Q & A

Questions and Answers

This section deals with various aspects of Savarkar’s life, thought, actions and relevance in a question and answer format. Questions are raised regarding Savarkar and his place in Indian history. Some of these questions stem from genuine curiosity and willingness to understand. Some questions take the form of accusations born out of outright ignorance or sheer malice. This section aims to address some of these questions.

 

When was Savarkar born?

Savarkar was born on vaishakh krishna 6, Shalivahan shaka 1805 or Monday, 28 May 1883.

Top

What was Savarkar’s full name?

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Top

 

Why was Savarkar named Vinayak?

The infant Savarkar used to cry incessantly. He would refuse his mother’s milk. In those days, people would ask the infant who he was in his previous life. They would the names of several ancestors and would tell the infant that they would give him a name of his choice to make him stop crying. The infant’s eldest uncle Mahadevrao (or Bapukaka as he was known) told him, “If you are Vinayak Dikshit (name of his ancestor) drink your mother’s milk and stop crying. We will name you so” and applied holy ash. The infant stopped crying instantly and started feeding. He was hence named Vinayak. This was also his grand father’s name (It is common practice to name a son after his grand father, the underlying belief being that the soul of the dead ancestor has reincarnated).

Top

 

To which community did Savarkar belong?

Savarkar was a Chitpavan Brahmin (All the Peshwas, Nana Phadnavis, Vasudeo Balwant Phadke, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Madhav Govind Ranade, Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Dhondo Keshav Karve were Chitpavan Brahmins). The Chitpavan Brahmins are largely of medium height, fair complexioned with blue or green eyes. They consider Parshuram, the sixth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu as their ancestor. They hail from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. A common trait of the Chitpavan Brahmins was hatred towards foreign rule. The British called them‘the Poona Brahmins’ and singled them out as a community to be watched. In a secret letter dated 09 July 1879, the then Governor of Bombay Province Sir Richard Temple wrote to Viceroy Lord Lytton, “The Chitpavans imagine that some day, more or less remote, the British shall be made to retire, into that darkness where the Moguls retired. Any fine morning, an observant visitor may ride through the streets of Poona and mark the scowl with which so many persons regard this stranger. In his book Indian Unrest (p.39), Sir Valentine Chirol (who called Tilak “the father of Indian unrest”) wrote, “Among many others (Chitpavan Brahmins)…there has undoubtedly been preserved for the last hundred years…an unbroken tradition of hatred towards the British rule, an undying hope that it may some day be subverted and their own ascendancy restored."

Top

 

 

What do we know of Savarkar’s ancestors?

Savarkar's clan belonged to the Vaashishta gotra (the rishi Vashishtha from whom the clan supposedly originated) and Hiranyakeshi sutra. Like other Chitpavan Brahmins, this clan hailed from Konkan, the coastal part of Western Maharashtra in Western India. Their place of origin was Savarwadi in Palshet village in Guhagar taluka (tehsil) of Konkan region. Savarwadi was so named because of the plentiful Saanvari (Saavari pronounced nasally) trees that yield a type of soft cotton called shevari. The original surname of the clan was Bapat but this was changed to Sanvarkar (Savarkar pronounced nasally; the an pronounced as in Angkor Vat) from their place of origin. In his childhood, elderly women used to call Savarkar Bapat after his original surname. Some say the original surname of the Savarkars was Oak. Be that as it may, in course of time the name Sanvarkar became Savarkar. The Savarkar family was particularly close to the Khare family from the neighbouring village of Dhopave. Like other impoverished families, these two families migrated from Konkan and crossed the Sahyadri mountain range to try their luck in the Deccan plateau. This migration must have probably taken place at the time of the first Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1680-1719; Balaji Vishwanath Bhat had himself migrated from Konkan to Pune; the Peshwas were the hereditary Brahmin prime ministers of the Maratha rulers).

The Savarkars settled in Bhagur, a small village on the banks of the river Daarna, around 6-7 miles near Nashik in north-western Maharashtra. On the other bank of the Daarna river was the village of Rahuri. In 1756, in recognition of their intellectual exploits, the Peshwa Balaji Bajirao (1721-1761), son of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat gave a grant of Rahuri village to Savarkar's ancestor Vedamurti Mahadev Dikshit Savarkar and Narayan Bhat Khare. The Savarkars used to receive an annual sum of Rs. 1200 towards their grant. During the British rule, a commission was levied on this annual grant and the annual sum received by the Savarkars dwindled to a mere Rs. 29! In his autobiography, Savarkar mentions the name of his ancestor who first settled in Bhagur as 'Harbhat'. He was the father of Mahadev Dikshit Savarkar. This means that the Savarkars had settled in Bhagur before the time of Peshwa Balaji Bajirao. In Bhagur, the Savarkars had two houses adjacent to each other. The grant of the Rahuri village included many orchards and fields. There was a large mango orchard in the grant. All in all, the income from the grant was considerable. The Savarkar family was well to do. In particular, two ancestors of Savarkar made their mark. In 1811, among those who gave the traditional gold coins to the Peshwa Bajirao II (1796-1851) on Vijayadashmi day was his chief clerk Balwant Ramchandra Savarkar. One Parshurampant Savarkar was part of a delegation that was commissioned by the Pune Peshwa on 05 September 1817 to negotiate and avert war with Elphinstone.

Top

 

What do we know of Savarkar's parents, uncles and siblings?

Savarkar's eldest uncle Mahadevrao or Bapukaka as he was known, was born around 1835. He was tall, well built and had an athletic body. Though he had not learnt English, he was well aware of the laws and conventions under the British. He was well respected in and around Bhagur. He used to do money lending. He married in 1851 but was childless. Bapukaka had got his sister to Dhonduanna Kanitkar of Kothur.

Bapukaka's youngest brother Damodar (Savarkar's father) was born around 1850. After he had completed his Marathi education in Bhagur, Bapukaka saw to it that Damodar got English education in the government school in Nashik. As Damodarpant (or Damuanna as he was popularly called) was perhaps the only person in Bhagur who knew English, he was respected by people in Bhagur. Damodarpant was fair complexioned, impressive and had developed an athletic body. He kept several weapons such as swords, guns and spears in his house. He was adept at using these weapons. His skill in weaponry used to prove useful in combating dacoits who would raid the lonely houses in Bhagur. Damodarpant was not only a connoisseur of poetry but he himself composed poems. He used to read not only Marathi but Sanskrit and English poetry as well. His ready wit would instantly impress others. Damodarpant was a self-respecting, disciplined and occasionally quick-tempered person. Later, there arose a dispute between Bapukaka and Damodarpant. At times, this would result in physical altercations. Damodarpant was married around 1867 when he was doing his matriculation. His wife hailed from the Manohar family of Kothur. Her father was proficient in the Vedas and hence was called Manohar Dikshit. He died in her childhood. Manohar Dikshit had a son called Govind. He was a handsome and brilliant man. He was an extremely gifted poet. He was proficient in wrestling as well and had taught wrestling to the young Savarkar. Savarkar probably inherited his extraordinary poetic genius from his father and maternal uncle.

Savarkar's mother was named 'Radha' after her marriage. She was about 7-8 years younger than Damodarpant. She was fair complexioned, of medium height, pretty and enthusiastic. She was fond of cleanliness, cooked well and had a melodious voice. She had a religious bent of mind. In spite of numerous servants, she would do all the housework herself. The residents of Bhagur would say, "Radhabai is one in five thousand women." In Savarkar's epic poem Gomantak, the character of 'Ramaa' is modeled after Radhabai.

After Damodarpant and Radhabai lost two sons in their infancy, they were blessed on 13 June 1879 with a son. He was named 'Ganesh'. He was known as 'Baba'. Babarao Savarkar became a great revolutionary, philosopher, writer and organizer of Hindus in his own right. A patriot of the first order, Babarao Savarkar is the epitome of heroism that is unknown and unsung! Next was born Vinayak (our hero) on 28 May 1883. Though he was later affectionately known as 'Tatya', Savarkar's father used to call him 'Balu'. Though Bapukaka and Damodarpant were at loggerheads, Bapukaka had great affection for Tatya and used to affectionately call him 'Balambhat'. Being childless, he wanted to adopt Tatya but that was not possible due to his strained relations with Damodarpant. After Vinayak, there was a girl called Maina (nickname Mai). She was later married into the Kale family. The last child of Damodarpant and Radhabai was Narayan who was born in 1888. He was affectionately called 'Bal'. A dentist by profession, he was also imprisoned for his revolutionary activities in his youth.

