Q & A


Questions And Answers
This section deals with various aspects of Savarkar’s life, thought, actions and relevance in a question and answer format. Questions are raised regarding Savarkar and his place in Indian history. Some of these questions stem from genuine curiosity and willingness to understand. Some questions take the form of accusations born out of outright ignorance or sheer malice. This section aims to address some of these questions.
  • What was India House and how large was it?

India House was a mess-cum-lodge established by Shyamji Krishnavarma in 1905 at 65, Cromwell Road, Highgate, London N India House had space for twenty lodgers but there were never more than seven permanent lodgers at any time. The House was always full when it held its weekly dinners, followed by lectures on Indian topics.

  • How have Savarkar's contemporaries in England described him?
  1. In 1909, Sayyad Haider Raza and (later Barrister) Asaf Ali (who later became part of Savarkar's revolutionary group) arrived in India House, London. Asaf Ali describes Savarkar as he saw him in India House thus: "…The Governor of the House informed me that Mr. Savarkar would soon come down. Presently, the door of the dining room was thrown open and there entered a short but rather agile figure, bearing a clean shaven and a smiling face, a pair of keen and…fascinating eyes, behind a gold pince-nez secured by a real gold chain attached to the left ear, hair parted on one side, so as to make a neat bracket with curls on a moderately open forehead…The moment he opened his lips, there emanated from them a sort of juvenile musical voice…There was a softness in his appearance…and something in his voice, out of ordinary, which bordered on the feminine. This was Savarkar, fragile as an anemic girl, restless as a mountain torrent and keen as the edge of the Toledo-blade."
  2. Curious to know more about the student leader who was carrying out revolutionary activities in London, the editor of Evening Standard daily sent his special correspondent to meet Savarkar at India House. The paper described the encounter thus; "Presently a spectacled Indian, with youth and intelligence stamped upon his face, greeted him. It was Mr. V.D. Savarkar."
  3. Campbell Green, correspondent of Sunday Chronicle visited India House to meet Savarkar. In his write-up entitled House of Mystery that appeared in the Sunday Chronicle dated 14 March 1909, , Green wrote, "I had an opportunity of a long friendly discussion with Mr. V.D. Savarkar, who seems to be not only the spokesman for the students, but also the spokesman for Mr. Shyamji Krishnavarma. He is a young Gray's Inn law student, 23 years of age at a guess. He has a clear olive complexion, clear deep penetrating eyes, and a width of jaw, such as I have seen in few men. His English is excellent. If I mistake not Mr. Savarkar will go far – I hope he will go far – in the right direction." Green continued, "Let me state a fact before an impression. The fact is Mr. V.D. Savarkar believes, in India for the Indians, in the complete emancipation of India from the British rule. He says India has nothing for what to thank the English, unless it be the denationalization as he calls it, of the Hindus." Green also recounted, "Mr.Savarkar said, "We do not mind detectives watching from outside and following us, if the climate suits them!" That last is quite English touch. It shows how the British have moulded the intellect of young India. It has even breathed into it the British joke…I have no evidence of fact, which would justify me in traversing the statement of this nimble-minded young leader of the India House."
  4. The world-renowned English novelist, journalist, war-reporter and editor David Garnett (d 17 February 1981, age 89) was enamoured by Savarkar's personality and fiery patriotism. Garnett was a friend of Indian student relationaries such as Niranjan Pal, Ashutosh Mitra and Sukhsagar Datta (brother of Ullaskar Datta who was sentenced to Transportaion in Andamans) who stayed at India House, London. Garnett had read the translations of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagwad Gita and Shakuntal. He had also browsed through the Upanishads. It was during one of Garnett's visits to the India House that he first met Savarkar. Garnett was eighteen years old at that time. In his autobiography Golden Echo (Vol. I), Garnett describes Savarkar thus: "Nanu came forward and welcomed me and stopped a young man – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and introduced me to him. He was small, slight in build with very broad cheek bones, a delicate aquiline nose, sensitive refined mouth and extremely pale skin…And then I looked at Savarkar and thought that his was the most sensitive face in the room and yet the most powerful. I watched how he spat out his words, with almost convulsive movements…I became aware that he was actually reading aloud in English, not in Hindustani. His accent, his mispronunciation, the strange rhythm of his staccato delivery had deceived me. I listened attentively and made out that he was reading about a battle in which an Indian general called Tatia Tope had been defeated by English troops and Sikhs." After Dhingra was arrested for the murder of Curzon Wylie (01 July 1909), Savarkar found it extremely difficult to find lodgings in London. In those days, he stayed at 17 Red Lion Passage, a restaurant in a slum area of London and would eat there five days a week. The place was owned by an elderly Jew called Jacob. It was through Garnett's efforts that Savarkar managed to stay there. Garnett writes, "As a result, I saw a certain amount of Savarkar and was more than ever struck by his extra-ordinary personal magnetism. There was an intensity of faith in the man and a curious single-minded recklessness, which were deeply attractive…" Savarkar was arrested in London on 13 March 1914 and kept in Brixton prison. Garnett chalked out a plan to abduct and free Savarkar from prison. Garnett met Savarkar in prison in May 1914 and got his consent for the plan. Explaining why he undertook such a grave personal risk, Garnett writes, "My feeling for Savarkar was personal. I could not endure to see a man with such intense vitality spending his life in prison."
  5. In November 1909, Savarkar was staying at 11 Upper Addison Garden, West Kensington, London. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (revolutionary and brother of Sarojini Naidu) met Savarkar at this place. Seeing his dear friend, Virendranath could not control his emotions and exclaimed, "His is a wonderful personality of controlling others by illustration!"

