National Leaders

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is difficult to find a more firebrand star as Savarkar in the galaxy of leaders who filled the sky in the late 19th and early 20th century. After Tilak he was the first to declare, “India must be independent; India must be united; India must be a republic; India must have a common language and a common script”.

To those who were bent upon replacing Indian culture with the European one he said, “Before you destroy anything, you must know what you are going to construct in its place.” He was also the first to make a bonfire of foreign goods and clothing in Poona in 1905.

It was, of course, criticized by moderates like Gokhale. Even Gandhi who was in South Africa discarded it. But it actually ignited the spark of revolution all over India.

VINAYAK DAMODAR SAVARKAR

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

            Among all the leaders who ran the race for India’s independence, Savarkar was the only one who never deterred from the path of nation’s unity. The example of Abraham Lincoln was before him who had sacrificed his life but did not allow the USA to be divided into Northern and Southern America.

In India, all leaders members of the Executive of Indian National Congress who had relaxed in the palaces of Ahmednagar Fort agreed with the proposal of Lord Mountbatten to divide India two parts India and Pakistan on the two-nation theory. All the leaders followed the line of JawaharLal Nehru The easylive.

None of them had been tortured like Tilak and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar for six and ten years in the Mandalaya and Andaman Jail Complexes. Savarkar considered the division of India as artificial. He had once said, “We believe in a universal state embracing all mankind and wherein all men and women would be citizens working for and enjoying equally, the fruits of this earth and this sun, this land and this light which constitute the real Motherland and Fatherland of man. All other divisions and distinctions are artificial”.

Savarkar’s Birth Place

Born on MAY 28, 1883, Vinayak belonged to a distinguished scholar family. His father Damodar Savarkar was a jagirdar besides being a Sanskrit scholar.Vinayak Damodar Savarkar brought up his four children in a religious atmosphere.

He himself recited passages not only from Ramayan and Mahabharat but even Homer’s Iliad. Ballads on Shivaji’s bravery and of other Marathas was his special choice. These samskaras had a great part to play on the character of young Vinayak. He studied all the books he could lay hands upon and started writing poems when he was not even ten.

These were published in the local papers in Nasik. In 1893 when communal riots broke out in U.P. followed by those in Bombay Vinayak trained a batch of his friends to face the attack of rioters. Since his very childhood, this handsome boy had qualities of leadership.

India faced great problems in the 1890s. There was a great anger among the people for the different acts passed by the British Government. The suppression started with Arms Act and the repealing of the Ilbert Bill that had a provision for the trail of British subjects by Indian magistrates.

The differences between the moderates and the radicals had already come to the fore. Tilak had become a great force to arouse Indians from their slumber. Repression continued even when there was plague in Maharashtra. Government Celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee lavishly.

This aroused the patriotic passion of some of the young men to the extent that Chapekar brothers of Poona shot dead the British plague Commissioner Rand and also Mr. Ayerst and were hanged. The government suspected the hand of Tilak in the episode. He was arrested and jailed.

          After the death of his father and uncle in 1899 Vinayak formed a group named ‘Mitra Mela’. This group of patriotic young men secretly recruited members who would sacrifice themselves for the political independence of India. They believed to have been an armed revolt if necessary. Maharashtra had a tradition of Akharas (Centres for physical exercises).

These young men attended the akharas in Nasik. They believed that all patriots were comrades without any caste distinction. Vinayak dedicated all his poems to the motherland. In his early youth, he wrote an essay on ‘The Greatest Peshwa.’ The essay was later prescribed for the matriculation examination.

Savarkar’s Family Life

Savarkar's Family

According to the old tradition of early marriage, Vinayak too was married a few months before his matriculation examination. His wife Yamunabai was the daughter of Ramchandra Trimbak Chiplunkar, an old friend of the family. He promised to support Vinayak in University education.

Vinayak joined Fergusson College, Poona in 1902. Poona was the center of the meeting place of the trio Ranade, Gokhale and Tilak. Fergusson College itself abounded with patriots under these leaders. It was during this period that he made bonfire of British goods and was fined Rs. 10. Although many people were ready to pay the fine Vinayak Damodar Savarkar paid it himself.

Savarkar’s Inspiration

During these disturbed times,Vinayak Damodar Savarkar  left for Bombay for further studies. His radical thinking and fire oratory made him popular at public meetings. He had a very large number of young followers. Pandit Shyamji, a patriot, scholar and social reformer was greatly influenced by Tilak.