Top

 

How were Savarkar’s formative years at Bhagur?

Savarkar spent the first fourteen years of his life in Bhagur. The self-sacrificing patriot, social reformer, scholar, organizer, poet, playwright and orator in Savarkar was born and nurtured in Bhagur. His father Damodarpant (pant is a Marathi honorific) or Anna as he was called was fond of English and Marathi poetry. Savarkar's maternal uncle Govindpant Manohar was a poet and a wrestler of sorts. Family meetings at dinnertime would be invariably marked by Damodarpant reciting tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata or poems of Marathi poets such as Waman Pandit and Moropant or passages from Homer and Pope. It was inevitable that the young Savarkar would soon start composing his own poems. It was at the tender age of twelve that Savarkar composed his first-ever poem Shrimant Sawai Madhavravaancha rang on the Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao. His poem Swadeshicha phatka dealing with Swadeshi and composed when he was merely fifteen was published in the Jagadhitechchu periodical from Pune. The young lad was already dreaming of writing a magnum opus called Durgadas Vijay. It was as a child that Savarkar would hungrily devour back issues of Tilak's Kesari and Vishnushastri Chiplunkar's Nibandhmala (garland of essays) and read them aloud to others.

Being landholders, the Savarkar family commanded respect in the village. But young Vinayak knew no distinctions of rich and poor, high and low when it came to choosing friends. His friends were drawn from all castes. They would stage mock fights between Shivaji's Marathas and the Mughals. In 1893-94, Muslim riots erupted in parts of Maharashtra. Enraged by this, Savarkar and his teenaged friends attacked a mosque. In retaliation, students from the Urdu school attacked Savarkar's friends but were roundly beaten up. The Muslim students vowed to corrupt the Hindu teenagers by forcing them to eat meat. This never happened. Later, Savarkar would go on to demolish the theory that a man's religion is corrupted by his diet. Savarkar organized a public Ganeshotsav and delivered a public speech while he was still fourteen.

Vinayak lost his mother Radhabai while he was only nine. His brother Babarao was married to Yashoda Phadke of Trimbakeshwar when Vinayak was eleven. Yashoda or Yesuvahini, as she was called, took the place of Radhabai. To Vinayak, Yesuvahini was his dear friend and colleague in revolution. Indeed, she became his mother and source of inspiration. The unlettered Yesuvahini was fond of poetry. Soon Vinayak and Yesuvahini would recite poems in tandem and try to best each other. Vinayak taught his sister-in-law and her friends to read and write.

Savarkar wrote a play on Tilak and the Chaphekars and also composed a ballad on Chaphekars in Bhagur. He took his pledge for his country’s freedom at Bhagur. Savarkar did the first four standards of primary school in a school in Bhagur. He completed the next two academic years at home. In 1897, Savarkar left Bhagur for Nashik for his middle school education. While there, the plague claimed the lives of Savarkar's father and uncle in 1899.

Savarkar retained his affection for Bhagur till the end. In his epic poem Gomantak, Savarkar has described a village called Bhargav. This is modelled after Bhagur. In 1953, he went to Nashik to inaugurate the Abhinav Bharat Mandir. From there, he travelled to Bhagur and spent some time in his ancestich now belonged to someone else. He remained silent for some time. The streets were too narrow to allow a vehicle. Savarkar's legs were aching. But he insisted on walking through the streets of Bhagur and visiting the homes of the ex-untouchables.

Top

 

How did the hangings of the Chaphekar brothers and Ranade affect the young Savarkar?

In 1897, plague struck India and claimed millions of lives. The British used the pretext of plague to inflict atrocities on the people. To avenge these atrocities, the Chaphekar brothers, Damodar Hari and Balkrishna Hari killed Special Plague Committee Chairman Rand and his military escort Lt. Ayerst on 22 June 1897 as they were returning from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the coronation of Queen Victoria at Government House, Pune. The two brothers embraced the gallows in 1899. Their brother Vasudeo Hari and his friend Mahadev Ranade were also hanged for killing an informant. These hangings stirred Maharashtra. The young Vinayak was moved to write a play on Tilak and Chaphekar brothers. But it was considered too inflammable by the village elders to be enacted publicly. When all the other family members went to sleep, Vinayak would get up in the dead of the night and write a ballad on the Chapekars and Ranade under the light of a lantern. Disturbed by the light, Damodarpant once woke up to find his son single-mindedly composing this ballad. "You are too young for all this. Forget it. All this can wait till you grow up" said the anxious father to Vinayak. The ballad was so inflammable that it could not be published even in its watered down version. It saw the light of day only in 1946.

"If Chaphekar's work needs to be carried forward, why shouldn’t I be the one to do it?" thought the teenaged Vinayak. In the dead of the night, he approached the deity of Ashtabhuja Devi and pledged thus: "For the sake of my country's freedom, I shall embrace death while killing the enemy in armed revolution like the Chapekars or become victorious like Shivaji and place the crown of freedom on my motherland's forehead. I shall unfurl the flag of armed revolution and fight unto the last". In later years, Savarkar narrated that this oath had a lasting impact on him. Its effect never dimmed in his darkest hours.

Top

 

What did Lokmanya Tilak write to Shyamji Krishnavarma in his letter of recommendation for the student Savarkar?

In recommending the student Savarkar for the Shivaji Scholarship for Indian students desiring to study in Europe, Tilak had written to Shyamji Krishnavarma, “When there is such a rush like that, it is no use recommending anyone particularly to your notice. But, still, I may state, among the applicants there is one Mr. Savarkar from Bombay, who graduated last year and whom I know to be a spirited young man very enthusiastic in the Swadeshi cause, so much so that he had to incur the displeasure of the Fergusson College authorities. He has no mind to take up Government service at any time and his moral character is good.”

Top

Which books / biographies of Savarkar were banned by the British Government?

The following is a list of Savarkar’s biographies and books banned by the British:

  • His biography of Mazzini (in Marathi) was banned in 1908.
  • Indian War of Independence 1857 was banned in 1909.
  • The drama Usshaap was banned in 1927.
  • The magazine Shraddhanand run by Savarkar’s brother Narayanrao and which carried Savarkar’s articles was banned on 10 May 1930.
  • In July 1931, Punjab Govt banned his biography in Urdu. This was followed by bans on his biographies in Tamil, Kannada, and Marathi.
  • My Transportation for Life (in Marathi) was banned in 1934. On 24 Oct 1940, his biography in Tamil was banned.
  • In November 1941, even a small biography of him by GP Parchure was banned.
  • In November 1943, Marathi biography by SL Karandikar was banned.

    Top

What were conditions in the Andamans in general and in the Cellular Jail in particular during’s Savarkar’s incarceration there?

The following account of conditions in the Andamans in general and in the Cellular Jail in particular has been written by Guy Aldred in his paper ‘Herald of Revolt’. Guy Aldred was Savarkar’s associate and the first Englishman to suffer imprisonment for the cause of India’s freedom. In his account, Guy Aldred quotes from two Indian papers viz. Bengalee and Mahratta. Hotilal Varma, editor of Urdu weekly Swarajya wrote a letter describing the conditions of political prisoners in Andaman Jail. It was published by Surendranath Banerjee in his paper Bengalee dated 27 April 1912. Varma's letter caused an uproar in India.

Later on Mahratta also published some news on 28 July 1912. It gave news of suicide of Indu Bhushan Roy and the insanity of Ullaskar Dutta.

LIFE IN THE ANDAMANS
(Reproduced, exactly as published, from "The Herald of' Revolt", October, 1912.)