    • What was the mode of transport in Britain when Savarkar was there?

    London has a network of underground (metro) railway. Tottenham Court Road - Euston - Archway section of the underground was not open till 22 June 1907. So, for the first year, Savarkar must have travelled by trams or buses between 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate (address of India House where Savarkar used to stay) and Grays Inn (where Savarkar registered to become a barrister). Highgate station of the underground was not opened till 1941.

    • What was Savarkar’s financial condition in London?

    Savarkar came to London with the scholarship offered by Shyamji Krishnavarma. Savarkar was to be given Rs 400 every six months. There would be five instalments - a total of Rs 2,000. The rate of exchange was £1 = Rs 15. Savarkar was to get a total of Rs 2,000 i.e. £133 and 33 pence or £133 6s 7d. He studied Law for three years. Thus, he only got £44 and 44 pence or £44 8s 11d per year. In his newsletter of 19 March 1909 Savarkar said that it cost £1 / wk to stay in India House for board and lodging. (He does not specifically say per week, but at that time such figures given on a weekly basis. For example in 1901 a Police Constable was paid 25 s 8d [or £1.28] per week.) It meant that a student would require £52 per year for lodging and boarding. Savarkar only had £44 and 44 pence. He did not get enough money for his board and lodge!! He therefore had to seek help from his father in law.

    The other expenses were:

    • Travel by sea Mumbai – London; cheapest fare would have been £17 10s (one way)
    • Clothes
    • College fees
    • Examination fees
    • Books
    • Travel

    Savarkar could only come to London with the additional funds from his father-in-law. He was literally living from hand to mouth.

    • How did Savarkar arrange finances for his activities in London?

    Savarkar gives a hint of how he arranged finances for his activities in London in his book “Inside the Enemy Camp”. He had won over some rich individuals towards his cause and they helped him financially. Dadasaheb Karandikar and Dadasaheb Khaparde, lawyers working for Lokamanya Tilak, helped generously towards the cost of publishing his famous book “Indian War of Independence, 1857”. Savarkar gave this information in a public speech after his release in 1937.

    • Why was Savarkar not called to the Bar?

    Many people feel that Savarkar was not called to the Bar because he refused to take a pledge of allegiance to the British Crown. The chain of events was as follows:

    Savarkar registered with the Grays Inn society on 26 June 1906. He passed his examination for the Bar and observed the usual formalities. He should have been called to the Bar on 05 May 1909, but this did not happen because of his political activities. Sir Curzon-Wylie, special adviser to the Secretary of State for India had been keeping an eye on Savarkar ever since Savarkar came to London. On 13 May 1909, benchers of Grays Inn charged him with various offences. Sir Curzon-Wyllie had been trying behind the scene for this. The benchers gave Savarkar until 22 May to frame his reply. They were going to make a decision on 09 June.

    Eventually there was a trial by a disciplinary committee. Savarkar was cross-examined by some of the best barristers. Government of India and the India Office supplied the evidence. Letters in the possession of Government of India and translation of Savarkar 's letters used in Nasik Conspiracy trial were also produced. Savarkar was charged with sedition, trying to overthrow the Government of India established by law etc. Charges were being added even when the proceedings were half way through. Evidence, which in any public trial would have been disallowed, was allowed in the inquiry held in camera. Detectives employed to watch Savarkar for two years gave evidence. Savarkar himself was cross-examined for three hours. But despite all this the Benchers could not make any charges stick.

    On 14 July 1909 the benchers gave their verdict: “None of the charges against Savarkar was proven. However, there is still suspicion about him. Therefore he will not be called to the bar as yet. He is a member of this society and will continue to enjoy the privileges of the membership.” Savarkar eventually withdrew from Grays Inn in 1910. All this information is given in Savarkar’s letters from London (Samagra Savarkar Vangmaya, Vol.4 pp. 132/3/4)

    There was never any question of taking a pledge of allegiance to the British Crown. If there was, Savarkar would not have hesitated even for a moment to take such a pledge. Throughout his life, Savarkar had emphasized that Hindus have suffered terribly over the centuries by foolishly sticking to the pledges given to their enemies - Muslims and the British. Time has come for them to be realistic.

