Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a political leader, and a leading Indian independence activist was also a social reformer, lawyer, dramatist, historian, philosopher, and writer. Popularly referred to as Veer Savarkar, he is credited with the formulation of the Hindutva philosophy. The masses do not know much about him because of the malicious propaganda against him that was created over the decades. The aim of this post is to throw some light on the life, thoughts, actions, and contributions to India’s freedom struggle of Veer Savarkar. Reasons as to why he deserves to be given the highest civilian award the Bharat Ratna and why it was denied to him will also be discussed.
Childhood and Early Life
Veer Savarkar was born on May 28, 1883, in Bhagur village in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency under British India. Bhagur is a village near Nashik city in the state of Maharashtra in Independent India. He had three siblings, two brothers Ganesh and Narayan, and a sister Maina. Born to Damodar and Radhabai Savarkar, a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin Hindu couple, he earned the pet name “Veer” (meaning Braveheart) when he was just 12 years old. He led his fellow students to fight against a group of Muslims that attacked Bhagur village. He continued the fight until all the attackers left the village.
Following his parents’ death, his eldest brother Ganesh took over the responsibility of the family. He supported Vinayak during his teens and influenced him in many ways. It was during this period that Vinayak organised Mitra Mela, a youth group, to foment nationalistic and revolutionary views among fellow countrymen. He married Yamunabai in 1901, Ramchandra Triambak Chiplunkar‘s daughter. His father-in-law paid for his university education. In 1902, he bagged admission in Fergusson College, Pune, for higher studies. The new-generation political leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Bipin Chandra Pal who led the struggle against Bengal’s partition and Swadeshi campaigns inspired young Vinayak a lot.
College Life and Contributions to India’s Independence Struggle
While in college, he and his friends burned textile materials that were imported from England in support of the Swadeshi Movement. It was Shyamji Krishna Varma, a nationalist activist, who helped Vinayak to study law in England on a scholarship. He joined Gray’s Inn College in London to study law. Pandit Shyamji, an expatriate political and social activist, arranged accommodation for Vinayak at India House, which was the centre of student political activities. During this time, he organized the fellow Indian students and founded the Free India Society in order to fight for absolute independence through a revolution.
Savarkar believed that guerrilla warfare, something similar to the 1857 Indian independence struggle, was essential for bagging India’s independence. He studied the revolt’s history, both from the British and Indian sources, and wrote a book titled “The History of the War of Indian Independence”. In the book, he termed the British rule as oppressive and unjust and referred to the 1857 uprising as the first war for India’s independence. The right to publish the book which was banned all over the British Empire was obtained by the expatriate Indian revolutionary Madame Bhikaji Cama. The book was published in the Netherlands, Germany, and France. The book which was smuggled and circulated became greatly popular and inspired the young Indians.
Around this time, he happened to meet the 1905 Russian Revolution veteran who taught him bomb-making. Savarkar got a manual on bomb-making and various methods of guerrilla warfare printed and circulated the same amongst his friends. In 1909, Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie was assassinated while attending a public meeting by Madan Lal Dhingra, a friend and follower of Savarkar. Dhingra’s action evoked both enthusiastic admiration and condemnation. Savarkar mentioned in an article published later, that he would organize both political and legal support for Dhingra.
Dhingra was awarded death penalty and it provoked protest across India’s political and student community. Savarkar struggled to lay claim to the remains of Dhingra following his execution and hailed him not only as a hero but also as a martyr. Veer Savarkar started encouraging everyone to fight with greater intensity.
Arrests and Life in Jail
Meanwhile, in India, Ganesh Savarkar had organised an armed protest against the 1909 Morley-Minto reforms. The British government implicated Veer Savarkar for plotting the crime and he moved to the residence of Madame Cama in Paris fearing arrest. However, he was arrested in March 1910. He made a bid to escape when he was being brought to but failed and was arrested again when he was in French soil. The French government protested his arrest at Marseilles and argued that the British should follow appropriate legal procedures for his rendition. The dispute went to the Permanent Court of International Arbitration. The Court gave its decision in 1911 and said that there was no force or fraud in persuading the French to return Savarkar to the British and there is no need to hold any rendition proceedings. However, the tribunal observed that there was an “irregularity” in his arrest and handing over to the Military Police guard of the Indian Army.