“Writing to us from Munich on July 13th last. Sir Walter Strickland thus describes the conditions that exist in the Andamans; where Savarkar is confined:—

People know little of the infamies committed by the English in the Andamans; more against the proper owners of the island themselves, the small but beautiful Andamanese now nearly extinct, thanks to the turpitude of the English there, to tell the truth, than against the Hindoos and Burmese prisoners there. Savarkar will have an iron collar riveted round his neck, with his number fastened to it. The object of this arrangement is as follows, and the English think it a very clever one:——Round the clearing, about eighteen miles in length, allotted to prisoners on ticket-of-leave, are the dense forests inhabited by the fast disappearing tribes of Andamanese. Iron is of great value to them for their spear heads, and they are allowed the privilege of killing - any prisoner who escapes to the woods for the sake of the iron round his neck. As the Andamanese are aware that they are dying out themselves, thanks to the diseases, imported for the purpose by the English, in their Hindu prisoners, particularly syphilis and measles, they are not .likely to show the refugee any mercy.
However, the English have plenty of means at their disposal to dispose of prisoners, objectionable to their spite and mean insular rancour. These civilizers and benefactors of the world at large retain the use in the Andamans of the "greater rattan", which the less inhumane Chinese have, I believe, abolished some time ago in their prisons, and twenty blows with it are fatal. But if the English butchers decide to be very magnanimous and forego 'the dear delight of torturing as well as murdering him, he will be taken to Viper Island, where in a small cell three nooses are always hanging ready. The thing is done in a spirit of loving, friendly, almost domestic, intimacy. I do not believe it is even necessary to trouble the Governor for his signature and the less inhumane of the English officials are thankful if a month passes without one or two judicial murders there.

That the writer is not exaggerating will be apparent from the following quotation taken from the columns of "The Mahratta" for July 28th last, wherein it was reproduced from "The Bengalee":—

A POLITICAL PRISONER'S SUICIDE IN THE ANDAMANS

The suicide of one of the political prisoners, named Indu Bhushan Roy, throws a lurid light upon the whole situation, as to the treatment of political offenders in the Andamans. At one o'clock in the morning of the 29th April last he was found, hanging in his cell by one of the warders in his round. An alarm was raised. The jailor hastened to the spot: the matter was telephoned four or five times, and a police orderly was sent to the Medical Superintendent’s bungalow which is situated only a few hundred yards from the jail buildings. We are informed that no response came before eight o’clock next morning. In the meantime a Madrasi Hospital Assistant was sent for, but, when he came the body was found stiff and cold. Next morning when the Superintendent, the District Magistrate, and the police came to investigate, the jailor, Mr Barrie, gave his own version of the affair. Now we should like to ask a question or two in this connection. Why did Indu Bhushan commit suicide? If he was tired of prison life, one would expect that he would committed suicide long ago, for he had already been in the Andamans for over three years. Was there nothing in anything that happened recently in connection with him to account for his taking this fatal step? Was it not rather the act of a desperate man to whom life had become insupportable in the conditions in which he found himself? Is it or is it not the case that on the afternoon of the 28th April, only a few hours preceding his suicide, Indu Bhushan desired to see the jailor and was taken to his office, and there did he not, in the most entreating terms, request the jailor to change his work, as he was engaged in making white flax out of ‘rambash’ plant? Did he not say to the jailor – or at any rate addressed words to that effect – “ See my hands have become so blistered by the juice of the ‘rambash’ that I cannot move my fingers freely, and it is so painful that I cannot set a wink of sleep. I cannot take any food to my mouth. The touch the dal causes me so much pain that tears come to my eyes, and my food is left untouched. I will die of pain and starvation. Kindly change my work or allow me to go to hospital for a few days to get my palms healed.” Saying this, he stretched his hands to the full, but met with rebuff from the jailor. We will not produce the language which the jailor is reported to have used. Is it not the case that Indu Bhushan pleaded again begging to be allowed to report himself personally to the Medical Superintendent? But the jailor shouted, “You must carry out my orders.” Then after thinking for a couple of minutes, he again said, "all right, I will change your work." and ordered the warder in charge to engage Indu in the Kolu oil mill from next morning. Indu got so frightened that he told the Jailor that he would simply die if he had if he had to work in the "Kolu" mill with those hands of his. The jailor was obdurate, and our information is that Indu was dismissed amid a shower of abusive language. This was the last straw on the camel’s back, and before many hours Indu was found dead hanging in his cell. We have another question to ask. Is it not the case that Hoti Lal made a complaint to the Medical Superintendent about Indu’s, death and was punished for it, and was put to the oil mill at once. The political prisoners, we learn, are scattered over the entire settlement. In case they fall ill they are not taken to the nearest hospital within whose Jurisdiction they live, and where in the ordinary course they should be taken. They have to be taken to the hospital of the jail district whore Captain Barkar is the Medical Superintendent and also District Officer.

The real nature of the threat that drove Indu Bhushan Roy to commit suicide may be gathered from the account of the treatment accorded political prisoners contained in the following article taken from "The Bengalee" for April 27th last—just before Roy's suicide:—

During the first two years they (the political prisoners) were in jail. In jail there are various kinds of work to do, the most difficult being the oil mill, whether by hand or by foot. The latter means that four men are tied to the mill, and have to go round and round a centre post just as bullocks do. They have to press out 30 Ib. of oil Chopping, coconut bark is another species of work. One gets a huge log of wood, about half a maund in weight and a wooden mallet about 4 Ib. in weight. These things the prisoner gets in his cell. Then he has to place strips of cocoanut upon the wood block and go on striking them with the mallet. In this way a sort of finr dust is pressed out of coconut strips, and only a fibrous substance the prisoner has to press out in the course of the day. Rope-making is the lightest work one gets in jail. About 3 Ib. of cocoanut flax is given to the Prisoner and he has to spin it into rope according to sample. There is another kind of work still. There is a broad-based thorny plant called the ramkhan. The prisoner is given about eighty or ninety of these leaves, and out of these he has to beat up 4 lb of white flax. The leaves are about 2 inches in thickness and from a cubit in length. If even a drop of its- juice touches the' body it begins to itch and ultimately produces a kind of sore. The political prisoners were comparatively well off at first. They made ropes or were put to chopping cocoanut bark. But Mr. Denham put them to the oil mill, and since then they have had either to work at the oil mill or beat up 2 Ib. of flax from the cocoanut bark. The regulation about punishment for short work is handcuffs for seven days for the first offence; .for the second offence a week's handcuffs and four days' ganji. For the next offence the punishment was fetters for a month or two.- then cross-bar for ten days, and for further repetition of the offences—fetters for six months or so and solitary confinement. Ganji is a kind of starvation diet. You put two chit tacks (3 ounces) of rice in a seer (2 Ib.) of water, and the gruel thus obtained is called ganji. The cross-bar it a more rigorous kind of fetters. It consists of rings for the two legs joined by a bar of iron. All these penalties were inflicted upon the Punjabee political prisoners, barring only the last; but still they would not submit to this sort of labour. Of course, at they were political prisoners they could not be whipped, and, thus a new penalty was invented for their special benefit. This was ganji (starvation diet) for twelve days. First Nanda Gopal got it, then Ullaskar, and last of all Hotilal. But all this would not do, and then the jail people climbed down, and they were all set to rope making.

The work outside jail is still more dreadful. Among such work may be mentioned felling large trees and piling them up in a large heap, running about with heavy lumps of clay and handing them to workmen; laying 1,200 bricks in a day, or hoeing a plot of tea-land. 40 yards by 4 yards in area; and all this one has to do in all sorts of weather—in heavy rain as well as in the fierce heat of the sun. Besides, you have mosquitoes throughout the night, numberless leeches in the low-lying ground, and a sort of poisonous fly. The Indian Jail Code, it should be noted, recognises no class of prisoners as first class misdemeanants. Those who are punished under the Penal Code are all sent to the criminal jail, and, according to the sentence, are subjected to rigorous or simple imprisonment. Those who are ordered simple imprisonment are relieved of all work. They can spend their time in any way they like, subject, of course, to the necessary restraints of prison discipline. This is the only distinction between prisoners in the criminal jail recognised by the Indian Codes. The result is that, when a person is convicted of any political offence under the Penal Code arid is punished with rigorous imprisonment, he is treated like common felon, and no distinction is observed between him and the thief and the murderer.”

