Few personalities have eluded historins as much as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has. A fervid patriot, staunch rationalist, the fountainhead of hindutva, an original thinker, author and a poet, an alleged atheist and the greatest opponent of gandhian ideology, he remains hard to grasp or to put into any well-demarcated category. His thoughts and deeds are largely unknown to the modern India; thanks to the unwillingness of successive governments to expose young minds to any thought process contrary to their own. But no amount of imposed bleakness can conceal the truth. Truth is what this article seeks to unveil.
Vinayakrao Savarkar was born on 28 May 1883. His father-Damodarpant had three sons; Ganesh was the eldest, Vinayak was his second son and Narayana was the youngest of the three. These three brothers, known popularly as Savarkar brothers, played a pivotal role in Indian Freedom struggle, suffered immesnse hardships, yet stood strong for the cause of the nation. Of these three, it was Vinayak who etched his name deepest on the pages of history.
He owed his patriotic and poetic inclinations to his father who used to recite him stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana, tales of valour of heroes like shivaji and Maharana Pratap as well as the compositions of all famous Marathi poets. At the age of 10 this young lad was writing poetries which used to surprise his father and teachers beyond limit. While he was only 12, he got his first poem ‘swadesh ki phatkar’ published in ‘Jagat hitecchu’. He employed all the poetic metres in Marathi of ovi, phatka and arya styles, his favourite being moropant’s Arya metre.[ref]
Vinayak was also a voracious reader since childhood. From translations of the Mahabharata, editions of Kesari newspaper, monthly nibandhmala by vishnushastri chiplunkar, monthly journal titled saddharmdeep and homer’s Iliad to Marathi poetry of several stalwart poets such as moropant and vaman, Vinayak ravenously devoured all the books. He had also read ‘A short history of the world’. And, all of this even before he was eleven.
He was always the leader of the pack, the domineering child who loved public attention and adulation. Fond of being pampered and ‘honoured’ as the ‘little jagirdar of Bhagur’, he would sit amid his ‘subjects’ and enact mock courts with them. He never was an isolated bookworm but induced his childhood friends as well, who were mostly from poor backgrounds and so called lower castes, to share his knowledge. They were all witnesses to the fierce patriot and a capable leader taking form in their talented friend Vinayak.[ref]
At that time, socio-political situation in Maharashtra was under grave turmoil with Hindu Muslim riots being a daily affair. Vinayak, who was conscious of all these developments, used to feel humiliated when he heard of temples being desecrated or Hindus killed. As revenge, he organised an ‘army’ of 10-12 boys of his age, and attacked a deserted mosque near his village, displacing some bricks of it. Strife between his army and some Muslim boys followed, Hindu side emerging victorious. However these childhood experiences impressed it upon his tender mind how unorganised, and disunited Hindu community was and how easy it was to subjugate them. Vinayak decided to establish a military training school of sorts to instil a sense of discipline, rigour and commitment among his group.
Having lost his mother at the age of 9, he found solace in the shadow of the eight handed goddess Ashtabhuja Bhawani whose idol was installed in their house. He used to sit in front of it, meditating for hours, talking and chanting hymns, almost losing all the attachment with the material world. He had read that Durga was the patronizing deity of Shivaji- his ideal. To her he would relate as to mother all his boyish hopes and regrets, invoke her assistance in his dreamy scheme of waging terrible wars for the liberation of his land his race. While still a child, Vinayak composed hundreds of couplets in praise of Maa Durga.[ref]
There came a time when even his father, who had himself sown the seeds of patriotism in his son, became worried by his intense emotional attachment to the idea at such a tender age. His constant talk of murdering the British, his sleepless nights that followed the hanging of Chapekar brothers, restless behaviour and pensive mood all troubled Damodar. He tried to soothe him, asked him to postpone his revolutionary ideas until he becomes a man and wise enough to decide for himself, but Vinayak had taken a vow in front of Bhawani and his resolve was not to be changed. His father’s sermon had just one effect- Vinayak became secretive.
