The BJP manifesto for the upcoming Maharashtra assembly election has included a promise to propose Bharat Ratna award to prominent Maharashtrian figures like social activist Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, Dalit activist Annabhau Sathe and freedom fighter Veer Savarkar. In particular, this proposal to award Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar has become a topic of discussion on both mainstream and social media with claims and counter-claims flying thick and fast.
Considering that those who perceive Veer Savarkar as their political opponent have been relentless in portraying Veer Savarkar negatively, some facts need to be stated to understand the true picture. First, we look at the brief background and contributions of Savarkar. Then it is important to understand why the accusations on Savarkar from the Congress and certain sections are wrong. Later, one can see how BJP and PM Modi have been trying to set right the historic injustice to personalities like Savarkar.
- Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on 28th of May, 1883 in town called Bhagur in modern day Maharashtra.
- After graduating from Fergusson College in Pune, he received Chhatrapati Shivaji fellowship for studying in London on recommendation of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and reached London for studying law on 24th June, 1906
- In London, he founded the ‘Free India Society’ to help organize fellow Indian students with the goal of fighting for complete independence through a guerrilla type revolution
- Savarkar also wrote and published one of the first books about 1857 First War of Independence titled ‘The History and War of Indian Independence’ which was banned throughout the British Empire. This is a magnum opus that is widely regarded as a masterpiece on the topic
- Savarkar also dramatically escaped from SS Morea, a ship while being extradited from Marseille, France for crimes committed against British Empire but was caught again and sent to Yerwada Central Jail in Pune
- In 1911, aged 28 he was sentenced to 50 years in prison and transported to the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- In the Cellular Jail, he was meted the worst kind of punishments being fettered in chains, flogged, condemned to months of solitary confinement, made to extract oil all day being tied to the mill like a bullock and made to stand with handcuffs for days on end
- Even most basic human needs such as toilets or water were denied to him and he was fed with foul food that had pieces of insects and reptiles in it
- It was only when the Cellular Jail was about to be closed that the British decided to deport Savarkar to the Ratnagiri Prison in May 1921. By then Savarkar had managed to accomplish significant prison reforms at Port Blair—from setting up a library, to education for convicts and stopping all forcible conversions.
- He was finally released from Ratnagiri Prison in 1924 after being made to sign a very stringent agreement which included total ban on political activities and confinement to Ratnagiri district
- But it did not stop him from beginning a series of social reforms in Ratnagiri to break the caste system by promoting inter-caste dining, building a Patit Pavan temple in Ratnagiri that allowed entry to all castes.
- He served as President of Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1943
- He was arrested in 1948 on charges of being co-conspirator in assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was acquitted.
Recently, there have been a number of accusations from certain Leftist historians and Congress leaders that Veer Savarkar had pleaded with British authorities to secure his release and compromised on struggle for freedom. These accusations are completely contrary to historical events which are well documented in historian Vikram Sampath’s new book Savarkar: Echoes from a forgotten past’.
PM Modi meeting with the author (source: @narendramodi twitter)
Writing mercy petitions to get lesser and more lenient sentences which would allow political prisoners to carry on with their struggle was a well known and widely used tactic at that time and Savarkar once even had written that if declining amnesty to him would secure the release of all other political prisoners than he would gladly forego amnesty.
Also, the prison that Veer Savarkar was seeking release from was no normal prison such as the ones many other people associated with the freedom struggle were lodged in. This was the infamous ‘kalapani’ which was most inhuman in its treatment of prisoners.
Even Gandhiji argued for release of Savarkar in an article titled “Savarkar Brothers” in Young India dated 26-5-1920. Calling Savarkar as “a faithful son of Bharat and brave”, he argued that brother Savarkar must also be treated like other political prisoners and granted amnesty.
Indira Gandhi also in 1966, in a message conveyed on Savarkar’s death said: “It removes from our midst a great figure of contemporary India. His name was a byword for daring and patriotism. Mr Savarkar was cast in the mould of a classical revolutionary and countless people drew inspiration from him.” She also released a commemorative stamp on Savarkar in 1970.
When both Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi have themselves described Savarkar as patriotic Indian, does it bode well on part of Congress leaders to continue spreading canards about Veer Savarkar?
Governments led by both PM Vajpayee and PM Modi have taken several steps to bring to light the stellar role Savarkar played in freedom struggle and honour his achievements.
In May 2002, Airport in Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands was renamed as Veer Savarkar International Airport as a tribute to the freedom fighter for spending 11 years in the dreaded Cellular Jail. Savarkar’s portrait was also installed in the Central Hall of the parliament in 2003.
Savarkar’s Portrait in central hall of Parliament
The plaque commemorating Savarkar’s 11-year imprisonment in Cellular Jail which was forcibly removed by then Petroleum minister and controversial Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar in 2004 was restored by the Modi Government in 2015.
PM Modi has on many occasions hailed Savarkar and has said that it is because of Savarkar’s ‘Sanskar’(values) that we are putting nationalism as basis for nation building. He has also hailed Savarkar as a sensitive poet, courageous revolutionary and a social reformer who emphasised goodwill and unity for all.