Top

 

What changes took place in the living conditions in the Cellular Jail, Andamans due to Savarkar’s efforts?

•Savarkar entered the jail on 4 July 1911. For the first 6 months he was kept in isolation. Only during meals could he mix with other prisoners. And yet with his inspiration, prisoners started to organize themselves. Within a matter of 10 months a letter written by the prisoner Hotilal Varma was smuggled out and sent to the Moderate leader, Surendranath Banerjee in Calcutta. He bravely published it in his paper Bengalee (in English) on 27 April 1912.

•Another letter was smuggled to Pune about Indubhushan Roy's suicide and torture of Ullaskar Dutta in prison , which made news on 28 July 1912 in the English paper Mahratta of Pune. This gave publicity to conditions of Political prisoners in The Cellular Jail.

•In October 1912, Savarkar’s friend Guy Aldred, in his paper Herald of Revolt published in London, also gave publicity to conditions of Political prisoners in the Cellular Jail. 

•Due to such wide publicity about the treatment of Political prisoners in the Cellular Jail, Sir Reginald Cradock, Home Member in Viceroy's Council, visited the Cellular  Jail in November 1913. He met Savarkar. After Sir Cradock had gone, no changes were announced by the prison authorities, therefore Savarkar organised the third strike in jail. Eventually, concessions were made to the prisoners.

•In the British Parliament, Keir Hardie, a Labour Party M.P raised the question of treatment of political prisoners in Andaman Island. So, brutal officers like Barrie could no longer get away with impunity, with their treatment of prisoners.

•Barrie had to record every day how many prisoners were NOT working. After the arrival of Savarkar, this number NEVER became zero. Some one or the other kept on fighting against the inhuman treatment of prisoners.

•Despite its fearful reputation, more and more revolutionaries were prepared to face Cellular Jail and a large number of them were sent there during 1914 -1918. Savarkar learned from the new prisoners that Indian merchants, while passing through the Indian Ocean used to bow in the direction of Andaman, to show their respect for the Indian freedom fighters imprisoned there.

•Savarkar asked the new prisoners to refuse to work on KOLU. Very soon the prison authorities dropped that punishment. 

Top

 

What was Savarkar’s financial condition in Ratnagiri?

Savarkar used to receive a fixed alimony of Rs. 60 per month from the British government from 01 August 1929. There was no way he could earn from his writings. Occasionally, he used to receive a purse from the public donation. If he had invested that amount in a financial company, he would have got regular interest on that amount. However, he does not appear to have done this. He used to charge some interest on loan that he occasionally extended to his acquaintances. However these transactions proved costly to him in the long run. These acquaintances cheated Savarkar and never returned his loan. He therefore tore all the promissory notes in his possession and washed his hands off this money. In Ratnagiri, he saw the birth of his three children. In January 1925, his daughter Prabhat was born in Satara. His second daughter Shalini was a sickly child and expired in childhood. In March 1928, his son Vishwas was born in Mumbai. All in all, Savarkar could barely make two ends meet while in Ratnagiri. In spite of his precarious financial condition, it is noteworthy that he kept a girl from the ex-untouchable Maang community and provided for her. Such was his commitment to social reform!

Top

 

What were the interactions between Savarkar and Gandhi?

Savarkar came to London on 24 June 1906. His activities started immediately thereafter. Gandhi came to London in October, leading a deputation on behalf of Indians in South Africa, who were facing severe discrimination there. Gandhi had no reason to visit the India House, a house in Highgate, London converted into an Indian students’ hostel. He was 14 years older than Savarkar and was not new to London. He studied Law in London during 1888-1891. But the reputation of Savarkar was such that Gandhi could not resist the temptation of meeting him.

Despite having passed his examinations in July 1909, Savarkar was not called to the Bar by the benchers of Grays Inn because of his political activities (namely, fighting for the freedom of India from British rule).

Gandhi was once again in London in November. Savarkar then organized a public gathering of Indians to celebrate the festival of Vijayadashami. He requested Gandhi to be its Chairman. In his speech Gandhi said, “Though I have my differences with Savarkar, I consider it a great honour to be in his company today.” Referring to the fact that Savarkar was not called to the Bar, Gandhi said, “May India bear the fruits of his sacrifices.”

In 1923, Savarkar was sent to Yerawada Jail in Pune. Gandhi was also kept in the same jail, but the two were not allowed to meet.

In 1927, Savarkar was in internment in Ratnagiri. Gandhi who was then on a tour of Maharashtra happened to visit that town. As Savarkar was ill, he invited Gandhi to his house. Gandhi and his wife Kasturba gladly accepted the invitation on 08 March.
In response to a civic reception given by Ratnagiri Municipality, Gandhi said,

“As Ratnagiri is the birth place of Lokmanya Tilak, it is a place of pilgrimage to all Indians. I wanted to visit this place because, in addition, it is also a place where Savarkar lives. I had previously met him in London. I admire his patriotism and sacrifices. As he is in internment, it was my duty to come to Ratnagiri to meet him"

Top

 

What were the events leading to the arrest of Savarkar on the charge of Gandhi’s murder?

Gandhi was shot dead by Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948. The Nehru Government was hell-bent on using this murder to implicate Savarkar and crush the growing Hindutva movement. To this end, the following pernicious methods were employed:

  1. Lawyers all over the world abhor retrospective legislation. But Nehru, Patel & Co. (most of them lawyers themselves) had decided to go to any length. The Bombay Public Security Act was made applicable to the province of Delhi with retrospective effect by a Government of India decree of 02 June 1948, for the sake of the Gandhi murder trial. Congress leaders had always detested special courts set up by the British (especially during the Second World War). But they had not slightest hesitation in setting up a special court for this trial. The provisions of Bombay Public Security Measures Act were nasty - There was NO JURY, time for appeal was extremely limited (15 days instead of normal 60 days) the sentence for even attempted murder was death or transportation for life. In legal terms there is quite a difference between aiding and abetting a murder and conspiracy to murder. The penalties for the latter are far more severe than for the former. It is also very much easier to secure conviction for conspiracy.
  2. Nehru, Patel & Co. wanted to implicate Savarkar, hence Patel’s official order to carry out police investigation for a conspiracy. Mr. Daftary the Advocate General of Bombay had confessed to Mr. M.B. Maniar, the counsel for Gopal Godse that Nehru had insisted on him to see that Savarkar is convicted and hanged. Unfortunately neither Daftary nor Maniar made an affidavit to that effect.
  3. Though Morarji Desai (then Home Minister of Bombay) had kept Savarkar under police surveillance he did not rush police reinforcement to protect him when mob frenzy broke out against Brahmins in Maharashtra- on 31 January 1948. Not only that, Savarkar’s bodyguard Appa Kasar was arrested and removed to police custody. There, he was mercilessly tortures-his nails were plucked off- in order to extract a false confession from him to implicate Savarkar. Morarji Desai deliberately left Savarkar at the mercy of the lynching mob. But Balarao Savarkar, Bhaskar Shinde and Tendulkar stood in the doorway armed only with sticks and ward off the attackers. But they could not save Narayanrao, younger brother of Veer Savarkar. He was severely beaten, never recovered and died on 19 October 1949.
  4. Savarkar was 64 years old at the time of the Gandhi murder. He had been bed-ridden for previous one year. He was arrested on 05 Feb 1948 under Bombay Public Security Measure Act. He was not allowed to see even his wife and only son till 23 March 1948 i.e. 46 days.
  5. Dr. BR Ambedkar was then Law Minister in the Nehru government. He secretly met Savarkar's counsel LB Bhopatkar and expressed his sympathies and anxiety for Savarkar's well being. Ambedkar opined that there was not an iota of evidence against Savarkar. The whole cabinet had to bow down to the whims of one man (meaning Nehru) in implicating Savarkar, said Ambedkar. He warned Bhopatkar that Nehru was prepared to go to any lengths to implicate Savarkar.
  6. The whole case for Prosecution was based on hearsay and confessions under torture/ inducements to witnesses. But for placing explicit faith in Government witnesses the special Judge Mr Atma Charan was awarded by Nehru, Patel and Co. He was appointed Judicial Commissioner for Ajmer-Merwara region even before the conclusion of trial. He sent every accused, except Savarkar, to Transportation for Life.
  7. The judgement of the special court was delivered on 10 Feb 1949. Savarkar was acquitted. But Nehru, Patel & Co. would not tolerate any public celebrations. That was not the sort of truth they wanted. So Delhi Magistrate served an order prohibiting him from leaving the Delhi Red Fort area. A few hours later by another order under Punjab Public Security Measures Act, Savarkar was externed and was prohibited from entering the Delhi area for a period of 3 months and was escorted by police straight to his house in Mumbai. Though Savarkar was declared innocent, it seems that the Special Judge Mr Atma Charan did not award any costs to him. The trial cost Savarkar Rs. 50,000 at 1948 prices! (Biography of Veer Savarkar by Balarao Savarkar 1947-66, page 299)

    Top

 

"Savarkar was the co-accused in Gandhi murder, but was let off on technical grounds as Godse took the whole responsibility of this murder totally on his own self. " Comment.

