No. 12 March 25, 2001
People's Democracy-(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
NOT having participated in the anti imperialist freedom struggle, the RSS is hard put to it trace a legacy for their claim as the only nationalist party of India. In the countrywide door-to-door campaign a few months, ago it was forced to concoct facts and publish booklets that presented fabricated images of the participation of their leaders in the freedom struggle. VD Savarkar is, therefore "Veer" Savarkar in RSS folklore, and has been so for a long time, if one were to go by the Vidya Bharti school texts, and the popular nomenclature of VD Savarkar assiduously popularized by the RSS in its shakhas.
A few years ago the RSS had manoeuvered to have a statue of VD Savarkar erected in Marseilles in " commemoration of his anti imperialist role" in the early 20’s. Thankfully it provoked a worldwide protest campaign through letters and e-mails to the French President and Mayor of Marseilles, which resulted in the plan being sabotaged. More recently the BJP chickened out from its move to award a Bharat Ratna to the man after it became known that the President was in no mood to comply. Obviously it would have been difficult to explain why Savarkar and not, say Bhagat Singh, or the thousands of heroes who uncompromisingly sacrificed their lives for freedom of the country.
The 70th anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom, which falls on March 23, is a good occasion to lay this lie in the public mind. Bhagat Singh went to the gallows on March 23, 1931, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, on the conclusion of the Lahore Conspiracy Case, an unrepentant, uncompromising and unambiguous revolutionary till his dying day refusing his for theirs wanting to appeal for a pardon. (See box) The story of Savarkar is quite in contrast. Clearly Savarkar was no Bhagat Singh.
VD Savarkar, the RSS ideologue, in fact clearly and unambiguously broke away from India’s freedom movement and adopted a public position expressing this break
After a short flirtation with a ‘Free Indian Society’ located in England, during the course of which a member of that society killed a high ranking official in the India Office (London) and consequently had to face the British wrath, Savarkar decided to flee. He was arrested in Marseilles, put into the Andaman jail, and soon his ‘resistance’ collapsed, unable to face incarceration in jail.
Instead of fighting for Indian freedom, he prefered to secure his own freedom, under the most humiliating terms possible. Ignoring and bypassing the Indian National Congress’ demand for his unconditional release, he chose to give an undertaking which in a way was a total surrender, and which made him a public ally of the British policy of divide and rule. It also served the purpose of proving his distance from the politics of the Congress led national movement.
Savarkar had sent two mercy petitions to the colonial government from the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. The petition dated November 14, 1913, which refers also to Savarkar's earlier petition of 1911, is reprinted in R.C. Majumdar's `Penal Settlement in Andamans'. The petition assures the British regime:
``Now no man having the good of India and humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy, release me I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress.''
He further wrote:
"I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and constitution (British, added) to the best of my powers and am willing to make the reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do so in future".
A facsimile of this letter to the British authorities was published in Frontline, April 7, 1995, (p 94). The reforms he is referring to are the Montague-Chelmsford proposals of 1919 that fell far short of what the Indian nationalist leadership was demanding, and which were rejected at the time. He also accepted restrictions on his movement and residence within the Ratnagiri district, that he would not travel outside the district without permission of the government, or engage in any public or private political activities without permission. Obviously then, the only politics that he practised openly was that of the Hindu Mahasabha, which supplemented the British policy of divide and rule.
Subsequently ‘Veer’ Savarkar never participated in any anti British agitation. He busied himself with recruiting Indians for the British army. The Congress historian Pattabhi Sitaramayya recorded that " On the day of the arrests of Gandhi and his colleagues, Savarkar’s call to the Hindus was one of ‘no support to the Congress move’.
There was nothing to be surprised in this. All along he had preached the gospel of Hindutva, Hindu communalism, not Indian nationalism. In the formation of ministries in Muslim majority provinces, while the Congress [leadership] was in prison, he encouraged Hindu participation in them in different provinces on different grounds…(The History of the Indian National Congress Vol. II, pg. 512).
subscribed to the two-nation theory in its fullest sense. In his presidential
address to the Hindu Mahasabha in December 1939, Savarkar declared: "We
Hindus are a nation by ourselves ... we Hindus are marked out as an abiding
Nation by ourselves'' (see Indian Annual Register, 1939, Vol
II). Again later he reiterated, " I have no quarrel
with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations'' (Indian Annual Register, 1943, Vol II).
For the major portion of his life after making peace with the British his politics was oppositional to the Congress and the Left led movements rather than the British. As leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, he made sure that movements like the Quit India movement of 1942 passed without any participation from members of the Hindu Mahasabha or the Sanghathanists. He categorically called on the Hindus to give no support to the movement' (see Amba Prasad, The Indian Revolt of 1942).
"I issue this definite instruction that all Hindu Sanghathanists in general holding any post or position of vantage in the government services should stick to them and continue to perform their regular duties" (Quoted in Noorani, Frontline, December 1, 1995).
Under his leadership the Hindu Mahasabha also passed the resolution on August 31, 1942, asking all members to remain at their jobs.
He actively participated in the conspiracy of Gandhi’s murder, and was in fact one of the accused. He was let off only due to insufficient evidence. In his memoirs and diary of the prison days he tried to glorify his years in the prison by claiming that he contributed to the political education of the prisoners, but even the writings pertaining to those years are not bereft of communal poison. Contrary to evidence that a lot of Muslims and dalits were in jail and conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, he tried to portray the Muslims as lackeys of the British, and to say that the British used only Muslim jailors and that they were successful in using these Muslim jailors to be particularly harsh with the Hindu political prisoners. The accounts of the Andaman jail, however, expose this perfidy, even as they show that there was little veerta (bravery) in the so-called "Veer Savarkar".