    • What was the significance of the national flag unfurled by Madam Cama at Savarkar’s instance?

    Savarkar was invited to send a delegate to the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart (Germany) to be held on 18/19/20 August 1907. Madam Rustom Bhikaji Cama was chosen to represent India. There was some discussion on what should be the Indian National Flag? American flag has stars to represent various states that make up the United States. But lotus and not star is the Indian symbol. So it was decided to represent eight major provinces of India by eight lotus flowers.

    There were three bands - Green to show vitality of the youth, Saffron to show success, Red to show the blood sacrifice necessary to achieve success, it also shows strength. The green colour was NOT there to appease the Muslims. Sun and Moon showed eternity (yavat chandra divakarau - India will exist as long as the Sun and the Moon shine in the sky). Once again, the Moon had nothing to do with appealing to the Muslims. The mantra Vande Mataram was also printed on the flag.
    Madam Cama unfurled the flag at Stuttgart in August 1907.

    Savarkar again unfurled this flag on 26 October 1937 at Tilak Smarak Mandir, Pune (Samagra Savarkar Vangamaya, Vol. 4, pp371-373).

    • Savarkar's colleague and revolutionary Madanlal Dhingra was hanged to death on 17 August 1909 for the assassination of Sir Curzon Wylie. What was Dhingra's final statement?

    Madanlal Dhingra was hanged to death for the assassination of Sir Curzon-Wylie. His final statement titled 'Challenge' is as follows:

    Challenge

    "I admit the other day; I attempted to shed English blood as an humble revenge for the inhuman hangings and deportations of patriotic Indian youths. In this attempt, I have consulted none but my own conscience; I have conspired with none, but my own duty.

    "I believe that a nation held down in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise; since guns were denied to me, I drew forth my pistol and fired.
    "As a Hindu I felt that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God. Her cause is the cause of Sri Ram! Her services are the services of Sri Krishna! Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the Mother but his own blood and so I have sacrificed the same on her altar.
    "The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die and the only way to teach it, is by dying ourselves. Therefore I die and glory in my martyrdom! This war of Independence will continue between India and England, so long as the Hindu and the English races last (if the present unnatural relation does not cease!)
    "My only prayer to God is: May I be reborn of the same Mother and may I redie in the same sacred cause, till the cause is successful and she stands free for the good of humanity and the glory of God!"
    -Vande Mataram-

    • “In 1910, Savarkar returned from Paris to London knowing fully well that he may be arrested. This he did because he wanted to meet his British friend Margaret Lawrence”. Comment.

    Savarkar was in London during 1906-1910. He had some British admirers. Margaret Lawrence may be one of them. Savarkar went to Paris in January 1910 for convalescence. On his return to London on 13 March 1910 he was arrested and later deported to Bombay where he was sentenced to 50 years hard labour. British Authorities spread a malicious rumour that Savarkar wanted to see his girl friend Margaret and was lured by her letter, otherwise why should he return to London knowing very well what the consequences would be?

    Manohar Malgaonkar takes the rumour at face value and foolishly repeats it in his book "Men who killed Gandhi", 1979; pp.25/28 .So why did Savarkar return to London despite strong pleas from his friends? The answer is simple enough. Savarkar was preparing for an armed uprising in India. Though the situation became very serious indeed, the volcanic eruption did not take place due to impatience, incompetence and indiscretion of certain key members. Many families were ruined by British reprisals. Savarkar's elder brother Babarao was sentenced to Transportation for Life and was later subjected to electrical shocks, his younger brother was facing a trial, Babarao's wife had to seek refuge in a crematorium, as people were so terrified. Life became intolerable for Savarkar's friends in London. He therefore felt it necessary to show that he was just as well prepared to face the hardships suffered by his friends. Such an action was extremely foolish and unwise but he fell for emotions. He told himself, "I should not worry about who would carry on our work. I am not unique. I am not the only one. Someone else is bound to come forward". To Savarkar’s biographer SL Karandikar, Savarkar’s contemporary Gyan Chand Varma had observed, "If Savarkar had any sweetheart, his country was the only sweetheart he had." (SL Karandikar, Savarkar biography, p 339; also quoted by VS Joshi in his Krantikallol, Manorma Prakashan, 1985, p 347).

    • Is it true that the International Socialist Congress (1910) pass a resolution protesting Savarkar’s illegal arrest and extradition from France to England?