Savarkar disapproved of assassination as a method of conducting politics in free India. In fact, even during his revolutionary days in London, when some hotheads in the revolutionary camp thought of killing moderate leader GK Gokhale for his timid attitude, Savarkar had rebuked them and bitterly condemned that very sinful thought. He voiced a timely warning that such a mad act and attack on one of their compatriots for his own way of thinking would imperil the power and prestige of the revolutionary movement (My Transportation for Life, p 163). Savarkar never involved himself in Godse's enterprise of starting a paper and never contributed a column as requested by Godse. Godse had lost faith in the ability of the Hindu Mahasabha to stem the tide of Partition and had started his own organization. Savarkar had recognized and welcomed the post-Partition Indian state and hoisted the tricolour, something that Godse had disapproved. Godse himself had denied that Savarkar had any role in Gandhi's assassination. Even under extreme torture, none of the accused had named Savarkar. The Special Court had acquitted Savarkar. The Nehru government, which was hell-bent on framing Savarkar, dared not go in appeal against Savarkar's acquittal.

Top

 

 

Was Savarkar imprisoned twice in independent India? When and why was he arrested for a second time?

Savarkar was imprisoned twice in independent (?) India. He was first arrested after the Gandhi murder on charges of conspiring to kill Gandhi. He was arrested again on the midnight of 02 and 03 April 1950 on eve of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. The facts of the matter are as follows:

Then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan proposed a meeting with Nehru to determine how to put an end to the communal riots and the fear of war.

The two Prime Ministers met in Delhi on April 2, 1950, and discussed the matter in detail. The meeting lasted for six long days. On April 8, the two leaders signed an agreement, which was later entitled as Liaquat-Nehru Pact. This pact provided a 'bill of rights' for the minorities of India and Pakistan. Its aim was to address the following three issues:

  • To alleviate the fears of the religious minorities on both sides
  • To elevate communal peace
  • To create an atmosphere in which the two countries could resolve their other differences

According to the agreement, the governments of India and Pakistan solemnly agreed that each shall ensure, to the minorities throughout its territories, complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion; a full sense of security in respect of life, culture, property and personal honour.

It also guaranteed fundamental human rights of the minorities, such as freedom of movement, speech, occupation and worship. The pact also provided for the minorities to participate in the public life of their country, to hold political or other offices and to serve in their country's civil and armed forces.

Savarkar was opposed to this Pact. He prophesized that while the Indian Government would keep its promise, the Pakistani Government would go back on the same and the life, freedom and dignity of the Hindus in Pakistan would continue to be in jeopardy. In a letter dated 22 March 1950 addressed to his erstwhile revolutionary colleague Barrister Sardar Singh Rana, Savarkar wrote about his plans to visit Punjab at the invitation of the leaders of the Punjab Hindu Sabha and other Hindu leaders. In fact, two air tickets for 05 April had been booked. However, as mentioned above, Savarkar was arrested under Section 7 of the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 (Savarkar was 67 years old at that time and had almost retired from active politics due to ill-health). Accompanied by a doctor, he was spirited away by car in the dead of the night and lodged in Hindalga jail, Belgaum. The Police Commissioner informed him that he was of the definite view that Savarkar was instigating Hindus against the Muslims of Greater Bombay and that he was going to continue with this activity in future. If Savarkar wanted to respond to this charge, he was informed, he could send an application to the Bombay Government through the jail superintendent.

Accordingly, Savarkar sent a 2500 word, seven page typed application dated 26 April 1950 to the Bombay Government. In this, he denied the charges levelled against him. He noted that the Government charge-sheet failed to specify when and where he had instigated the Hindus. He further pointed out that other than his speech as President of the Reception Committee at the Calcutta session of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (December 1949), he had made no other public speech. He outlined the salient points made by him in that speech. Among other points in the Calcutta speech, Savarkar mentioned that he had been gladdened to hear thousands of delegates publicly raising the slogan of “Ek dhakka aur do, Pakistan tod do”. However, while complimenting the delegates for publicly raising the slogans and conveying public sentiment to the rulers, he had reminded them that the question of Pakistan had now become an international question. As such, it would not be solved by mere slogans but needed to be solved at the governmental level. He had expressed his firm view that the government needed to solve this problem on the basis of reciprocity (tit for tat). He had expressed that the government would solve this problem accordingly. While this problem should not be solved by street violence, the people had every right to change their rulers by democratic means if the government failed to act appropriately. He had reiterated that the Hindu Mahasabha was committed to forming Akhand Hindusthan by constitutional means. Savarkar submitted that in the last two years, he had neither delivered any public speech nor attended any meeting. In fact, he had not even attended the meeting of the Working Committee of the Hindu Mahasabha held in Mumbai. Due to ill-health, he had not stepped out of his house in these two years save for one tea party. In fact, he had not granted a private audience to anyone in his house. Thus, the charges that he was instigating the Hindus were baseless. In the end, he said stating truth in one’s defence did not amount to servility. He requested the Government that he be released unconditionally as the Pact had been signed and peace prevailed in the country. If that was not possible, he may be released on condition that he would not take part in political activities (as was done in the case of Dr. Narayan Bhaskar Khare, then President of the Hindu Mahasabha who had been asked to leave New Delhi on the eve of Liaquat Ali’s visit. Savarkar’s associates and lawyers had also been arrested and lodged in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai and in Yerawada Jail, Pune. On 02 August 1950, Home Minister Sardar Patel had announced in the Lok Sabha that pro-Hindu groups had hatched a plan to assassinate Nehru, hence the spate of arrests).

However, the government did not release Savarkar even after this statement. Efforts of lawyers in the courts proved futile. On 13 July, Savarkar’s lawyer KN Dharap told the court that his client would remain confined to his residence (in Mumbai) and not take part in political activities. He would comply with this condition for one year unless either general elections or war took place within this time frame. The Court accepted this submission and ordered Savarkar’s release. Accordingly, Savarkar was released on 13 July 1950 after spending about 100 days in jail.

Top

 

 

What was the attitude of Savarkar to his political opponents?

Savarkar was magnanimous towards his political opponents. Savarkar and Gopal Krishna Gokhale were differed in their political views. One was a revolutionary trying to overthrow the British rule by force of arms; the other was a moderate, using persuasion, pleas and petitions for better government. But they showed respect for each other in private and in public. When Savarkar heard the news of Gokhale’s death he burst into tears. From the Andaman jail he wrote to his brother:

“It pained me very much to hear that Hon. Gokhale was dead. He was after all a great patriot. True, at times, especially in panic, he used to say and do things, which he himself would be ashamed a few months afterwards to own up. But then, his life was dedicated to the service of Motherland and there was very little personal and selfish about him. All along his life, he served Her and for the good of Her, as he saw it. How anxious I was to see him, before death parted us, and to compare notes as he had said to me in London when we saw each other for the last time. We could not agree on certain points and he said "Well, Mr. Savarkar come! We will see each other some six years (from now) and then would compare notes!"