Following the demise of Damodarpant, the family moved to Nasik. Here, the revolutionary in him found ample space to spread his wings. He established a secret society- ‘mitra mela’ on the lines of European secret societies. In the narrow lanes of Tibhandeshwar, Nasik, India’s first organised revolutionary secret organisation was thus born.
In as early as 1900, when pleadings and petitions was the language of congress and even extremists like Tilak preferred to keep the exact meaning of swaraj ambiguous, this 16 year old lad thundered in shivaji festival of Nasik- “depending on circumstances our means might change, but our end is non-negotiable and that is total and complete freedom for our motherland.” [ref]
By the time Vinayak completed grade six and got into high school, he had acquainted himself with the international histories of various kingdoms of the past and read all the Marathi books available at that time in the Nasik library. Vinayak had made a list of nearly twenty to thirty books that all members of the Mitra Mela had to read so that they were intellectually aware about world history, heroes such as Napoleon, Mazzini, Vivekananda and others, and events related to revolutions across the world. Alongside intellectual enrichment, exercise and physical fitness were a compulsory part of the regimen for mitra mela members.
On 24 January 1902, Vinayak enrolled at the prestigious Fergusson College, Poona for a major in arts. Savarkar’s original thinking, his deep knowledge, his bold opinions, fiery oratorical skills and his magnetic personality attracted a large group of students around him who formed the ‘savarkar group’. While their fellow students indulged in the enjoyments of college life, these young patriots- Shrikrishna Paranjpe, H.B. Bhide, Vishwanath Tilak and Antrolikar Maholkar among many others- sat in the Shiva temple nearby and deliberated upon the political condition of India and the world, and took vows to liberate the motherland from clutches of slavery.
In 1904, a council for all the branches of mitra mela which were spread all over Maharashtra was called for. Here, Vinayak proposed a new name for the society- Abhinav Bharat. Vinayak, by this time had gained an ideational maturity and clarity of thought. In the weekly meetings of Abhinav Bharat, he eloquently spoke about his strategy and philosophy of revolution. He spoke, in one such meeting- “the excess of hyper-nationalism is as dangerous as the complete lack of it. Our testing stone should be Utilitarianism- the maximum good to the maximum number of people.”[ref]
Year 1905 marked the beginning of a country wide agitation against British policies, sparked by Curzon’s partition of Bengal plan. Whole country rose in opposition to this malicious attempt of British for creating dissension among Hindus and Muslims. As a symbol of resistance, Vinayak floated the idea of creating a mass bonfire of foreign clothes. Almost all the leaders, including Tilak were initially suspicious, but Savarkar and his comrades substantiated the seemingly impossibly idea into a huge success. Inspired by his speeches, many groups in Poona came forward to express solidarity. That year’s dussehera festival witnessed the first mass bonfire of foreign goods which later became a symbol of resistance against tyranny and used throughout the course of Indian freedom struggle.
Vinayak had to pay a price for his fearless love for the nation- he was rusticated from the college. This earned him the twin honour of being the first Indian leader to have organised a mass bonfire of foreign goods, and also the first Indian student to be rusticated from college on the grounds of patriotism.[ref]
Sojourn in London
After being offered a scholarship by Shyamji Krishna verma, an Indian revolutionary based in London who founded the Indian home rule society and India house ( a lodging for students from India ), Savarkar moved to England to pursue law. However his real motive, as he revealed in his farewell speech delivered in Nasik was twofold- firstly to contact the Indian students studying in foreign who represented the wealthiest or the most gifted and energetic element in the Indian Nation, and to initiate them into the revolutionary cause. Secondly, to learn the methods and means of Russian and Irish secret societies, especially the art of bomb making; and procuring arms and ammunition for Indian revolutionaries.[ref]
Ink- his deadliest weapon
He left the Indian shore on 9 June 1906 on the ship S.S. Persia and reached London on 3 July 1906. Even in this short journey of less than a month, he had managed to awe many fellow travellers by his ideas and made them the members of Abhinav Bharat. Within two and a half months of his arrival, he translated the autobiography of Mazzini – ‘life and writings of Joseph Mazzini’ into Marathi. He also added a preface to demonstrate the parallels between India and Italy, and how Mazzini’s strategy could be customised and followed by Indian revolutionaries. Indian press gave the book a wide acclaim. Within months the first edition was sold out. Threatened by its massive popularity, government banned the book within a year of its publication.
