Vināyak Dāmodar Sāvarkar (Marathi: विनायक दामोदर सावरकर), was an Indian freedom fighter, revolutionary and politician. He was the proponent of liberty as the ultimate ideal. Savarkar was a poet, writer and playwright. He launched a movement for religious reform advocating dismantling the system of caste in Hindu culture, and reconversion of the converted Hindus back to Hindu religion. Savarkar created the term Hindutva, and emphasized its distinctiveness from Hinduism which he associated with social and political disunity. Savarkar’s Hindutva sought to create an inclusive collective identity. The five elements of Savarkar's philosophy were Utilitarianism, Rationalism and Positivism, Humanism and Universalism, Pragmatism and Realism.
Savarkar's revolutionary activities began when studying in India and England, where he was associated with the India House and founded student societies including Abhinav Bharat Society and the Free India Society, as well as publications espousing the cause of complete Indian independence by revolutionary means. Savarkar published The Indian War of Independence about the Indian rebellion of 1857 that was banned by British authorities. He was arrested in 1910 for his connections with the revolutionary group India House. Following a failed attempt to escape while being transported from Marseilles, Savarkar was sentenced to two life terms amounting to 50 years' imprisonment and moved to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
While in jail, Savarkar wrote the work describing Hindutva, openly espousing Hindu nationalism. He was released in 1921 under restrictions after signing a plea for clemency in which he renounced revolutionary activities. Travelling widely, Savarkar became a forceful orator and writer, advocating Hindu political and social unity. Serving as the president of the Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar endorsed the ideal of India as a Hindu Rashtra and opposed the Quit India struggle in 1942, calling it a "Quit India but keep your army" movement. He became a fierce critic of the Indian National Congress and its acceptance of India's partition, and was one of those accused in the assassination of Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was acquitted as the charges could not be proven.
The airport at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar's capital, has been named Veer Savarkar International Airport. The commemorative blue plaque on India House fixed by the Historic Building and Monuments Commission for England reads "Vinayak Damodar Savarkar 1883-1966 Indian patriot and philosopher lived here".
Vinayak was born in the family of Damodar and Radhabai Savarkar in the village of Bhagur, near the city of Nasik, Maharashtra. He had three other siblings namely Ganesh, Narayan, and a sister named Mainabai.
After death of parents the eldest sibling Ganesh, known as Babarao, took responsibility of the family. Babarao played a supportive and influential role in Vinayak's teenage life. During this period, Vinayak organised a youth group called Mitra Mela (Band of Friends) and encouraged revolutionary and nationalist views of passion using this group. In 1901, Vinayak Savarkar married Yamunabai, daughter of Ramchandra Triambak Chiplunkar, who supported his university education. Subsequently in 1902, he enrolled in Fergusson College, in Pune (then Poona). As a young man, he was inspired by the new generation of radical political leaders namely Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai along with the political struggle against the partition of Bengal and the rising Swadeshi campaign. He was involved in various nationalist activities at various levels. In 1905, during Dussehra festivities Vinayak organised setting up of a bonfire of foreign goods and clothes. Along with his fellow students and friends he formed a political outfit called Abhinav Bharat. Vinayak was soon expelled from college due to his activities but was still permitted to take his Bachelor of Arts degree examinations. After completing his degree, nationalist activist Shyam Krishnavarma helped Vinayak to go to England to study law, on a scholarship. It was during this period that Garam Dal, (literally translated as Hot Faction) was formed under the leadership of Tilak, due to the split of Indian National Congress. The members of Garam Dal, did not acknowledge the moderate Indian National Congress leadership agenda which advocated dialogue and reconciliation with the British Raj. Tilak advocated the philosophy of Swaraj and was soon imprisoned for his support of revolutionary activities.