    The eighth International Socialist Congress was held at the Concert Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark, from August 28 to September 4, 1910.  Eight hundred and eighty-seven delegates from twenty-three countries participated.
    A special resolution on the right of asylum was submitted to the Congress by the International Socialist Bureau. The resolution read: “Recently, in various countries many instances have occurred where, under various fallacious pretexts, the right of asylum for political refugees has been violated.  The Russian government particularly distinguishes itself in this field in a most deplorable manner.  Thus Jules Wezosol has been recently arrested in Boston upon the demand of Russia for his extradition.  Even England, contrary to all her traditions, consents to employ this process, violating the right of asylum, as in the case of the revolutionary Hindoo, Savarkar, who, in an unprecedented manner has been arrested on French soil and extradited without any legal formality. This Congress vigorously protests against these criminal violations of the right of asylum, and urges the proletariat of all countries to resist by all the means of propaganda and agitation it possesses these assaults upon the dignity and independence of their own countries, which menace the liberty of aaction of the working class and its international solidarity.”

    Kier Hardie, who moved the resolution, dwelt on the case of Savarkar, the; Hindoo agitator, who escaped from British custody to French soil, but was handed back to the British authorities. Jaures, he said, who was familiar with international law, held that the extradition of Savarkar was illegal. Hardie contended that the right of asylum is one of the greatest treasures of political liberty. In England they had afforded protection to Garibaldi, Mazzini, Kossuth and Karl Marx, and by so doing had conferred a precious heritage on civilisation.  He held further that the trial of Savarkar had not been a fair one. He had been condemned as though he were a mere criminal, no recognition of the political purpose of his action being allowed.

    The resolution was carried unanimously. (James Keir Hardie, Sr. (15 August 1856 – 26 September 1915), was a Scottish socialist and labour leader, and was the first Independent Labour Member of Parliament elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Hardie is regarded as one of the primary founders of the Independent Labour Party as well as the Labour Party of which it later was a part.  He campaigned for self-rule in India).

    Ref: "The Abridged Minutes and Complete Resolutions of the 1910 Copenhagen International Socialist Congress."

    http://archive.org/details/InternationalSocialistCongress1910SecondInternationalConferenceOf

    Top

    • What was the nature of the jail sentence served on Babarao (Ganesh Damodar) Savarkar, the elder brother of Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar?

    In 1909, Savarkar's elder brother Babarao was sentenced to Transportation for Life to the Andaman Islands, for publishing four poems. All his earthly possessions, including saucepans and broom, were confiscated. Three days later, Viceroy Lord Minto sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for India, “ Ganesh Damodar Savarkar convicted under section 121 and 124A of the India Penal Code and sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture of property.” His wife Yesu was left homeless, penniless and destitute. She sought refuge in local crematorium for some time. She never saw her husband again and died childless in 1918.

    Transportation to Andaman Islands did not mean prison sentence for life. According to rules, regulations, customs and practice of the British Administration, prisoners were allowed to work outside the prison after a year or two, settle on the island and call their families from India. Savarkar and his elder brother Babarao were detained in the prison for more than 10 years in flagrant violation of the rules of the British Administration itself!! They were also forced to do hard labour all the time.

    While in the Andaman Islands, Babarao was subjected to torture. In Thane jail, Babarao was given electrical shocks to extract information from him on how arms and ammunitions were smuggled into India. But Babarao bravely refused to divulge any information. Babarao was transferred from the Cellular Jail, Andamans to Bijapur Jail in 1921. There he was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell for eight months. Once it so happened that a sparrow made a nest in a window that was high up on the wall of Babarao’s cell in Bijapur jail. Babarao would feel happy watching the sparrow and her young ones. When the British jailor found this, he ordered the nest to be removed, depriving Babarao of the only living contact he had. Solitary confinement meant deprivation of not just human company but also company of animals and birds! Babarao was denied even the most basic medical treatment. Babarao used to get bouts of migraine (excruciating headaches). On such occasions, he would repeatedly bang a stone on his head. When the British felt that he would surely die, they released him from prison on a stretcher.

    • What was the exact nature of the jail sentence served on Savarkar by the British?

    In 1910, Savarkar was sentenced to TRANSPORTATION FOR LIFE, TWICE to the Andaman Islands, 1000 miles [1600 km] east of Madras (now Chennai), The sentences of Transportation were to be served IN SUCCESSION - a total sentence of 50 years, unparalleled in the history of the British Empire. The badge which he had to wear around his neck stated, date of sentence 24/12/1910, date of release 23/12/1960.

    All his property and possessions including his clothes were confiscated and sold at public auctions. Even his spectacles were confiscated.

    When Savarkar was in jail, Bombay University withdrew his B.A degree.

    Savarkar was allowed to write a letter once a year to his younger brother Narayanrao.

    Savarkar was NOT supposed to be kept in prison for 50 years. Normally after 3 years the prisoners were sent outside the prison to work and later to settle and even bring their families from India. If they were not married they could do so.
    SAVARKAR WAS KEPT INSIDE THE PRISON FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS IN FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF THE GOVERNMENT'S OWN POLICY.

