Comparing the life trajectories of Savarkar and Gandhi it becomes evident that while Savarkar sacrificed his youth for the country, Gandhi his old age. A young man, barely 24 years in age, writes a book on 1857 ‘War of Independence’ as a student in Britain, rubbishing the theory of mutiny, speaks volumes about the character, intellect and nationalism of Savarkar. This was in 1907, at a time when the British were celebrating 50 years of their so called ‘victory’ over the so called ‘mutiny’. Savarkar changed the entire narrative by his book and convince the world that the ‘mutiny’ was ‘war of independence’.
The British got so unnerved by the intellect of this 24 years young man that they were compelled to ban the book.
Savarkar went to England at the peak of his youth, yet he was not seduced by the charms and the glitter of that country. His struggle for independence continued through organizations like Free India Society. In fact, in England the fire of freedom began to rage with much greater intensity. The entire student life of Savarkar is a story of guts and intellect. His attempted escape from a British ship in Marseilles is a testimony to his guts and indomitable spirit. Such mélange of youth and guts was seen in Subhash Chandra Bose as well.
Any assessment on Savarkar or his comparison with other freedom fighters cannot sustain without rooting it in the prevalent period and the narrative then. In the independence struggle, that period is also called the extremist phase. Savarkar, like Aurbindo, Tilak and Mohan LalDhingra belonged to the Garam Dal. Obviously, the extremist methods are predicated on youth.
Savarkar, in the height of his youth was incarcerated in the Andaman Cellular Jail for eleven years. Gandhi’s rise began only when the extremist phase began to decline. It can be said that the end of extremist phase heralded the non-violence of the constitutional phase. Therefore, if there was no extremist phase, there would never be a non-violence phase. Leaders like Gandhi and Nehru would have been of no use to the British if there was no extremist phase.
It was the Cellular Jail that made it possible for the ‘peaceniks’ (Ahimsawadis) to enjoy the hospitality of much comfortable jails. The difference between the two jails becomes stark when the Andaman Cellular Jail is compared to Naini Jail. While in the Cellular Jail, one letter in a year was allowed, from the types of Naini Jail ‘letters from father to daughter’ were written. The Naini and the similar jails, which housed the ahimsawadis, there were newspapers, books, library and radio. Possibly it is for this reason that Nehru had mooted the idea to convert the Andaman Cellular Jail into a hospital, because he did not want his own jail story to be eclipsed. Possibly it is for this reason that Morarji Desai when on a trip to Andaman refused to visit the Cellular Jail.
If after sacrificing his entire youth for the nation, Savarkar wrote to British masters that he wanted to abandon violent revolutionary methods and adopt non-violent and constitutional methods like Gandhi and Nehru — what was wrong in it? It is the duty of a slave to salvage himself or herself from the slavery of his or her master, just as it is the duty of every ‘Prisoner of War’ (PoW) to make every effort to escape. Even Shivaji had written a very placatory letter to Aurangzeb.
So this whole bogey of ‘Savarkar’s plea for clemency’ as compromise to the freedom struggle is a canard spread by the ahimsawadis and their progeny to appropriate the credit of freedom movement and obfuscate their own secret dealings with the British.
Yes, Savarkar did criticize the very basis of ‘Quit India Movement’. He said that it is treachery with the Indian masses to raise the slogan of Quit India and at the same time ask the British to keep their army. As planned, and in deference to the British imperatives of World War II, the ahimsawadi stalwarts allowed themselves to be arrested on the very first day of the launch of Quit India Movement, i.e. 8th August 1942. And then, for the next three years the jails with radio, newspaper, library and ‘letters from father to daughter’ became their home.
All this while, there was one leader, a Garam Dal leader, who was active across the globe in mobilizing support and resources for India’s freedom, i.e. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. He raised the freedom movement to a new level. He hoisted the Indian Flag in Indian Territory, released his own currency, launched free India Radio and set up a government in exile. Above all, he mobilized Indian National Army (INA), which lost 26,000 out of 60,000 personnel, fighting against the British.
It is a well-known fact that post-independence Clement Attlee, then British Prime Minister when queried by the Chief Justice and acting Governor of West Bengal categorically said that the British left India because of Subhash. He said that Subhash had corroded the very instrument, i.e. the Army and the Navy, by which the British had ruled all through. Therefore, it was a Garam Dal leader who got India its independence.
Once ‘independence’ inevitable, the ahimsawadis swung back into action and peddled larger than life image of themselves. After independence they ensured that there was an English Governor General, an English Army Chief and an English Navy Chief. Was it therefore ‘transfer of power’ or ‘securing independence’? The Union Jack was respectfully lowered and the Tri-colour was hoisted. Was it ‘transfer of power’ or ‘securing independence’.
Every Indian should read VirSavarkar’s book on 1857 ‘War of Independence’. He has blown the ‘mutiny theory’ to smithereens. He contends that if the upheaval was only due to ‘cartridges’, common people would not have risen from Calcutta to Peshawar. The British in fact had changed the cartridges. The Governor General personally appealed to the sepoys and suggested that they could assemble the cartridges themselves. If it was only the issue of cartridges, Nana Sahib, Rani of Jhansi and Khan Bahadur Khan of Rohilakhand would not have joined it. The British historians say that the people were disaffected with the Nawab of Awadh. If that was the case, Savarkar questions, why did people who had not seen the Nawab shed tears at his ill-treatment. It is then that they took oath of revenge. Savarkar further maintains that the seeds of 1857 were sworn in the Battle of Plassey of 1757, and the sepoy rising at Vellore in 1806 was a rehearsal. He also holds the some princes of strangling the movement and holds the Patiala prince as the biggest traitor.
Savarkar views religion as a tool to merge with the Almighty, who imparts life and motion to everything on the earth. The Almighty, he says created every human-being with the potential to attain perfection, but where there is slavery, there is imperfection. Where there is God, there can be no slavery and where there is slavery there can be no God.
It was Savarkar who coined the term ‘Hindutva’ to create collective ‘Hindu’ identity. He was an atheist, who rejected orthodox believes, but maintained that without indigenous ‘ism’ and ‘identity’ there can be no nation. Hindutva is an indigenous ism, which encompasses the sacred history and geography of India. It has got nothing to do with orthodox Hindu practices. It is rather a social and cultural concept. In fact, Savarkar’s political belief was based on utilitarianism, rationalism, positivism, humanism, universalism and realism.
Those, who therefore question Savarkar’spatriotism, intellect, character and wisdom need to introspect their DNA.
By RSN Singh