Activities at India House
After his joining Gray's Inn law college in London Vinayak took accommodation at Bharat Bhawan India House. Organised by expatriate social and political activist Pandit Shyamji, India House was a thriving centre for student political activities. Savarkar soon founded the Free India Society to help organise fellow Indian students with the goal of fighting for complete independence through a revolution, declaring,
“We must stop complaining about this British officer or that officer, this law or that law. There would be no end to that. Our movement must not be limited to being against any particular law, but it must be for acquiring the authority to make laws itself. In other words, we want absolute independence”
Savarkar envisioned a guerrilla war for independence along the lines of the famous armed uprising of 1857. Studying the history of the revolt, from English as well as Indian sources, Savarkar wrote the book, The History of the War of Indian Independence. He analyzed the circumstances of 1857 uprising and assailed British rule in India as unjust and oppressive. It was via this book that Savarkar became one of the first writers to allude the uprising as India's "First War for Independence." The book was banned from publication throughout the British Empire. Madame Bhikaji Cama, and expatriate Indian revolutionary obtained its publication in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Widely smuggled and circulated, the book attained great popularity and influenced rising young Indians, savarkar was studying revolutionary methods and he came into contact with a veteran of the Russian Revolution of 1905, who imparted him the knowledge of bomb-making. Savarkar had printed and circulated a manual amongst his friends, on bomb-making and other methods of guerrilla warfare. In 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, a keen follower and friend of Savarkar, assassinated British MP Sir Curzon Wylie in a public meeting. Dhingra's action provoked controversy across Britain and India, evoking enthusiastic admiration as well as condemnation. Savarkar published an article in which he all but endorsed the murder and worked to organise support, both political and for Dhingra's legal defence. At a meeting of Indians called for a condemnation of Dhingra's deed, Savarkar protested the intention of condemnation and was drawn into a hot debate and angry scuffle with other attendants. A secretive and restricted trial and a sentence awarding the death penalty to Dhingra provoked an outcry and protest across the Indian student and political community. Strongly protesting the verdict, Savarkar struggled with British authorities in laying claim to Dhingra's remains following his execution. Savarkar hailed Dhingra as a hero and martyr, and began encouraging revolution with greater intensity.
Arrest in London and in Marseilles
In India, Ganesh Savarkar had organised an armed revolt against the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909. The British police implicated Savarkar in the investigation for allegedly plotting the crime. Hoping to evade arrest, Savarkar moved to Madame Cama's home in Paris. He was nevertheless arrested by police on March 13, 1910. In the final days of freedom, Savarkar wrote letters to a close friend planning his escape. Knowing that he would most likely be shipped to India, Savarkar asked his friend to keep track of which ship and route he would be taken through. When the ship S.S. Morea reached the port of Marseilles on July 8, 1910, Savarkar escaped from his cell through a porthole and dived into the water, swimming to the shore in the hope that his friend would be there to receive him in a car. But his friend was late in arriving, and the alarm having been raised, Savarkar was re-arrested.
Savarkar's arrest at Marseilles caused the French government to protest to the British, which argued that the British could only recover Savarkar if they took appropriate legal proceedings for his rendition. This dispute came before the Permanent Court of International Arbitration in 1910, and it gave its decision in 1911. The case excited much controversy as was reported by the New York Times, and it considered it involved an interesting international question of the right of asylum. The Court held, firstly, that since there was a pattern of collaboration between the two countries regarding the possibility of Savarkar's escape in Marseilles and since there was neither force nor fraud in inducing the French authorities to return Savarkar to them, the British authorities did not have to hand him back to the French in order for the latter to hold rendition proceedings. On the other hand, the tribunal also observed that there had been an "irregularity" in Savarkar's arrest and delivery over to the Indian Army Military Police guard.
Trial and Andaman
Arriving in Bombay (colonial name of Mumbai), he was taken to the Yervada Central Jail in Pune. Following a trial, Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment and transported on July 4, 1911 to the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
His fellow captives included many political prisoners, who were forced to perform hard labour for many years. Reunited with his brother Ganesh, the Savarkars nevertheless struggled in the harsh environment. Forced to arise at 5 am, tasks including cutting trees and chopping wood, and working at the oil mill under regimental strictness, with talking amidst prisoners strictly prohibited during mealtime. Prisoners were subject to frequent mistreatment and torture. Contact with the outside world and home was restricted to the writing and mailing of one letter a year. In these years, Savarkar withdrew within himself and performed his routine tasks mechanically. Obtaining permission to start a rudimentary jail library, Savarkar would also teach some fellow convicts to read and write.
Savarkar appealed for clemency in 1911 and again during Sir Reginald Craddock's visit in 1913, citing poor health in the oppressive conditions. In 1920, the Indian National Congress and leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vithalbhai Patel and Bal Gangadhar Tilak demanded his unconditional release. Savarkar tactically signed a statement endorsing the trial, verdict and British law, and renouncing violence, a bargain for freedom.,
“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 to the best of my powers and I am willing to make the [1919 Montague-Chelmsford Reforms] a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in future ”
Savarkar appealed for clemency within a year of his reaching the Andamans. In one of his communications, he says,
“...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.... Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. ”
On May 2, 1921, the Savarkar brothers were moved to a jail in Ratnagiri, and later to the Yeravda Central Jail. He was finally released on January 6, 1924 under stringent restrictions – he was not to leave Ratnagiri District and was to refrain from political activities for the next five years. However, police restrictions on his activities would not be dropped until provincial autonomy was granted in 1937.
