan on the basis of the two-nation theory. No wonder Savarkar has been described as the Hindu Jinnah, preceding M A Jinnah by three years.


And the mission cherished by Mr L K Advani is being so ably fulfilled by Narendra Modi in the land of Gandhi, in Gujarat!!


The cherished mission of the Sangh Parivar was fulfilled by Godse by murdering Gandhi. Savarkar was one of the accused and was let off only because there was no “legal” evidence to convict him. It is instructive to note what Nathuram Godse said in his final statement to the court: “Millions of Hindu Sangathanists looked up to him (V D Savarkar) as the chosen hero, as the ablest and most faithful advocate of the Hindu cause. I too was one of them.” More than fifty years later, Advanis and Punjs are also “one(s) of them.”




THE SANGHIS CLAIM, as Mr Punj has done, that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had thousands of copies of the Tamil version of Savarkar's Indian War of Independence distributed publicly. Ignorant as they are, the modern-day Sanghis do not know anything about this book. The book was written in Marathi in 1907, for the 50th anniversary of our first war of independence that started on May 10, 1857, and later translated into many languages. This was prior to Savarkar's transformation to Hindutva. Savarkar says in the preface:


"The nation that has no consciousness of its past has no future. Equally true it is that a nation must develop its capacity not only of claiming a past but also of knowing how to use it for the furtherance of its future. The nation ought to be the master and not the slave of its own history. For, it is absolutely unwise to try to do certain things now irrespective of special considerations, simply because they had been once acted in the past. The feeling of hatred against the Mahomedans was just and necessary in the times of Shivaji, but such a feeling would be unjust and foolish if nursed now simply because it was the dominant feeling of the Hindus then."


The book Indian War of Independence, 1857 is a very useful work, despite all its inadequacies as it was not written by a professional historian.   Savarkar ends the book with a couplet by Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar:


Ghazion  Mein  Boo Rahegi Jab Talak  Iman Ki,

Takht-e-London Tak Chalegi Tegh Hindustan Ki.


(Freehand Translation: As long as the warriors are fired by the spirit of patriotism, India’s sword will continue to strike the throne at London.)


Also, Savarkar approvingly quotes Bahadur Shah Zafar’s proclamation to repudiate the suggestion that Hindus and Muslims did not form one single entity, who could unitedly defeat the British.




THAT WAS SAVARKAR in 1907. In sharp contrast, while in Ratnagiri prison, after he was shifted there from the Andamans, Savarkar wrote the booklet Hindutva which advances the thesis that Hindus are a separate nation. Savarkar here defines “a Hindu as a person who feels united by blood ties with all those whose ancestory can be traced to Hindu ‘antiquity’ and who accepts India --- from the Indus river in the north, to the Indian Ocean --- as his fatherland (pitrubhumi). In addition, a person is a Hindu only if he accepts India as a divine or holy land (punyabhumi).


The current provocative and divisive statements by the leaders of the RSS-led Sangh Parivar in relation to Muslims and Christians are quite clearly based on the theoretical foundation provided by Savarkar. 




AS A MATTER of fact, Savarkar could not withstand the wretched life conditions at the Andaman Cellular Jail which were, of course, horrifying. There were several others who wrote clemency petitions, like him. But let us not forget that a nation accepts as its heroes only those who do not cave in under adverse conditions. Let us see what Bhagat Singh wrote from Lahore Central Jail in November 1930 to Batukeshwar Dutt:


"I am condemned to death, but you are sentenced to transportation for life. You will live and, while living, you will have to show to the world that the revolutionaries not only die for their ideals but can face every calamity. Death should not be a means to escape the worldly difficulties. Those revolutionaries who have by chance escaped the gallows, should live and show to the world that they cannot only embrace gallows for the ideal but also bear the worst type of tortures in the dark, dingy prison cells."


There is another inspiring incident from Bhagat Singh’s life that needs recounting here. When Bhagat Singh's case was in its final stage, his father Sardar Kishan Singh wrote to the tribunal that was formed to conduct the Second Lahore Conspiracy Case, that his son was innocent and had nothing to do with Saunders’ murder. He also requested that his son be given an opportunity to be heard. Bhagat Singh wrote an angry letter to his father on October 4, 1930, in which he said:


"I was astounded to learn that you had submitted a petition to the members of the special tribunal in connection with my defence.…… My life is not so precious, at least to me, as you may probably think it to be.  It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles" (underlining added).


If the common people of India have not accorded the same place of pride to Savarkar as they have to Bhagat Singh, the reasons are not far to seek. All one needs to do is not to read our history with a jaundiced eye.




AS FOR THOSE like Advani and Punj abusing the communists, this is very natural. Advani and Punj belong to a party that has in leadership positions persons who gave written undertakings to the British, asserting their non-participation in the freedom struggle. On the other hand, the communists have had in their ranks a number of revolutionaries who spent years in the Andaman Cellular Jail. To name only a few --- Harekrishna Konar,  Satish Pakrashi, Ganesh Ghosh, Subodh Roy, Loknath Bal, Ananta Singh, Subodh Chowdhury, Shiv Verma, Kishori Lal and many others. This was acknowledged by no less a person than eminent historian R C Majumdar who was not a Marxist by any stretch of imagination. He thought it was an "apparently curious fact" that "many of the old revolutionaries had become ardent followers of the communist creed."   But such "curious facts" are beyond the comprehension of the founders as well as the propounders of Hindutva.