Savarkar, relentless enthusiast that he was, now embarked upon a new project- an account of uprising of 1857. After extensive research he finished his work- the Indian war of independence of 1857, originally written in Marathi (translated to English under supervision of V.V.S. Aiyar). He was the first Indian leader who dared to call this revolt a ‘war of independence.’ This book lifted the revolutionaries of 1857 from the denigrated ranks of murderers and mutineers and placed them on the exalted pedestal of martyrs. The motive behind writing this book was to instil a burning desire among his countrymen to wage a well planned struggle against foreign rule. Vinayak used to narrate selected chapters of the book in the weekly meetings of India House. British authorities got a scent of the extremely flammable content of the book when a few chapters of the book were smuggled out of the India house by a mole. Not taking any chance, they banned the book even before it was published. It thus became the first book to be proscribed before publication.
The book could be published neither in France nor in India. It was later published in Holland and its copies smuggled to various nations. Lord Minto had written to British intelligence on 14 December 1908- “I hope we can stop Savarkar’s book on mutiny from entering India.” But alas he couldn’t! Revolutionaries found ingenious methods for having book smuggled to India. The copies of it were wrapped in artistic covers printed with names like ‘The Posthumous papers of Pickwick club”, Scott’s works, and don Quixote. For decades to come, the book remained an inextinguishable source of inspiration for revolutionaries, influencing an array of zealot patriots from Bhagat Singh to Rash Bihari Bose and Subhash Chandra Bose.
Subbarao, editor of Goshthi, while comparing the revolt of 1857 with the efforts of Subhash Bose’s Azad Hind Fauz, made a significant observation-
“True, both the 1857 and 1943 ‘wars’ have ended in failure for our country. But the motive behind- was it mutineering or war of independence? If Savarkar had not intervened between 1857 and 1943, I am sure that the recent efforts of the Indian National Army would have been dubbed as an ignoble mutiny effectively crushed by the valiant British-cum-Congress arms and armlessness. But, thanks to Savarkar’s book, Indian sense of ‘mutiny’ has been itself revolutionised. Not even Lord Wavell, i suppose can now call Bose’s efforts as a mutiny. The chief credit for the change of values must go to Savarkar.” (Free Hindusthan, Special, 28th May, 1946)[ref]
Making a mark on international plane
Vinayak had also made successful attempts for garnering international support for the Indian cause. He inspired Madam Cama and Sardar Singh Rana to attend the International Socialist Congress being held in Stuttgart in Germany in august 1907 to enlist the support of powerful working- class movements and other socialist parties from across the world. He also designed the one of the earliest flags conceptualised for free India with three horizontal stripes of green, saffron and red and Vande Mataram embroidered in centre. Top section had eight stars in a row, and middle one had the sun on the left and moon on right- symbolising different faiths and provinces of India. On 18th of august, 1907, Madam Bhikaji Cama made history by proudly unfurling this “flag of Indian Independence...sanctified by the blood of martyred Indian youth,” in international socialist congress.[ref]
Savarkar met leaders like Mustafa Kamal Pasha and Lenin. His plan was to organize all the anti-British disaffected nations of the world and link together the Irish, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and Turkish revolutionist societies of the world with a view to prepare for a simultaneous rising. For propagation of his ideas, he got articles written and translated into German, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Russian papers besides him himself writing to Irish and other papers conducted in English.