He had established India House in London. On Tilak and Paranjape’s’ insistence Pandit Shyamji Krishna Verma offered a scholarship to Vinayak to study law in London. Vinayak accepted it and went to Great Britain in 1906. His view was that “The study of law shows the vital points in the system of government and accurate base where to strike at advantage”.

Savarkar took a vow never to take up service under the British Government nor ever to accept payment from them. Savarkar had one more point in his mind. As the cream of the Indian Youth wanted to study abroad Savarkar wanted to inspire them to work for the independence of the country. He was admitted to Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London. Savarkar stayed in the India House and founded the Free India Society to recruit young men for ‘Abhinava Bharat’.

With the efforts of Vinayak, a large number of prominent young men participated in weekly meetings. They started celebrating Indian festivals and anniversaries of great men. Young men from all over Britain took part in these activities.

They gave up western ways too.Vinayak Damodar Savarkar translated the autobiography of Mazzini into Marathi. It was banned in India as it sided fiery patriotism. In 1907 the Free India Society celebrated the silver Jubilee of the first war of Independence. It resulted in Skirmishes between Britishers and Indians.

British press too condemned the revolutionaries. As Pandit Shyamji left for Paris to continue his work Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had to manage India House. To win worldwide sympathy for the cause of India Savarkar got his writings translated into Portuguese, Italian, Russian, French, and German. He was successful in his efforts. Senapati Bapat praised him for his “brilliant writing and speaking”.

In 1907 there was International Socialist Congress in Germany. Savarkar sent his message. He wrote, “The revolt of 1857 shall not stop untill the revolution is reached, tossing slavery into dust uplifting liberty to the throne.”

He had deputed Madam Bhikaji Cama to represent India in the Socialist Congress. He had also designed India’s national flag that Madam Cama unfurled while delivering a fiery speech. All the delegates stood up to salute the flag. During this period Savarkar remained in contact with the revolutionary forces of China, Russia, Egypt and Ireland to organize a United Anti-British Front to strike simultaneously.

Swadeshi was one of the most important aspects of his struggle the others were an adoption of guerilla tactics, winning over the Indian Armed Forces to strike at the right time. In 1908 he completed The History of the War of Indian Independence. It was banned before its publication. The government declared it explosive and seditious.  It was later published in France and Germany and inspired revolutionaries like Subhash and Bhagat Singh.

Savarkar a Revolutionary Leader

It was in 1908 that the real career of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as a revolutionary started. In that very year, Khudiram Bose killed two English Ladies instead of the District Magistrate. He was of course arrested and hanged. The same year Tilak was deported to Mandalay Jail on the charges of sedition. The British centered their attention on India House and Savarkar.

Madan Lal Dhingra a staunch follower of Savarkar killed Sir Wyllie of the Indian Office who was as much responsible for atrocities on Indians as Lord Curzon was. Dhingra had to reap the harvest himself. He too was hanged. But the Indian moderates condemned Dhingra’s act and held a meeting to pass a unanimous resolution against him. But a lone voice opposed the resolution it was Savarkar.

He angrily said no not unanimously. A pandemonium broke out and no resolution could be passed. That very night he wrote a letter to the London Times that although his heart bled for lady Wyllie the meeting had no right to condemn Dhingra as if it was a law court.

Before Dhingra was to face the hangman’s knot he had given a statement. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar secured a copy got it printed and sent it all over the world. It is rather worth quoting. Dhingra wrote, ‘I admit the other day I attempted to shed English blood as a humble revenge for the human hangings and deportation of a patriotic Indian Youth. Since the open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise since were denied to me, I draw forth my pistol and fired.”

Savarkar’s whole family was involved in violent actions against the British. His brother Babarao Savarkar, armed with bombs and pistols started a movement against Minto-Morley reforms. Naturally, he was arrested.

But it was rather too much he was sentenced to transportation for life and was sent to the Andamans. 1909 and 1910 were the years of turmoil for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, his friends, and his whole family. Kanhere shot dead A.M.T. Jackson the Collector of Nasik. Narayan Rao, Savarkar’s younger brother was arrested with Kanhere.

Although Savarkar had become Bar-at-law he was not allowed to practice law till he renounced politics. As India House was closed down Vinayak left his lodgings with Bipin Chandra Pal and went to Paris to be with madam Cama for further deliberations. But during Jackson murder trial Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was considered the hand behind the murder. A warrant was issued against him. He was immediately arrested and sent to Brixton Jail on March 13, 1910.