Joglekar considers Savarkar's appeal for clemency a tactical ploy, like Shivaji's letter to Aurangzeb, during his arrest at Agra, Vladimir Lenin's travel by sealed train through Germany as a part of a deal with Germany and Joseph Stalin's pact with Adolf Hitler.
During his incarceration, Savarkar's views began turning increasingly towards Hindu cultural and political nationalism, and the next phase of his life remained dedicated to this cause. In the brief period he spent at the Ratnagiri jail, Savarkar wrote his ideological treatise – Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?. Smuggled out of the prison, it was published by Savarkar's supporters under his alias "Maharatta." In this work, Savarkar promotes a radical new vision of Hindu social and political consciousness. Savarkar began describing a "Hindu" as a patriotic inhabitant of Bharatavarsha, venturing beyond a religious identity. While emphasising the need for patriotic and social unity of all Hindu communities, he described Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism as one and same. He outlined his vision of a "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu Nation) as "Akhand Bharat" (United India), purportedly stretching across the entire Indian subcontinent. He defined the Hindu race as neither Aryan, Kolarian or Dravidian but as
“that People who live as children of a comman motherland, adoring a common holyland”
Scholars, historians and Indian politicians have been divided in their interpretation of Savarkar's ideas. A self-described atheist, Savarkar regards being Hindu as a cultural and political identity. While often stressing social and community unity between Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, Savarkar's notions of loyalty to the fatherland are seen as an implicit criticism of Muslims and Christians who regard Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem as their holiest places. Savarkar openly assailed what he saw as Muslim political separatism, arguing that the loyalty of many Muslims was conflicted. After his release, from jail on 6 January 1924 Savarkar help found the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha, aiming to work for the social and cultural preservation of Hindu heritage and civilisation. Becoming a frequent and forceful orator, Sarvakar agitated for the use of Hindi as a common national language and against caste discrimination and untouchability. Focusing his energies on writing, Savarkar authored the Hindu Pad-pada-shahi – a book documenting and extolling the Maratha empire – and My Transportation for Life – an account of his early revolutionary days, arrest, trial and incarcertaion. He also wrote and published a collection of poems, plays and novels. Another activity he started was to reconvert to Hinduism those who had converted to other faiths.He also wrote a book named 'Majhi Janmathep'(Meaning My Lifeterm) about his experience in Andaman prison.
Leader of the Hindu Mahasabha
In the wake of the rising popularity of the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Savarkar and his party began gaining attraction in the national political environment. Savarkar moved to Mumbai and was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, and would serve until 1943. The Congress swept the polls in 1937 but conflicts between the Congress and Jinnah would exacerbate Hindu-Muslim political divisions. Jinnah derided Congress rule as a "Hindu Raj", and hailed December 22, 1939 as a "Day of Deliverance" for Muslims when the Congress resigned en masse in protest of India's arbitrary inclusion into World War II. Savarkar's message of Hindu unity and empowerment gained increasing popularity amidst the worsening communal climate.
Savarkar as president of the Hindu Mahasabha, during the Second World War, advanced the slogan "Hinduize all Politics and Militarize Hindudom", he decided to support the British war effort in India seeking military training for the Hindus. When the Congress launched the Quit India movement in 1942, Savarkar criticised it and asked Hindus to stay active in the war effort and not disobey the government, he urged the Hindus to enlist in the armed forces in order to learn the "arts of war". Under his leadership, the Mahasabha won several seats in the central and provincial legislatures, but its overall popularity and influence remained politicians. Hindu Mahasabha activists protested Gandhi's initiative to hold talks with Jinnah in 1944, which Savarkar denounced as "appeasement." He assailed the British proposals for transfer of power, attacking both the Congress and the British for making concessions to Muslim separatists. Soon after Independence, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee resigned as Vice-President of the Hindu Mahasabha dissociating himself from its Akhand Hindustan plank, which implied undoing partition.
Opposition to the Partition of India
The Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution in 1940, calling for a separate Muslim state based on the Two-Nation Theory, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar summaries Savarkar's position, in his Pakistan or The Partition of India as follows,
“Mr. Savarkar... insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution;... In the struggle for political power between the two nations the rule of the game which Mr. Savarkar prescribes is to be one man one vote, be the man Hindu or Muslim. In his scheme a Muslim is to have no advantage which a Hindu does not have. Minority is to be no justification for privilege and majority is to be no ground for penalty. The State will guarantee the Muslims any defined measure of political power in the form of Muslim religion and Muslim culture. But the State will not guarantee secured seats in the Legislature or in the Administration and, if such guarantee is insisted upon by the Muslims, such guaranteed quota is not to exceed their proportion to the general population.”