    Public outcry in India forced the British to release Savarkar from prison. But if he was to be kept in Andamans, he had to be allowed to settle OUTSIDE THE PRISON. So, the British administration in Bombay called him back. Many people still think that it was an act of mercy. On the contrary, it made it possible for them to keep him in prison in India. Once again mounting public pressure forced the British to release Savarkar from jail. But they asked him to stay in an obscure place called Ratnagiri - so that people could not see him. Ratnagiri had no railway and no telephones. Savarkar was also forbidden to take part in political activities. Restrictions on Savarkar were meant only for 5 years. But British Authorities extended their duration by 2 years in succession - to a total of 13 years internment.

    • "Savarkar was a committed anti-British revolutionary prior to his deportment to Andamans but later he never associated with anything even remotely sounding as anti-British….It seems that conditions of jail life broke his spirits. In a letter dated November 14, 1913, he wrote," If the government in their manifold beneficience 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." Comment.

    It must be realized that rotting in British jails was not the aim of Savarkar's revolutionary struggle. In his My Transportation for Life he writes," Excluding deceitful treason, you may accept other conditions in national interest and free yourself. After becoming free, you may resume nationalistic activity". It is significant that Savarkar disapproved of political prisoners fasting themselves to death. In this context, it is noteworthy that Savarkar had termed the self-sacrifice of Rajputs as being praiseworthy but not worthy of emulation. Savarkar was a true disciple of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Shivaji too had written to Aurangzeb to secure his release. Will these worthies call Chhatrapati Shivaji a collaborator of the Mughals? Savarkar was the first Indian student not called to the Bar because of his anti-British activities. What kind of life did Savarkar face in the jail in the Andamans from 1911 to 1924? The history ticket of Savarkar tells the story. Here are few notings:

    1. 6 months solitary confinement;
    2. Seven days standing handcuffs
    3. Absolutely refusing to work, ten days cross bar fetters imposed. (Source material for a history of the freedom movement in India Vol. II., Bombay Government publication, pp 478/479).

    Are these indicators of a secret understanding with the British? Far from his spirit being broken by the inhuman prison conditions, Savarkar displayed rare courage. In the absence of resources, Savarkar wrote more than 5000 lines of sublime poetry on the prison walls and memorized them! This is a unique example in the annals of world literature. Is this the mark of a man whose spirit had been broken? The testimonies of the British officials regarding Savarkar indicate that far from being sympathetic to him, they were wary of him and indeed dreaded him. There is a following noting, "He is always suave and polite but like his brother, he has never shown any disposition to actively assist Government. It is impossible to say what his real political views are at the present time" (ibid, p.464). The following three excerpts from the same source show how desperate the British government was to prevent release of the Savarkar brothers:

    1. "Bombay Government does not recommend any remission of the sentences passed upon Ganesh Damodar Savarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar" (p.467)
    2. "Government of India agrees that the Savarkar brothers should not be released under the Royal Amnesty." This is dated 8th December 1919 (p.469).
    3. "The Government of Bombay by their letter No. 1106/36, Home Department, dated 29th February 1921, informed the Government of India that the Governor in Council was not in favour of the transfer of the Savarkar brothers from Andamans to a jail in the Bombay Presidency, as that would lead to a recrudescence of agitation in their favour."

    It is not surprising that Savarkar's prison ticket worn round his neck carried the letter 'D' which stood for 'Dangerous'! Much has been made of his 1913 petition to the British seeking his release. Savarkar’s detractors have cleverly concealed the following extract that appears in the same petition, "If the manhood of the nation be allowed to phase glories and responsibilities of the empire with perfect equality with other citizens of it, then Indian patriots of all shades and opinions can conscientiously feel that burning sense of loyalty that one feels for one's motherland. I also beg to submit that nothing can contribute so much to the widening and deepening of the sentiment of loyalty as a general release of all those prisoners who had been convicted for committing political offences in India. With my exception, let all the rest be released. Let the volunteer movement go on and I will rejoin in that"(emphasis ours). Savarkar's disregard for his personal welfare and his concern for fellow inmates stand out in this petition. He further says in his narrative," In case the government suspected, I wrote in conclusion my motive in writing the letter (September 1914). I offered to do so without any release for myself personally. Let them release all the political prisoners in the country, leaving me alone in my cell in the Andamans. I shall rejoice in their freedom as if it was my own. The government was right in suspecting me; perhaps when free, I might lead an agitation to break the peace in India. I had not written the letter to seek my own liberation or to compel them to set me free along with other political prisoners involved in similar or the same political conspiracies. Hence I had the proposal to keep me back and set all others free (ibid, p 341)". Even after his release from the Andamans, the British hounded Savarkar. He was incarcerated in the relatively backward district of Ratnagiri. His weekly Shraddhanand was banned. The British never returned his ancestral property that they had confiscated.

