Firstly, let me make a confession. I really didn’t know as much about Swantraveer Savarkar (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, 1883-1966) as I ought to. Having lived in Mumbai briefly, I knew of course that the old Cadell Road in Mumbai had been re-named Veer Savarkar Marg. I had no idea he had died just a few years before my time there.
I had heard of course about his long years of imprisonment by the British in the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, there was much about his life and career that I did not know.
I must thank Rahul Gandhi for kindling the interest in me to know more about Savarkar. Some months ago, in a public address the former President of the Indian National Congress and a known RSS( Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) baiter mocked Savarkar saying that he would never apologize for his speeches as his name was Rahul Gandhi and not Rahul Savarkar. I knew this was a dig at Savarkar, the veteran politician and former President of the Hindu Mahasabha. Rahul Gandhi was alluding to allegations popularized by the Congress Party that Savarkar apologized to the British to be released from jail. The author and historian Vikram Sampath in this article says, ” As a historian, I find it disturbing when national heroes are vilified for petty political ends.”
A search in the Internet Archives led me to “Savarkar and His Times”by Padma Bhushan Dhananjay Keer, published in 1950. I read this with great interest recently.
Unlike many other intellectuals of his time, Savarkar did not hesitate to almost literally break the shackles when he was first arrested. He had finished his studies in law in England and become an important and popular figure in the Indian student movement there. He was arrested in 1910 for a case against the British and deported to India but escaped from his ship when it docked in Marseilles in France. He was re-arrested and sent as a punishment to the Cellular Jail in 1911 with a sentence of 50 years imprisonment!
He was born in a family of Chitpavan Brahmins ( the same community that gave India freedom fighters like Nana Saheb and Lokmanya Tilak) from the Konkan region of what is now Maharashtra. He was released from prison in 1924 and moved to Ratnagiri where he carried our various social reforms. He later became President of The Hindu Mahasabha, a post he held for many years till he gave it up due to ill health in 1942.
Keer’s book throws light on Savarkar’s early years, and his being an articulate and accomplished orator. It speaks of his passion for independence though the path he chose was different from the one adopted by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. It covers how he and Gandhi took different routes to reach the same goal of Independence from the British. Had he continued as the President of The Hindu Mahasabha, he may have been able to influence events leadings to the Independence of India from the British much more. His absence left the field open for the Congress to decide on matters like splitting India on religious lines, the Partition of India etc.
It is inevitable that Savarkar came under a lot of criticism as the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 were members of The Hindu Mahasabha. However, subsequently the courts cleared him of any involvement in this crime.
Keer’s book is worth reading though it was written decades ago. It details the life, times and philosophy of someone whose story was not well known until fairly recently. You may or may not agree with his views, but the reader will recognize that Veer Savarkar was a strong patriot and servant of India.