Support for Jewish state in Palestine
Savarkar in a statement issued on 19 December 1947, expressed joy at the recognition of the claim of Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish state, and likened the event to the glorious day on which Moses led them out of Egyptian bondage. He considered that justice demanded restoration of entire Palestine to the Jews, their historical holy land and Fatherland. He regretted India's vote at the United Nations Organisation against the creation of the Jewish state terming the vote a policy of appeasement of Muslims.
Veer Savarkar wrote more than 10,000 pages in the Marathi language. His literary works in Marathi include "Kamala", "Mazi Janmathep" (My Life Sentence), and most famously "1857 - The First War of Independence", about what the British referred to as the Sepoy Mutiny. Savarkar popularised the term 'First War of Independence'. Another noted book was "Kale Pani" (similar to Life Sentence, but on the island prison on the Andamans), which reflected the treatment of Indian freedom fighters by the British. In order to counter the then accepted view that India's history was a saga of continuous defeat, he wrote an inspirational historical work, "Saha Soneri Pane" (Six Golden Pages), recounting some of the Golden periods of Indian history. At the same time, religious divisions in India were beginning to fissure. He described what he saw as the atrocities of British and Muslims on Hindu residents in Kerala, in the book, "Mopalyanche Band" (Muslims' Strike) and also "Gandhi Gondhal" (Gandhi's Confusion), a political critique of Gandhi's politics. Savarkar, by now, had become a committed and persuasive critic of the Gandhi-an vision of India's future.
He is also the author of poems like "Sagara pran talmalala" (O Great Sea, my heart aches for the motherland), and "Jayostute" (written in praise of freedom), one of the most moving, inspiring and patriotic works in Marathi literature. When in the Cellular jail, Savarkar was denied pen and paper. He composed and wrote his poems on the prison walls with thorns and pebbles, memorised thousands lines of his poetry for years till other prisoners returning home brought them to India. Savarkar is credited with several popular neologisms in Marathi and Hindi, like "Hutatma"(Martyr),"Mahapaur" ( Mayor),Digdarshak (leader or director, one who points in the right direction), Shatkar (a score of six runs in cricket), Saptahik (weekly), Sansad (Parliament), "doordhwani" ("telephone"), "tanklekhan" ("typewriting") among others.
He chaired Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in 1938.
Arrest and acquittal in Gandhi's assassination
Following the assassination of Gandhi on January 30, 1948, police arrested the assassin Nathuram Godse and his alleged accomplices and conspirators. He was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS's Swayansevak an organisation started by among others Pundit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai. Godse was the editor of Agrani - Hindu Rashtra a Marathi daily from Pune which was run by a company "The Hindu Rashtra Prakashan Ltd." This company had contributions from such eminent persons as Gulabchand Hirachand, Bhalji Pendharkar and Jugalkishore Birla. Savarkar had invested 15000 in the company. Savarkar a former president of the Hindu Mahasabha, was arrested on 5 February 1948, from his house in Shivaji Park, and kept under detention in the Arthur Road Prison, Mumbai. He was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder and abetment to murder. A day before his arrest, Savarkar in a public written statement, as reported in The Times of India", Mumbai dated 7 February 1948, termed Gandhi's assassination a fratricidal crime, endangering India's existence as a nascent nation.
The Approver's Testimony
Godse claimed full responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack, However according to Badge the approver, on 17 January 1948, Nathuram Godse went to have a last darshan of Savarkar in Bombay before the assassination. While Badge and Shankar waited outside, Nathuram and Apte went in. On coming out Apte told Badge that Savarkar blessed them "Yashasvi houn ya" ("यशस्वी होऊन या", be successful and return). Apte also said that Savarkar predicted that Gandhi's 100 years were over and there was no doubt that the task would be successfully finished. However Badge's testimony was not accepted as the approver's evidence lacked independent corroboration and hence Savarkar was acquitted.