    • Savarkar send clemency letters to British to rescue himself, he not only ask for pardon but also surrendered by acknowledging that “I had a fair trial and just sentence and I will never take part in politics” & these evidences are available in ‘National Archives’ in New Delhi.  (See:  Far from heroism - The tale of 'Veer Savarkar by Krishnan Dubey and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, 7 Apr 1996, Frontline)
    Any one who reads Savarkar’s biography or his autobiography ‘My Transportation for life’ will immediately know the hollowness in these charges. Savarkar writes, “It was my duty as a follower of responsive cooperation, to accept such conditions as would enable me to do better and larger work for my country than I was able to do during the years of imprisonment. I would be free thus to serve my mother country, and I would regard it as a social duty.” (My Transportation for Life by V D Savarkar, page 301) also “Whatever good I could do in the Andamans or whatever awakening I might bring about among its people was nothing in comparison with what I could do in India as a free man. On the other hand, in order to win my freedom, I would not stoop low or lend myself to anything mean or treacherous such as would bring disgrace on my country or be a blot on her fair name. Freedom thus obtained would have harmed the cause and would have been, as I regarded it, an immoral act.” (ibid, p.245). Such was Savarkar’s motive behind his struggle for release.

    Savarkar was a true disciple of Chattrapati Shivaji. Shivaji too had sent similar letters and petitions to deceive the enemy as before the killing of Afzal Khan, during Siddi Johar’s siege and during his imprisonment at Agra. He had also accepted some humiliating conditions during the treaty made at the time of the siege of Purandar fort.  However, Shivaji bid his time and avenged all insults when he became powerful enough.  This is clever political stratagem.  Vietnam’s Communist leader ‘Ho Chi Minh’ rescued himself from Kuomintang prison by sending similar kind of petition and assuring cooperation. He expressed his desire to Marshal Chang to work for ‘Dong Minh Hoi’ which was formed in Indochina with the help of Kuomintang government (‘Dong Minh Hoi’ was formed to oppose Ho Chi Minh’s ‘Viet Minh’ party).

    When World War I broke out, Savarkar sent petition to the Government of India in 1914.  He averred that were the British to grant Colonial Self-Government to Hindusthan and majority in Central Legislative Council, revolutionaries would help Britain in the War. He gave instances of European Governments setting their political prisoners free and even those of the liberation of  political prisoners in Ireland to prove his point.   Also, he added “I offered to do without any release for myself personally. Let them release all the political prisoners in the country leaving me alone in my own cell in the Andamans. I shall rejoice in their freedom as if it was my own.” (ibid, p.187).  This proves that his demands were selfless and made on behalf of all political prisoners in Andamans, without regard to personal welfare.

    Fully aware that the British would not release him fearing the role he would play in Indian politics, Savarkar stated before the Jail Commission in 1920, “If you forbid me from entering into politics, I shall do social and literary work in India. I shall try to serve mankind in many other ways and if I break any condition that you may impose upon me you are free to send me back to this prison on Transportation for Life.” (ibid, p246) He conveyed the same message during his discussion with Governor which is summarized as follows:
    “Still, for a stipulated period, I agreed to take no part in politics, that is, in active, day-to-day, politics. In prison, I could not, of course, do any Politics at all. But when outside I could do other kind of work, educational, religious and literary and serve my country in diverse fields. Generals, as prisoners of war, cannot conduct the war and come on the battlefield. They are let off on parole after signing the pledge, like Lord Krishna, who agreed that he would not wield any arms during the continuance of the war. And it is considered no humiliation on their part to do so, and they consider it their duty to do so, in order that, later on, their services might be available to their nation by way of leading and guidance in other work.” (ibid, p.302).

    Savarkar did indeed pursue a vigorous campaign of social reform, reform in language and script, Shuddhi (purification or reversion to Hindu fold), scientific outlook as per the conditions of his release.

    In 1920, most of political prisoners in the Andamans accepted and signed such terms of agreement. “They would abstain from politics and revolutionary activity for a certain number of years and if again they were tried and found guilty of treason, they would come back to the Andamans to serve the remainder of their life-sentence.” (ibid, p.254).