Savarkar organised a get together of Indians in London, to celebrate the Vijayadashami festival in November 1909. He invited Gandhi to preside over the meeting. Savarkar did this despite their mutual differences because Gandhi was trying to uphold the dignity of Indians in South Africa.

Top

 

Did Savarkar write his autobiography?

Veer Savarkar was interned in Ratnagiri from 1924 to 1937. He started to write his memoirs in 1931. Parts of his prologue were published in Hutatma Shraddhanand monthly of Mumbai. British took objection to it. Savarkar's house was searched, but the police could not find the remaining pages. The British considered the memoirs so provocative that the Collector of Ratnagiri told Savarkar, " It is highly objectionable for you to write these memoirs. They contravene your condition of internment - namely that you shall not take part in politics!" Unfortunately that prologue has still not been translated in English. Savarkar started writing his autobiography in 1949, but it only covered his childhood and education. He never found time to complete his autobiography.

Top

 

"Savarkar was an egoist." Comment.

Savarkar had once said that he would allow only Chhatrapati Shivaji, Lokmanya Tilak and such leaders to question him. On the face of it, this statement may sound egoistical. However, Savarkar was well aware of his qualities and standing and never showed false modesty. In fact, false modesty is a form of egotism. Savarkar was forthright and detested humbugs. Though he was a world-class litterateur, he taught hardened prisoners in Andamans (1911-1921) to read and write and taught them the rudiments of economics. He personally taught ex-untouchable students to read and write. Savarkar was a world-renowned revolutionary and a barrister. However, he felt no compunction in drawing a cart with swadeshi (indigenous) goods in the streets of Ratnagiri. Savarkar was a first-rate poet who composed epic poems. That did not prevent him from composing very ordinary poems related to social reform that were meant to be sung on mundane occasions. Savarkar suggested fundamental changes towards the reform of the Devnagari script. The eminent scholar Dr. LS Wakankar who himself worked for reform of the Devnagari script visited Savarkar when the latter was old. In fact, Wakankar was inspired by Savarkar to carry out reform of the script. In all humility, Savarkar told Wakankar that his (Savarkar's) suggestions on script reform were made several years ago and any suggestion in this regard that was outdated should be discarded. Savarkar was certainly not an egoist.

Top

 

Savarkar got Rs 2 Lakh as donation in 1943. What did he do with that donation ?

Ahitagni Rajwade, in his Atmavrutta, autobiography, on page 212-213 has criticized Savarkar. Rajwade has stated that Savarkar did not help his elder brother Babarao though he got a large amount. Hence Babarao could not pay Rajwade Rs. 10/- towards the purchase of his book 'Nasadeeya Sookta', upto 1947, which Babarao had purchased in 1940. Babarao wrote Rajwade about his poor condition and asked for pardon towards nonpayment of Rs.10/- Rajwade says that Savarkar should have helped Babarao who fought alongside with Savarkar and was in Andmans too. Here are the facts of the matter.

  1. Savarkar did get Rs. 2 lacs as public purse on occasion of his shashtipoorti in 1943.
  2. He gave the bulk of the money to Maharashtrian entrepreneurs e.g. a venture called 'Magora' in memory of social reformer Madhav Govind Ranade. Savarkar lost heavily in these ventures; his money was never returned.
  3. Savarkar was very scrupulous in money matters, to the extent of seeming to be extreme. He had periodically given money to Babarao and Dr. Narayanrao and had obtained receipts from them for the same.
  4. Savarkar was freed unconditionally only in 1937, till then he received Rs. 60 as monthly pension from the British during his stay in Ratnagiri and meagre royalty for his writings (Rs. 3 or thereabouts for his writings in Kirloskar periodical)
  5. Babarao died in 1945 so it is strange that Rajwade says that the amount was unpaid by Babarao till 1947. Rajwade was a sanatani and disapproved of Savarkar's reformist outlook; he cannot be termed as a dispassionate critic.
  6. Savarkar spent Rs. 50000 (at 1948 prices) in the Gandhi Murder Trial in 1948-49, no costs were awarded to him though he was acquited.
  7. Throughout his life, Savarkar lived the life of a lower middle class householder. He could undertake tours only if the local Hindu Sabha branches could arrange for his travel expenses.

Top

“Savarkar had a narrow outlook.” Comment.

Although Savarkar fought against the British regime, he never hated the British as such. He used to appreciate English qualities like systematic preservation of documents, discipline etc. While lamenting the demise of G.K.Gokhale, the leader of the moderates, with whom he disagreed, he remarked that a difference of opinion does not mean an opposition. He fought the scheme of Pakistan tooth and nail and criticized Islam, but his pen was most tender while narrating the cruel end of Hussain (grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad)at the hands of Yezid in the battle of Karbala. Although he criticized Gandhi for his Muslim appeasement and his views on nonviolence and machine, he large- heartedly gave credit to his constructive activities for progress of the country. Even as the leader of the Hindu Maha Sabha, he exhorted the people to read literature of all parties and then to form an intelligent opinion, on their own. Thus, Savarkar had a broad outlook.

Top

 

On 20 July 1943, an assassination attempt was made on Muhammad Ali Jinnah by Rafiq Sabir who was assumed to be a Khaksar worker.  What was Savarkar’s reaction to this event?  What was Jinnah’s response?

On learning of the murderous attempt on Jinnah’s life, Savarkar, in his capacity as President of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, issued the following press statement:  “I am extremely pained to learn of the murderous attempt made on the life of Mr. Jinnah and felicitate him on his narrow escape.  It is very natural that he should have been touched to the quick by the fact that a Moslem should have tried to take the life of the one who has been the foremost advocate of the Moslem cause.  Such internecine, unprovoked murderous assaults, if the motive be political or fanatical, constitute a stain on the public and civic and must be strongly condemned.”  The statement was issued to the Press by Savarkar’s secretary AS Bhide.  On 01 August 1943, Jinnah wrote the following letter to AS Bhide from his address on Mount Pleasant Road, Malabar Road: “  Dear Sir, I am in receipt of a copy of the statement issued by Mr.Savarkar to the Press, forwarded to me by you and I thank Mr. Savarkar for expressing sympathies with me and condemning the attack made on my life.  Yours faithfully, (Sd.) M.A. Jinnah” 

Top

 

Which were the personalities or events that inspired Savarkar in his lifetime?

A survey of Savarkar's life shows that Savarkar drew inspiration from different personalities and historical events. The event that changed Savarkar's life forever while he was still a teenager was the hanging of revolutionary Damodar Hari Chapekar on 18 April 1898. (His brothers Vasudeo Hari Chapekar and Balkrishna Hari Chapekar were hanged on 08 May and 12 May 1899 respectively while another associate, Mahadev Vinayak Ranade was hanged on 10 May 1899). Writing his memoirs in 1949, Savarkar describes the impact this event had on him thus, "I went to the prayer-room. With my heart overwhelmed by the pitiable condition of my country, I meditated on and worshipped her (Ashtabhuja or the eight-armed goddess) with devotion and in the end, placing my hands on her holy feet, I took her consent as I imagined then and keeping her as witness, I took a pledge thus: For the freedom for my country, I shall either die like Chapekar in armed war whilst killing the enemy or becoming victorious like Shivaji, I shall place the crown of swaraj (self-rule) on her head! The smell of fragrant flowers spread everywhere, the oil-lamp throwing its dim light, the heady snake-like smoke of the incense sticks weaving itself in the soft petals of the flowers. The grim and beautiful idol of the Ashtabhuja in the sanctum sanctorum, seated astride the lion with weapons in all her eight arms and treading on the demon Mahishasura was smiling benignly at me. It was in this holy atmosphere that I took my pledge before her. Henceforth, to regain my country's freedom, I shall hold aloft the flag of armed revolution and kill and fight unto death!!!

On a personal level, I felt I had done something significant on that day, something that changed my life. This samskara that impacted my mind on that day did not ever get erased."