On November 12, 1964, a religious programme was organised in Pune, to celebrate the release of the Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa, Vishnu Karkare from jail after the expiry of their sentences. Dr. G. V. Ketkar, grandson of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, former editor of Kesari and then editor of Tarun Bharat, who presided over the function, revealed gave information of a conspiracy to kill Gandhi, about which he professed knowledge, six months before the act. Ketkar was arrested. A public furore ensued both outside and inside the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and both houses of the Indian parliament. Under pressure of 29 members of parliament and public opinion the then Union home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, appointed Gopal Swarup Pathak, M. P. and a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, in charge of inquiry of conspiracy to murder Gandhi. The central government intended on conducting a thorough inquiry with the help of old records in consultation with the government of Maharashtra, Pathak was given three months to conduct his inquiry, subsequently Jevanlal Kapur a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India was appointed to conduct the inquiry. The Kapur Commission was provided with evidence not produced in the court; especially the testimony of two of Savarkar's close aides - Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary, Kasar told the Kapur Commission that Godse and Apte visited Savarkar on or about January 23 or 24, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden. Justice Kapur concluded: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group."
Later life and Death
After Gandhi's assassination Savarkar's home in Mumbai was stoned by angry mobs. After he was acquitted of the allegations related to Gandhi's assassination and released from jail, Savarkar was arrested by the Congress government, for making "militant Hindu nationalist speeches", he was released after agreeing to give up political activities. He continued addressing social and cultural elements of Hindutva. He resumed political activism after the ban on it was lifted, it was however limited until his death in 1966 because of ill health. His followers bestowed upon him honours and financial awards when he was alive. His body was visited by over a lakh people, when it lay in repose. Two thousand RSS workers gave his funeral procession a guard of honour. According to McKean, there was public antipathty between Savarkar and the Congress for most of his political career, yet after independence Patel and Deshmukh unsuccessfully sought partnership with the Hindu Mahasabha and Savarkar. It was forbidden for Congress party members to participate in public functions honouring Savarkar. Nehru refused to share the stage during the centenary celebrations of the India's First War of Independence held in Delhi. After the death of Nehru, the Congress government, under Prime Minister Shastri, started to pay him a monthly pension.
In 1966 Savarkar renounced medicines, food and water leading to his death on February 26, 1966. He was mourned by large crowds that attended his cremation. He had written an article 'Atma-hatya or Deh-tyaag', arguing that suicide in most cases is taking one's life, but renouncing life after the body was no longer capable of functioning properly was a different matter. He left behind a son Vishwas and a daughter Prabha Chiplunkar. His first son, Prabhakar, had died in infancy. His home, possessions and other personal relics have been preserved for public display.
According to Kuruvanchira, Savarkar was a national and political ‘non-entity’ in independent India by the time he died and thereafter. After his death, since Savarkar was championing militarization, some thought that it would be fitting if his mortal remains were to be carried on a gun-carriage. A request to that effect was made to the then Defence Minister, Y.B. Chavan, who later on became Deputy Prime Minister of India. But Chavan turned down the proposal and not a single minister from the Maharashtra Cabinet showed up in the cremation ground to pay homage to Savarkar. In New Delhi, the Speaker of the Parliament turned down a request that it pay homage to Savarkar. In fact, after the independence of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had put forward a proposal to demolish the Cellular Jail in the Andamans and build a hospital in its place. When Y.B. Chavan, as the Home Minister of India, went to the Andamans, he was asked whether he would like to visit Savarkar's jail but he was not interested. Also when Morarji Desai went as Prime Minister to the Andamans, he too refused to visit Savarkar's cell.
In the 1996 Malayalam movie Kaala Pani directed by Priyadarshan, the noted Hindi actor Annu Kapoor played the role of Veer Savarkar.
In 2001, Ved Rahi and Sudhir Phadke made the biopic film Veer Savarkar, which was released after many years in production. Savarkar is portrayed by Shailendra Gaur. The Movie Veer Savarkar was released in 2001 which was produced by Vocalist, Musician and a renowned Savarkar follower Sudhir Phadke. The movie was directed by Ved Rahi and Shailendra Gaur played the role of Veer Savarkar.
This movie was made after over a decade of fund raising efforts by Sudhir Phadke and his 'Savarkar Darshan Prathisthaan', an organization established solely with the purpose of depicting the life of Savarkar. The finance for the film came entirely from hundreds of Veer Savarkar followers. Phadke spent many years raising funds through his musical concerts in an effort to bring the wishes of Savarkar followers to reality. The Maharashtra Government made the movie tax free when it opened in theatres.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's Works:
Saha Soneri Paane (translation: Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History)
1857 che Svatantrya Samar
Maazi Janmathep (translation: My life imprisonment)
Londonchi batamipatre (translation: London Newsletters)
Vidnyan nishtha Nibandha
Joseph Mazzini (on Giuseppe Mazzini)
Savarkaranchya Kavita (translation: Poems by Savarkar)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called one of the greatest dramatic works of modern...