On his arrival at Bombay, Veer Savarkar was shifted to Pune and lodged at the Yerwada Central Jail. The charge against Savarkar was that he abetted a murder. Following the trial, the 28-year-old Savarkar was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in jail and was later on shifted to the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as he was not given the status of a political prisoner by the British government.
Life in Andaman Cellular Jail
Though Veer Savarkar reunited with Ganesh, his brother, both of them had to struggle a lot in jail. They had to cut trees, chop wood, and work in the oil mill. They were also subjected to mistreatment and torture frequently. Contact with those at home and even others were restricted to one letter in a year. Savarkar performed the routine tasks mechanically and obtained permission to start a library in the jail. He also taught some of the fellow prisoners to read and write.
Savarkar’s application for concessions in sentences submitted on 30th August 1911 was rejected. He was also informed that the remission of the second sentence would be considered only after the first sentence (transportation for life) expired. He submitted the second mercy petition in 1913 personally to Sir Reginald Craddock, the Home Member in the council of the Governor General. In the letter, he asked for forgiveness and said that he, a prodigal son, longed to return to the government’s parental doors. He also noted that his release would enable many Indians to develop faith in the British government in India. In addition, he said that his conversion would be helpful in bringing back the misled young Indian men within the country and overseas who looked up to him as their guide. He also made clear his readiness to serve the government.
Savarkar submitted yet another mercy petition in 1917 for an amnesty for all political prisoners. The Royal Proclamation published by King-Emperor George V in 1919 envisaged clemency for political offenders. On the basis of this, he submitted the fourth mercy petition, reiterating his readiness to abide by the constitution. This petition was also rejected but the British government thought of releasing Ganesh Savarkar. In 1920, the leaders of the Indian National Congress like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Vithalbhai Patel demanded the unconditional release of Savarkar. On his part, Veer Savarkar signed a statement which endorsed his trial, verdict, and the British law and agreed to renounce violence for freedom.
In May 1921, Ganesh and Vinayak Savarkar were shifted to the jail in Ratnagiri. Later on, he was shifted to the Yerwada Central Jail again and was released finally on January 6, 1924, under rigid restrictions. He was not allowed to leave Ratnagiri District and participate in any political activities for a period of five years. Savarkar demanded a payment of Rs. 100/month as a political internee but the government agreed to pay Rs. 60/month as a stipend. However, the restrictions on activities were not dropped until the grant of provincial autonomy in 1937.
Hindu Mahasabha Leader and Hindutva
In 1937, Veer Savarkar moved to Bombay and joined Hindu Mahasabha in response to the rising popularity of Muhammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League. He was elected as the president of the Mahasabha in the same year and he served the organisation until 1943. The Indian National Congress succeeded in gaining sweeping victory in the 1937 polls. However, the conflicts between Jinnah and the Congress exacerbated the Hindu Muslim divide. Jinnah ridiculed the rule by the Congress as “Hindu Raj” and declared December 22, 1939, as the “Day of Deliverance” as far as Muslims are concerned following the en masse resignation of the Congress members protesting the announcement of the Governor General of British India about the inclusion of India into World War II. Amid worsening communal climate in the country, Savarkar’s effort to foment unity and empowerment among Hindus gained a lot of traction.
Savarkar supported the UK’s war efforts in India and criticised the Congress when the Quit India movement was launched. He also asked Hindus not to leave their posts and disobey the government. The Hindu Mahasabha condemned Gandhi’s efforts in holding talks with Jinnah. Denouncing it as appeasement, Savarkar attacked the transfer of power proposals put forward by the British. However, when the Congress ministries submitted their resignations, the Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League joined hands with other parties in order to form governments in some provinces such as Sindh, Bengal, and the North West Frontier Province.