As a young revolutionary, Savarkar was inspired by the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini (1805- 1872). In his youth, Savarkar had studied the lives of Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi (Savarkar was engaged in writing Garibaldi's biography when he was arrested on Victoria railway station), Camillo Benso di Cavour and Victor Emmnauel who are considered the patron saints of the Italian Risorgimento. Savarkar reached England in June 1906. There he translated into Marathi some of Mazzini's articles that had been rendered into English from the original Italian. To these he added his memorable 21-page preface. So powerful and inspiring was this preface that it was memorized by literally hundreds of youngsters at the time. Savarkar completed his book on Mazzini in less than three months flat. The first edition of the book was published in June 1907. The book was banned when preparations were on to publish the second edition. This ban was lifted only in 1946. Savarkar has compared Mazzini to Samarth Ramdas.

Savarkar was inspired by the Marathi poet-saints Sant Tukaram and Samarth Ramdas. He was also deeply influenced by Maratha history. Naturally, the one personality who shaped Savarkar's personality was Chhatrapati Shivaji. Savarkar, the bard composed 'Shri Shivgeet', 'Shri Shivaji Maharajaanchi aarti' (1902) and 'Hindu Nrisinha' in praise of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Savarkar was full of praise for Shivaji's towering intellect, organizational skills, political acumen, magnanimity and military strategy. Savarkar wrote the history of the Marathas from Shivaji's time to the end of the Peshwa rule (1818) in his English book 'Hindu Padpaadshaahi'.

Savarkar also drew inspiration from Sikh history and particularly from Guru Gobind Singh and Veer Banda Bairagi. While in England, Savarkar studied Gurumukhi and read Adi Granth, Panth Prakash, Surya Prakash, Vichitra Natak and other literature on Sikh philosophy and history. In 1909, Savarkar wrote a 200-page history of the Sikhs in Marathi. Unfortunately, the book was destroyed and is not to be found today. In 1908, Savarkar celebrated the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in London. His poem 'Moorti duji ti' composed after he was arrested in the bitter cold of London in 1910 describes the martyrdom of Veer Banda Bairagi.

Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ram Tirth influenced the philosopher in Savarkar. Vivekananda's motto that 'service to man is service to God'

Of all his contemporaries, Savarkar was most influenced by Lokmanya Tilak. He considered Tilak and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar to be his gurus in the political and social spheres respectively. On 07 September 1898, Savarkar composed a poem 'Shri Tilak-Aryabhu bhet'. In 1904, he composed a ballad called 'Shri Tilak Muktotsav'. The writings of Tilak in Kesari and those of Shivram Mahadev Paranjpe in Kaal shaped Savarkar's political thought.

The one outstanding personality who perhaps influenced Savarkar's life and thought the most was Bhagwan Sri Krishna. He considered Sri Krishna to be the preceptor and original practitioner of utilitarianism. The Bhagwad Gita was his favourite book. The principle of 'nishkam karmayog' was his guiding principle throughout life

Top

 

What was the breadth and depth of Savarkar’s scholarship?

Savarkar had made a deep study of the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. In his My Transportation for Life, he writes that he spent night after night in his cell meditating on the ten principal Upanishads, thereby completing their study in a year’s time. Savarkar’s last article ends with a couplet from the little-studied Avadhoot Upanishad! Savarkar had studied Hindu law-books or the smritis such as Manusmriti and Devalsmriti. He had studied Yogavasishtha. He knew Patanjali’s Yogasutras by heart (incidentally, Savarkar regularly meditated and had experienced kundalini jagriti). Savarkar had made a deep study of Ramayana and Mahabharata. He had studied Adi Sankara and Ramanuja. He was deeply influenced by the Marathi saints Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram and Ramdas. Savarkar’s political thoughts were shaped by Tilak, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Shivrampant Paranjpe (editor of Kaal). Maratha history was Savarkar’s passion; Shivaji was his hero. Savarkar also drew inspiration from Sikh history and particularly from Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Bairagi. While in England, Savarkar studied Gurumukhi and read Adi Granth, Panth Prakash, Surya Prakash, Bachitra Natak and other literature on Sikh philosophy and history. In 1909, Savarkar wrote a 200-page history of the Sikhs in Marathi. Unfortunately, the book was destroyed and is not available today. While in internment at Ratnagiri, Savarkar had studied Buddhist scriptures (Boddhisatva is the title of Savarkar’s unfinished play). Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ram Tirth influenced the philosopher in Savarkar. He had minutely studied Dayananda’s Satyartha Prakash. Savarkar had read Theosophy. The poet in Savarkar was enchanted by Kalidas, Bhavabhuti, Marathi poets Moropant and Waman Pandit and of course Tagore (he said that he knew half of Tagore by heart and Tagore’s ekala chalo re had kept him alive in the Andamans). The one personality who perhaps influenced Savarkar’s life and thought the most was Bhagwan Sri Krishna. He considered Sri Krishna to be the preceptor and original practitioner of utilitarianism. The Bhagwad Gita was his favourite book.

Savarkar had studied Western philosophers such as Mill and Spencer, Darwin and Huxley, Gibbon and Macaulay, Carlisle and Emerson, Mazzini and Garibaldi, Lenin and Trotsky and the revolutionary movements in France, Italy and Russia. Savarkar had studied the Bible. He would frequently read Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Very pertinently, Savarkar was one of the few Hindu leaders who cared to study Islam from its primary sources. While in England, Savarkar had read an English translation of the Quran. Subsequently, he read the Quran in its Bengali and Marathi translations. Responding to the opinion of his Muslim friends that the real beauty of the Quran lies in its original, Savarkar had them read each page of the original and then translate it into Hindi for his benefit. As Savarkar describes, he heard them recite the Quran with great concentration and after keeping his mind clean and pure like that of a devout Muslim. In later life, Savarkar read several books written by Western authorities on the Quran. Savarkar’s deep study of Islam is evident from his articles on Kemal Pasha, Khilafat movement and various Islamic sects. Savarkar had learnt to read and write Urdu.

Top

 

What were Savarkar’s guiding principles?

Humanism, rationalism, utility and pragmatism were the guiding principles of Savarkar. According to him, the ultimate aim of all politics was formation of a world state. Nationalism, according to him should be consistent with humanism. “The Hindus will become free and will liberate the world for the protection of equality, kindness and the righteous people’’ wrote Savarkar, in “aika bhavishyala”, his last poem. For Savarkar, humanity included Hindus too. He used to flay the Congress leaders who shed tears for Abyssinia but did not have even a word for the Hindus suffering Muslim atrocities. To him, service of man was service of God.

Top

 

 

Did Savarkar die a frustrated person?

Savarkar’s last article, ‘atmahatya ki atmarpan’ (suicide or self-termination) appeared in 1963. Its title can be translated into English as ‘Suicide or self dedication’. That article begins and concludes with a couplet from the ‘Avadhoot Upanishad’, a minor upanishad. The Sanskrit couplet reads, ‘dhanyoham dhanyoham kartavyam me na vidyate kinchit! dhanyoham dhanyoham praptavyam sarvamadya sampannam !!’ It can be rendered into English as ‘Blessed am I, no duty remains undone, blessed am I, now I have got all that I had to get’. In that article, Savarkar propounded that all acts of self-termination of life should not be termed as suicide. He cogently argued that self-termination of life that stems from anger, dissatisfaction, misery and escapism from problems should alone be considered as suicide. On the other hand, a happy self-termination of life after having achieved all goals in life should be regarded as a self-dedication, and not suicide. He cited last days of Kumaril Bhatt, Ramanuja, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath and Ramdas as illustrations of self- dedication.

In 1952, Savarkar declared that he felt fulfilled beyond imagination and felt extremely happy to be a witness to the freedom of his Motherland.

Savarkar led a frugal life of a middle class Maharashtrian. The Rt. Hon. Shriniwas Shastri, “ You live in such a small house, Mr. Savarkar!” Savarkar replied, “ What is so bad about this house? It is any day better than the cell in the Andamans!”

Throughout his life, Savarkar practiced what he preached. On 03 February 1966, he started abstaining from food. After a few days, he abstained from liquids too. He instructed his physicians not to administer him any medicines. On 24 February 1966, Savarkar folded his hands and in a feeble voice quoted the couplet of saint Tukaram, “amhi jato aamuchya gava! aamucha ram raam ghyava”(we are going to our native town, please accept our farewell ) . These were his last words! On Saturday, 26 February 1966, at around 11 a.m., in the tradition of great Hindu seers, Savarkar breathed his last in Mumbai.