Emily brown states- “Savarkar had gained a valuable support from students and sympathizers in the United States and most of the European countries. The extent and importance of this international propaganda, which had its focal point at India House, was not fully realized by either the Indians or the British until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.”[ref]
With the efforts of Vinayak and his zealous compatriots such as Lala Hardayal in America, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in Germany and Madam Cama and Shyamji Verma in France to name a few, independence of India became an international issue. So much so that in the famous letter formulated by the Kaiser in reply to the demands of President Wilson, the question of complete Political Independence of India was openly and authoritatively broached as one of the indispensable conditions of world peace.[ref]
Thus Vinayak simultaneously worked on three fronts- tilting the world opinion in favour of Indian Independence, procuring the arms for Indian revolutionaries and smuggling them back to India, and building a strong intellectual case in favour of an armed revolution against British tyranny.
The martyrdom of Dhingra
British were not slow in recognising the grave threat that Vinayak and his associates posed to their presence in India. Detectives started tailing them wherever they went, making it impossible for them to find even a place to stay. Celebrations of silver jubilee of revolt of 1857 and Guru Govind singh Jayanti, and Vinayak’s fiery speeches on these occasions had alarmed British press and authorities alike. It was in such a scenario that one young patriot, taking inspiration from savarkar, committed an act of incomparable valour and etched his name on the pages of history forever by sacrificing his life on the altar of Bharatvarsha. He was Madan Lal Dhingra, who murdered Curzon Willie in the very heart of England- London.
But irony, that when even British were compelled to bow their heads in admiration on this act of supreme sacrifice for nation, when even Churchill hailed his last words as “finest ever made in the name of patriotism,” the very Indians for whom he died selflessly were the first to abandon him. His family broke all connections with him, his father and brothers openly repudiated him, Gandhi called him a ‘coward’ and in a meeting held on 6 July and attended by leaders such as Surendranath Banerjie and Agha Khan, a resolution was moved to demean him. There was just a single person in that motley crowd of ‘patriots’ who opposed it and stood up for that brave son of Maa Bharati- he was Savarkar. One English man there gave him a blow on his forehead. His eye was injured and he started bleeding but still remained calm and resolute, while the meeting ended in commotion. The last speech of Dhingra, which the police had denied to publish, was smuggled out of the prison and got published in newspapers under the title- Challenge. Dhingra was hanged but left behind him a blazing trail which guided myriads of martyrs.[ref]
This and hundreds of such events which were happening in all parts of India- compelled British government to kneel and adopt a conciliatory tone which was manifested in Morley- Minto reforms of 1909. Even Gandhi had to admit that the ‘fear of gunpowder’ was what forced Morley to grant the reforms rapidly.[ref]
Brief residence in Paris-
This event shook the British to the core. All hell broke loose. Arrest warrant was issued against Savarkar, who was known to be the master mind behind each and every revolutionary activity, and British officers were hell-bent on hunting him down somehow. Savarkar thought it prudent to move to Paris where Shyamji and Madam Cama were already residing. While in Paris, he received the news that his 17 year old brother- Narayan was arrested in Nasik Conspiracy Case. His elder brother had already been sentenced a life imprisonment in Andaman. The thought of those who inspired by him were now serving rigorous punishments, going through un-imaginable sufferings and even kissing the gallows for the cause of nation, while he was wandering in the splendid streets of Paris, weighed down on his heart heavily and against all the misgivings, he decided to go back to London in the open battle field, in a desperate attempt of soothing his stinging conscience. This decision proved fatal and all the fears came true. The moment he sat his foot on the Victoria station, London, he was arrested. The formalities of court happened, piles of charges were put up against him and finally, he was ordered to be sent back to India where the punishments for sedition were much more severe than Britain- either life imprisonment in notorious Cellular jail of Andaman and forfeiture of property or death.