A plan was made that Savarkar would somehow reach the Marseilles shore. It was July 1, 1910, that the ship carrying Vinayak Damodar Savarkar sailed for India. He was charged with abetting murder and delivering seditious speeches and waging war against the king Emperor. Savarkar’s son had died and his two brothers were in jail. Down below the passenger cabin, Savarkar was put in a dark and stuffy area. The ship had to anchor at Marseilles for repairs. Savarkar was surrounded by ten guards.  

Still, he didn’t lose hope. In the morning he walked to the toilet. Shutting the door behind him he pulled open the toilet pothole and squeezed himself out in the sea. He tried to reach the Marseilles shore. But a guard saw him. He reached the steep end of the harbour. But the escape attempt failed. Madam Cama’s car had arrived too late. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was brought to Bombay. He was taken to Yerwada Jail.

Savarkar’s Jail Life

Savarkar was found guilty of waging war by instigation using printed matter and providing arms. He was sentenced to 25 years rigorous imprisonment. In another case of abetting the murder of Jackson, he was given another 25 years rigorous imprisonment. For the long period of 50 years, he had to remain in cellular jail Andamans.

He was bound in heavy chains and might never see his family members again. Still, his spirit was not crushed. He consoled his wife saying, “If life means rearing young ones, crows and sparrows also do the same. We have lived like men. We have extinguished the fire in our kitchen so that some day, the smoke of gold may come out of thousands of homes.”

Savarkar's Jail Life

It was the most distressing period for Savarkar’s family. All the property was confiscated and moveable possessions auctioned. He was taken to Madras by train and then shifted to the ship where he was locked up in an iron cage on the lower deck. Naturally, he suffered from despair for he was not sure if he would see his beloved motherland again.

If he had to complete his confinement he would be 77 at the time of his release. Who knows if he would survive the torments of the cellular jail. Anyway, he reached Andamans in July 1911. Now an iron plate, a blanket, and a mattress would be his only possession in a bare cell on the third floor of the most dreaded cellular jail in the world.

The life in the cellular jail was very hard. It was very hard. It was just the opposite of what the Nehru-Gandhi clan enjoyed in jails leading a luxurious life. His day of brutal labour started at 5 in the morning. He chopped trees with a heavy mallet till his hands bled. Then he was yoked to the oil mill. It was so hard a work that even the strongest of the convicts fainted. The food too was of such standard that it was difficult to consume it.

Many convicts committed suicide. But Vinayak Damodar Savarkar adjusted himself to this harsh and brutal life. He, later on, wrote “While my hands and feet are automatically doing the given task, my spirit, avoiding all detection, is out for a morning trip across the seas and oceans”. Although his brother Babarao Savarkar too was in the same jail he could not see him.

He rather, through a secret message, consoled him, “For the achievement of the final victory these sighs, sufferings, and sacrifices….. Are as necessary as is the fighting with the blare of the trumpets of glory”.

He had only one plus point that people throughout the world paid tributes to Savarkar’s bravery. Maxim Gorky condemned the harsh sentence. Lala Lajpat Rai wrote, “Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had extremely fine qualities of a leader. He was caught because he was reckless’ he never cared about his personal safety; he had the dash of the old warrior who always put himself in the post of danger”.

But all these praise and sympathy did not bring any change in the life of the cellular prisoner. He was not provided any pen or paper to give way to his ideas. Still, spirits were not down. He believed that Hindus own the land known as India. Thus he was deadly against conversation.

History tells us that since the days of the invasion of Muslims there have been conversation to Muslim religion. The tradition continued during British regime. They converted people to Christianity. The neo-converts were looked down upon by the Hindus. Naturally, they would grow as staunch anti-Hindus. When Savarkar came to know that a young Hindu boy in the jail was to be converted he took up the issue with the Superintendent. The boy’s conversion was stopped.

As in common among the Hindus even today other Hindu prisoners would not allow this low caste boy eat with them. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar always ate with the boy. With his efforts, many other prisoners too were reconverted and took Hindu names.

He defined a Hindu as ‘one who regards this land of Bharat Varsha from the Indus to the seas as his fatherland and his holy land.’ The prisoners were illiterate. He taught them how to read and write Hindi. He educated the educated ones in constitutional Law and Political Science during their contact at work.

Although everyone was making efforts for the release of Savarkar yet a storm was awaiting the life of this great Hindu in the long run. The first attempt to rescue Savarkar and others was made by revolutionaries living in Europe. They made a plan even to raid Port Blair.

A German submarine moved into the Bay of Bengal. But the British crushed the rebellion ruthlessly killing many. The first world war had already started. After the war was over there was a strong move to get the political prisoners released. Many were released. But Vinayak Damodar Savarkar brothers were considered a threat to security. They were given still harder work. In 1920 Vithalbhai Patel placed a resolution in the Central Legislative Assembly.