    One need not go to New Delhi’s ‘National Archives’ to see Savarkar’s letter which has been presented as a ‘Clemency Letter’. Savarkar himself published the said letter in his book “Letters From Andaman” (letters which he send to his younger brother Dr.Narayan Savarkar from Andaman) as letter no.8 dated 06-07-1920 (original application which he send to British has date 02-4-1920).  A significant excerpt of it is as follows:
    ”As to the question so often put to me and others by officers no less exalted than the members of the Indian Cabinet ‘what if you had rebelled against the ancient kings of India? They used to trample rebels under the feet of Elephants’. I answer that not only in India but even in England and all other parts of the world such would have at times been the fate of rebels. But then why did the British people fill the whole world with a howl that the Germans had ill treated their captives and did not allow them fresh bread and butter! There was a time when captives were flayed alive and offered as victims to Moloch and Thor and such other Gods of war!’ The thing is this that this advanced stage in civilization attained by man is the resultant of the efforts of all men and therefore their common inheritance and benefits all. Speaking relatively to Barbarian times it is true that I had a fair trial and a just sentence and the Government is at liberty to derive whatever satisfaction they can from the compliment that they give a fairer trial and a juster sentence to their captives than the cannibals used to do. But it should not be forgotten that if in olden days the rulers flayed their rebels alive then the rebels too when they got the upper hand flayed alive the rulers as well. And if the British people treated me or other rebels more justly i.e. less barbarously then they may rest assured that they too would be as leniently treated by the Indian rebels if ever the tables are turned”

    When the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were introduced in 1919, Savarkar wrote to Montagu and Governor General,  “I have further told them that if they granted real self-government to India with substantial elected majority in the Central Legislature and With no incubus of the Council of State upon it; and if they further granted full amnesty to Indian political prisoners in the country and outside, in India and in the Andamans. and to exiles in Europe and America, myself and many more like me will accept the new dispensation and, if elected to the Legislature, will exert to make the reforms a success. The Legislature that had all along treated me with scorn and indifference, and that excited an equal contempt in our hearts for it. Will, thenceforward, be our scene of action where we shall be proud to work and co-operate for the fulfillment of our aim.” (ibid, p.220)

    All this clearly indicates that Savarkar was trying to deceive the British.  Instead, some Indians are willing to be deceived.  It is necessary to read ‘between the lines’ while reading political resolutions, letters and applications. Those who accuse Savarkar of cowardice or treason are either not capable or not willing to read ‘between the lines’. Savarkar never hid these letters or petitions.  Instead, he detailed the political strategy behind the letters in his ‘My Transportation for Life’.  Let no one make a song and dance that they have unearthed some State secret!
    • Is it true that Savarkar apologized for his deeds to seek release from jail in Andaman Islands?

    No. He did not apologize for his deeds.
    Savarkar was sentenced to Transportation for Life, TWICE and sent to Andaman Islands to serve that sentence. IT DID NOT MEAN 50 years in jail. After serving a few years (usually 3 to 4) the inmates were allowed to go to work outside the jail and eventually settle on the islands. Savarkar was denied this even after serving 11 years. That was utter barbarity.

    At the time of the First World War Savarkar did write to Montague, then Secretary of State for India. He said that –

    Britain should set up colonial self Government for India
    In return Indian revolutionaries would cease all hostilities and help Britain in war effort.

    The Governor General eventually replied, " In the present circumstances it is impossible to give effect to your suggestion."
    NO PLEA FOR CLEMENCY HERE.
    Due to outcry about prison conditions on the Andaman Islands the British Authorities decided to close the jail on the islands. Concessions were being made to prisoners who wanted to settle on the islands. But these were denied to Savarkar. He did want to settle on the islands. He was forcibly sent back to mainland India and kept in various prisons for further 3 years.

    • Is it true that Savarkar's health deteriorated in the Andamans and hence the Government was compelled to transfer him to Indian prisons in 1921?

    In Andaman no medical aid was ever given to political prisoners. British Authorities were absolutely callous in this respect. Savarkar's elder brother Babarao suffered terribly. The Savarkar brothers were sent back to mainland India not because of failing health but because Government had decided to close down the prison settlement in Andaman, after several years of mounting public pressure in India.

    • What was the impact of Savarkar on the revolutionary movement?

    In 1905, Savarkar started his secret society Abhinav Bharat - on the lines of Young Italy the revolutionary society of Mazzini. At the time of India’s independence, many Congress Party leaders were still members of Savarkar's secret society - the Abhinav Bharat. They included Balasaheb Kher, Chief Minister of Bombay Province, Ravishankar Shukla, Chief Minister of Central Provinces, Sikandar Hiyat Khan, the Muslim Chief Minister of Punjab just to name a few. President of the Congress Party Acharya J B Kripalani himself was a member of Abhinav Bharat.