Top

 

Was Savarkar a defeated person?

Though Savarkar was an outstanding freedom fighter, he was an anathema to the Establishment of Free India. He did not hold any office in free India. Leave alone a Padma honour, he was not even appointed a special executive magistrate. He was never a captain of any corporate or an educational empire. Then was he a success or a failure?

In 1940, Savarkar warned of the Muslim infiltration in Assam. At that time, Jawaharlal Nehru belittled this issue by saying that nature abhorred vacuum. Savarkar retorted that the vacuum was being occupied by poisonous gas! By 2008, the number of Bangladeshi infiltrators in India is an estimated forty to fifty million.

The Congress party boycotted the 1941 census because it recorded community wise data. Savarkar pointed out that constitutional progress of the next ten years would be based on this census data and that its boycott would be disastrous. At the time of the partition, the boundaries of Pakistan and the Indian Union were delimited on the basis of this very 1941 census data. The Congress meekly accepted the ‘communal data’ that it had condemned in 1941.

Savarkar correctly analyzed the separatist Muslim politics and warned that Gandhi’s policy of Muslim appeasement would prove suicidal. On 06 October 1946, in article in Harijan, Gandhi admitted his defeat as regards the Hindu-Muslim unity.

Right from 1940, Savarkar warned against the looming shadow of Pakistan. On the other hand, as late as 1945, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed that the Pakistan would never materialize.
Savarkar’s premise the freedom struggle would not succeed without participation of the Indian Army, was vindicated by the transfer of power in 1947 following the Indian National Army and the naval uprising.

Within a few weeks of independence, in September 1947, Savarkar warned of the invasion of Kashmir by Pakistan and the insurgence of Nizam. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of a strong, modern Indian army, vigilance at the borders and developing nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Prime Minister Nehru told the first Commander-in- Chief of the Indian Army that India did not need an army and that the Police were enough! Savarkar had warned against the Chinese designs on Tibet, when the country was lulled by Nehru’s Panchsheel and Hindi-Chini bhai bhai!

Every prophetic warning of Savarkar proved to be true! Savarkar was not a failure; it was Hindu society and its leaders that failed.

Top

 

What was Savarkar’s daily routine in Mumbai?

Tatyarao (as Savarkar was called by his family members and contemporary friends) had a fairly fixed routine in Mumbai if he was not on tour. He would get up at 7 or 730 in the morning. After his morning chores, tea and newspaper reading (he would mark in pencil), he would have breakfast. This consisted of one egg and fresh butter. His barber would come at the appointed time to shave him. Then he would meet people by appointment and rarely without appointment. He would clean the toilet himself and insist on carrying out this chore himself. He would sniff snuff but kicked this habit subsequently. He would have bath at 12 noon or 12.30 pm. Thereafter his cook would serve lunch at 1 pm. It would be simple consisting of rice, vegetable, dal and chapati. The other family members would be instructed not to wait for him; he would have lunch later. He liked his food cold (probably a result of habit developed in the Andamans) and would not like to talk during mealtime. He liked non-vegetarian food especially fish but this would not be prepared at home. Some of his admirers (including Mai Mangeshkar, mother of Lata Mangeshkar) would send him these preparations. He also relished thalipeeth, stale pakoras, Nashik chivda (aforementioned are savories) and anaarse (a Maharashtrian sweet). On festive occasions, he would have sweets brought from outside. He ate bhagar (a rice preparation prepared during days of fasts) and groundnut curry that was prepared by Mai during fasting days of Ashadhi and Kartiki ekadashi and Mahashivratri but would not observe any fasts himself. After meals, he would have a siesta, then afternoon tea, then some reading sometimes writing. Tatyarao would come to the large room in the front portion of the house to meet relatives and close friends who visited him. He would indulge in light-hearted talk with children especially his grandchildren. In the evenings, he would meditate for some time to increase concentration. Initially he would go out to the Dadar Chowpatty (seashore) for a walk. But it proved troublesome, as people would flock around him. He would walk for one to one and half miles on the terrace. At night he would have dinner at 8.30-9.00 pm, which consisted of warm rice, ghee and vegetable. Then he would read and write. Most of his writings were done at night. He would prefer a fountain pen rather than a ballpoint pen. His frugal habits were reflected in his handwriting, which used to be small, so that he could pack lot of content in one page. Savarkar would sleep with the windows closed and without a fan. If ever he put on the fan, it would be pointed away from him (probably a result of a habit picked up in prison). Mai Savarkar would organize several haldi-kumkum programmes in Ratnagiri but these stopped in Mumbai. There was an open copper devhara (a small place to keep idols) shaped like a small old-style throne. It had idols of Balkrishna (boy Krishna) and four Annapurnas (manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi as provider of food) and a picture of Lakshmi. Tatyarao would observe Mai doing puja but he himself never worshipped.

Tatyarao’s living was like that of an ordinary middle class person. He would wear a closed neck full-sleeved shirt, dhoti and use pieces of old, soft dhotis as handkerchieves. He hardly ever went to the theatre or cinema. It was after All India Radio started broadcasting his famous song ‘jayostute’ (ode to the Goddess of Liberty) that radio finally arrived in his house.

Tatyarao loved perfume. Mai would put champa or prajakta flowers in a glass of water and keep this in his room in the morning. He would use 'heena' perfume. He was a non-smoker and teetotaler. He never imposed his wishes on Mai nor did he ask her to prepare specific food items.

Top

 

 

Is it true that Savarkar’s life influenced the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh?

Martin C. Windrow (born 1944) is a British historian, editor and author of several hundred books, articles and monographs, particularly those on organizational or physical details of military history, and the history of the post-war French Foreign Legion. His most notable work is The Last Valley, an account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indochina War, which was published in 2004 to "critical acclaim" (The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Martin Windrow Da Capo Press, 2004). The following account from Windrow’s book makes it clear that Savarkar’s biography was at Ho Chi Minh’s bedside on the day the latter died.

“I recently visited Dien Bien Phu, a dusty nondescript Vietnamese border town near Laos. Here, French fantasies of re-colonialism were dashed by a Vietnamese peasant army. Visiting Dien Bien Phu is not difficult for a progressive anti-imperialist left liberal. There are no mixed emotions, at least politically. Who can begrudge Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party their great victory in Dien Bien Phu? Even the Americans thought the French were a lost cause. They refused to help France directly when Dien Bien Phu was about to fall.

I was taken around by a motorcycle taxi to the different battlefield sites. They included the hills and other the strong points which the Vietnamese inexorably took, despite a heroic French defence, the French Commander’s bunker, and the war cemeteries. The motorcycle taxi driver stopped on the way to the war cemeteries and bought sticks of incense. He made me burn them for the souls of the dead, French and Vietnamese. I was surprised that he wanted me to burn incense sticks for French souls as well. I should not have been.

The Vietnamese did not fight a xenophobic war. They fought an “internationalist war”. This may sound strange in these days of “identity politics” when your ethnic or religious identity is supposed to determine the side you are rooting for, or whether you live or die. In his official memoir of the war, General Vo Nguyen Giap commander of the Vietnamese forces, considered the mastermind of the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu, thanked the French people and the French Communist Party for their support of the Vietnamese cause. Ho Chi Minh, the first President of Vietnam and founder of the Indo Chinese Communist Party, was also a founder of the French Communist Party.

Ho Chi Minh’s bedroom and study are still as they were on the day he died. The books near his bedside include one on New Zealand Verse, another on the Indian nationalist leader Veer Savarkar, another on the history of Vietnam, another on Marxism and several other titles I could not read clearly. These books were written in English, German, French, Russian and Vietnamese. He read all these languages, and spoke many of them. No party hack, however sophisticated, could have put such an eclectic collection of books together after his death. It had to be his.

The Museum of Women in Hanoi described the support they received from women’s groups in the West opposed to the war. The Vietnamese highlighted, maybe even exaggerated, the international support they got from the people of countries who had sent troops to fight them – from France, the US and Australia. Peace activists travelled to Hanoi, and were welcomed as friends.”

Top