He also started criticising the Indian National Congress for accepting the partition of India. Though he was accused of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the court acquitted him. After Savarkar’s release from the jail, he was arrested again for promoting Hindu militancy and making nationalist speeches. He was released and he agreed not to participate in political activities. Though he resumed political activism soon after the ban was lifted, his activities were limited because of ill health.
Savarkar’s wife Yamuna died in 1963. In February 1966, Savarkar renounced food, water, and medicines and started a fast until death. He termed it as atmaarpan. He died on February 26, 1966, at his Bombay residence.
Why Veer Savarkar Should Be Awarded Bharat Ratna
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is one of the most underrated persons in the history of modern India. He worked hard to restore the cultural heritage of India which was destroyed by Muslim invaders. Several revolutionaries like Madan Lal Dhingra, Ram Prasad Bismil, and Chandrasekhar Azad were inspired by the nationalistic views of Veer Savarkar.
He was an orator and a writer. He wrote a book titled “The History of the War of Indian Independence” while he was studying law in London. He was also a great thinker and he strongly believed that Khilafat movement will give rise to Islamic fascism in the country. He dreamed of a united India. Millions of Hindus also had the same dream in their hearts.
He was extremely tactical in his thinking as he knew very well that only Hindutva could unite a diverse country to focus on a single goal of united India. He strongly opposed not only untouchability but also the caste system within the Hindu society. He suffered a lot at the Cellular Jail in the Andamans but kept his morale up and inspired millions of Hindus through his nationalistic views.
The biggest irony of his life is that he was jailed even in independent India. He suffered hardships for his nationalistic views and he was jailed falsely for Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination. His home was destroyed by the fanatic cadres of the Indian National Congress after Gandhiji’s assassination.
In his book ‘Father of Hindu Nationalism’, Jaywant Joglekar eulogises Savarkar and says that his appeal for clemency while serving the life term in the Cellular Jail was a tactical ploy just like the letter written to Aurangzeb by Shivaji during his Agra arrest.
It is a fact that there was a mismatch between his views and that of the Indian National Congress, but he did work for India’s independence. He should be awarded Bharat Ratna in view of the efforts he put in to keep India united and at the same time achieve independence.
It is very unfortunate that an icon of the nation’s freedom struggle, Veer Savarkar, has been denied Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award. There are many reasons as to why he has not given the award.
As a proponent of Hindutva, he advocated Hindu unity, both politically and socially. When he was the Hindu Mahasabha president, Savarkar authorized the Hindu Rashtra idea and opposed Gandhiji’s Quit India movement. He also criticised the Indian National Congress for accepting India’s partition.
Savarkar also openly criticised Mahatma Gandhi. He called him a hypocrite and criticised him because of his appeasement of Muslims during the Khilafat Movement. In his articles published during the period 1920s to 1940s, Savarkar said that Gandhi was a naive and immature leader.
Again, during World War II, he supported the British in their war effort. On the other hand, the Congress members resigned en masse from their positions in provincial councils in protest following the inclusion of India into World War II.
The multiple mercy petitions he wrote from the jail in Andaman are also seen in a bad light by one section of people. Some people are also of the opinion that no other freedom fighter had ever begged for pardon, promising loyalty to the British government.
The Congress which came to power after India became independent largely neglected the claims for bestowing Bharat Ratna award to Veer Savarkar. This can be attributed to his criticism of the Indian National Congress and Gandhiji’s policies on various matters related to the unity of the country.
The Congress is known for insulting Savarkar during its regimes, but the situation remains the same even after Bharatiya Janata Party’s coming to power. The party, widely known to owe allegiance to Hindutva philosophy, has not paid heed to claims for bestowing the highest civilian award to Veer Savarkar. We hope that there will be a change in thinking soon and Veer Savarkar will be given the Bharat Ratna award for his struggles and contributions to secure India’s independence.