Tilak requested Montague, the Secretary of State for India while Gandhiji wrote for their release in Young India. He wrote that no crime was proved against Vinayak Damodar Savarkar brothers. During this period Savarkar’s letters about the brutal conditions in the Andamans were published. All this resulted not in the release of Savarkar but he was brought back to India and was placed in Ratnagiri Jail.

In Ratnagiri Jail he wrote his work Hindutva under the pen-name ‘Mahratta’. After it was smuggled out he was transferred to Yerwada Jail. During his long imprisonment, most of the Moderates had passed away. So in 1923, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding the release of Savarkar. After 13 years Savarkar was freed on January 6, 1924, on the condition that he would not leave Ratnagiri district and would not participate in any political activity for five years.

Savarkar’s Political Life

As Mahatma Gandhi did political work through the Charkha Yagna Savarkar too took up social reforms. On the other hand within 17 days from his date of release he founded the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha on January 23, 1924. It was said that it would protect India’s ancient culture and work for social welfare. But both congress leaders and the British feared that this so called non-political body may result in communal disharmony.

But contrary to all this Vinayak Damodar Savarkar stuck to his agenda of creating a casteless society. He was of the view that a casteless Hindu Society as a national majority would aim for absolute political independence. But he had to fight against Hindu Orthodoxy. Even today the same caste problem is found on the political front in an aggravated form.

On the one hand he appealed to the so called lower castes to live with self respect on the other he explained to the upper caste Hindus that no work was beneath one’s dignity. With his efforts mixed caste schools were opened, converts were reconverted, inter caste marriages were performed and temple doors in many cities were thrown open to the lowest.

At some places lower caste people even worked as priests and teachers. Savarkar gave his full support to Dr. Ambedkar’s struggle for the liberation of the lower castes.

As Vinayak Damodar Savarkar believed in one united Hindu society as a nation he wanted to have Hindi as the common language throughout the country. While he was confined to Ratnagiri he met some very important persons who were responsible for the destiny of the country in the decades to follow.

Two of them were Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Hedgewar the founder of  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He discusses national problems with all of them hardly knowing that he would be associated with the massacre of one and that his association with RSS would entail him to face the trail of Gandhi’s massacre.

As he was a voracious reader and a writer he completed his will known classic Hindu Pad Padshahi and My Transportation for life. The Government warned him that if he participated in political activities he may have to undergo the remaining 37 years imprisonment. Observing that the firebrand was not subdued restrictions on him were extended to 1937.

Savarkar's Political Life

In 1937 Savarkar again plunged into political activities. Although he joined Tilak’s Swaraj party he organised Hindu Mahasabha as a separate party. His aim was to have independence without disintegration of the country.

He considered some of the moves of Gandhi as meaningless. He did not like Jinnah being called Quaid E Azam. He also considered the advice of Gandhi to the Maharaja of Kashmir to abdicate in favour of Muslim majority as rather meaningless and insulting.

His contention was that the question of majority as to be seen as a perspective of whole of the country and not in parts. He was also of the view that all Vaishnavas, Shakti, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs were Hindus.

He just meant that the followers of religion that have sprouted in this ancient land of the Hindus are the natural citizens of this country and are responsible for the independence and unity of the nation. He never accepted the domination of the minority i.e. the Muslims or Christians or the division of the motherland. He also believed that a national army could one-day throw off the British Yoke.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar rather waged a non-violent war against the Nawab of Hyderabad in which more than 15,000 volunteers of the Hindu Sangathan were arrested and imprisoned. Although Congress controlled by pseudo secularists kept itself away the Nizam declared reforms.

Still the Muslims were gaining ground and the position of Mohammad Ali Jinnah could hardly be counteracted in Indian Politics.

Savarkar’s Role In Second World War

When Second World War was declared in 1939 and the Viceroy of India proclaimed that India was at war with Germany Savarkar challenged the claim of the Viceroy. He said while Britain held India her claim of safeguarding human freedom was baseless.

It was in 1939-40 that the confrontation between Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League was quite apparent. While Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as President of Hindu Mahasabha pleaded for a united country congress, conspicuously enough, resolved that they (the working committee) ‘could not think of compelling the people in any territorial unit to join the Indian Union against their declared and established will’.

In a way it was support for the Muslim league’s demand for separate independent states ‘in the areas in which the Muslims were numerically in a majority.

Savarkar's Role In Second World War

Savarkar, in a non-party conference stressed that even if they belonged to different ideologies, patriots should get together for a common goal. In the same conference a Provisional National Government was demanded. Now Savarkar had to fight on three fronts the British government, the Congress and the Muslim League.

When Jinnah declared that an independent group of Pakistan States was inevitable Vinayak Damodar Savarkar opposed him tooth and nail. Here he had to oppose Muslim League. He declared that “The only way for Indian Muslims to live in peace and prosperity in India was to be a part of the Indian nation on the principles of the independence and indivisibility of India.

He further said that fundamental right of freedom to worship and adopting a language would be guaranteed to all citizens alike. It was just an irony that none of his wishes were fulfilled. The country was divided on two-nation theory. The Muslims notched West Punjab and East Bengal, which were Muslim majority areas.

Congress was not a silent spectator. It accepted this division. At the government level Hindu Mahasabha Bhagalpur session was banned and Savarkar was arrested with thousands of his followers. Although Hindu Mahasabha won many seats in the local and district elections in the Hindi speaking belt the pseudo secularists stood against him and in 1945 General Elections the party was defeated. Savarkar realized that the battle for a united India was lost.

Pakistan had fast become a reality. In 1994 Savarkar had made his last effort by organising an Akhand Hindustan Leaders Conference. More than 300 leaders including Master Tara Singh and the Sankaracharya of Puri attended. But all his efforts fell flat.

The date of partition was approaching. The country faced the worst communal riots. Savarkar’s repeated exertion that partition would be economically and politically disastrous were heard no more. The British announced its decision and Lord Mountbatten; the last viceroy arrived to bifurcate the country in 1947. It was June. On july 3 Hindu Mahasabha organised an All India anti Pakistan day.

Events were running fast. Millions of people migrated from both the sides. Pakistan attacked Kashmir in October, 1947. Gandhi began a fast for peace and Muslim rights on January 13, 1948 to be assassinated only 17 days later on January 30. Nathuram Godse the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was a prominent member of the All India Committee of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Naturally Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was considered on the back of the assassination. He, together with many Mahasabha activities, was arrested. RSS was gaining ground and Nehru was apprehensive about the activities of RSS.He took an opportunity and got 80,000 RSS Swayamsevaks too arrested. All Provincial and district Pracharaks together with Sar Sangh Chalak Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar were behind the bars.

The trial against Godse, Apte and Savarkar began in Delhi’s Red Fort. It continued for a long time. In his 52-page statement Savarkar denied his involvement. It was corroborated both by Godse and Apte. On the last day of the trial Savarkar said in the court, “The fight for political independence in which, as a soldier, I too had fought, suffered and sacrificed for the last 50 years, was at last won, and a free and independence State was born.

I felt myself blessed to have survived to see my country free.” His voice was choked and he was in tears. He was honourably acquitted on February 10, 1949.

         Although Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was growing weak and old his vision was not blurred. He got the first part of his autobiography published in 1949. The second part was published in 1965. In 1958 Poona University had conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Savarkar had made certain prophecies. They started coming true and are relevant even today. The first one was the danger from China. It came true as China attacked India in 1962. His second prophecy was about Pakistan’s attack. It too came true as Pakistan attacked India in 1965. It is true even today. The border conflict with Pakistan continues.

The Kargil war can never be forgotten. The Afghan militants movements in Pakistan is a headache for India and Musharraf could hardly be relied upon. Savarkar used to say, “The best way to win a war was to carry it into enemy’s land.” It seems true even today.

In the horrifying years of 1947-48 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar found that the Constituent Assembly had abolished separate electorates based on race  and religion. Congratulating Vallabhbhai Patel he insisted upon adopting Bharat as the nation’s new name, Hindi the national language and Devanagari as the official script. This was accepted.

India became a Republic on January 26, 1950. His contention was that now the first priority should be given to creating strong defence services. The same year riots broke out in East Bengal. As Savarkar opposed it he was arrested with some other Mahasabha activists. He could realize that he was no more a chum of anyone. Still he proposed that as independence had been achieved the revolutionary phase should be replaced with an evolutionary one.

      It will always be noted in the history of the revolution for independence of the country that no one else faced as much torments and hardships as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar did. As has been said personal fame and fortune never tempted him. The adventurous life of this great son of India came to an end on February 27, 1966 when he was in his early eighties. Blessed is he for he trod on the path of ‘Karma’. He was a true Karmayogi.

Also Read :

Indian Freedom Struggle – 1857 to 1947

Dadabhai Naoroji – Grand Old Man of India

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