    Due to Savarkar's efforts, there arose a succession of revolutionaries. For example, Khudiram Bose (1908), Madanlal Dhingra (1909), Anant Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande (1910), Bal Mukund, Avadhabihari, Amirchand and Vasant Vishwas (1915), Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev (1931), Udham Singh (1941) and many more. Those who were sentenced to death went to the gallows fearlessly. Even the British officers admired their courageous behaviour and it made tremendous impact on the minds of millions of Indians.
    Those who were not sentenced to death were sentenced to Transportation for Life to the Andaman Islands. They too accepted their fate with fortitude. The first one to be sentenced this way was the elder brother of Savarkar, named Babarao (Ganesh). So important was the sentencing of Babarao that Viceroy Lord Minto informed it to the Secretary of State for India, London by telegram. Bhagat Singh and Rajguru met Savarkar secretly when the latter was in internment in Ratnagiri (1924-37). Subhash Chandra Bose met Savarkar in Mumbai in 1943. On Savarkar’s advice, Bose slipped out of India and later formed the Indian National Army.

    • What are Savarkar's contributions to the Indian freedom struggle?

    1. As early as 1900, when even 'home rule' and 'dominion status' were not heard of, Savarkar fearlessly declared complete independence as the goal of the Indian political movement. It should be remembered that Gandhi had opposed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's resolution in the 1929 Congress session at Lahore, demanding Absolute Political Independence.
    2. Savarkar stressed that freedom would be achieved only by war and never through petitions
    3. He formed revolutionary organizations like Mitra mela, Abhinav Bharat and Free India Society to achieve the goal of complete independence. The oath of Abhinav Bharat is preserved by British secret Police. The words Absolute Political Independence are unmistakable in the oath.
    4. In 1905, Savarkar organized the first-ever public bonfire of bonfire of foreign clothes in Pune. At that time, Gandhi criticized this bonfire, but did the same in 1921.
    5. Through his books like Mazzini and Indian War of Independence of 1857, he not only inspired his fellowmen but also outlined the strategy and the tactics of revolutionary movement.
    6. By declaring the 1857 War as the War of Independence, Savarkar rebelled against the very concept of rebellion itself. Savarkar propounded that a struggle against a foreign rule was a war of independence and not a mutiny.
    7. Savarkar established contacts with the Russian and Irish revolutionaries and International Socialist organizations.
    8. Through articles or their translations in American or Irish newspapers and his famous trial at The Hague, Savarkar helped to create an international public opinion favourable to India's freedom.
    9. Savarkar was the first to envisage the flag of Indian Freedom Struggle and get it unfurled by Madame Cama in the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart in 1907.
    10. Even in the midst of revolutionary activities, Savarkar contemplated upon the Constitution of free India and held that free India should be a republic.
    11. Savarkar’s magnetic personality, heroism, self-sacrifice, oratory and literature inspired generations of freedom loving people.
    12. Savarkar correctly diagnosed that any alien rule rests on loyalty of native soldiers to it and that alien rule collapses when the native army gets infused with patriotism. While in England, Savarkar secretly sent revolutionary pamphlets to the camps of Sikh soldiers. In order to communicate effectively, he learnt Gurumukhi, studied Sikh history and scriptures and authored a history of Sikhs. His militarization movement during the World War II was a part of his revolutionary programme. Incidentally it was Savarkar who suggested to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to launch freedom struggle from without. As acknowledged by Netaji Subhash Bose, the Indian National Army got trained personnel due to Savarkar's militarization movement. (*Apart from revisionist historians, it was none other than Lord Clement Atlee himself, the British Prime Minster responsible for conceding independence to India, who gave a shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to freedom. Chief justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar's book A History of Bengal. The Chief Justice wrote: You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it ... In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor's palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi's "Quit India" movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi's influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, "m-i-n-i-m-a-l!"[46]

    Thus Savarkar is one of the patriarchs of the Indian freedom struggle.

    • What were the relations between Savarkar and Subhas Chandra Bose?

    A meeting which took place between Subhas Chandra Bose and Savarkar in Bombay in June 1940. On this occasion Savarkar is supposed to have suggested to Subhas that he should go to Europe and seek the dictators’ support. According to an article in The Times of India of June 24, Mr Bose had also talks with Mr V D Savarkar, president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha, at the latter’s residence at Dadar on Saturday evening. It is understood that the discussions related to the present political situation in the country and the steps the Hindu Mahasabha and the ‘Forward Bloc’ should take in co-operation with other parties. The episode, as always, did not go unnoticed by the police, who gave a brief account of it:
    Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Bombay on June 22nd and had discussions with V D Savarkar with a view of exploring the possibilities of co-operation between the Forward Bloc and the Hindu Mahasabha respectively. (MSA, Home Special Department, 1023, 1939-40, SA dated June 29, 1940, ‘Forward Bloc’).

    The absence of accounts by the Hindu Mahasabha on the meeting can be explained by the fact that, both the leaders being involved in anti-British activities, it would not make sense leaving records of sensitive matters. Not even among Bose’s papers and writings is there any reference to the meeting. It is therefore impossible to reconstruct the content of the talks between the two leaders, unless we trust the only source available. This is the speech made by Savarkar on the occasion of the dissolution of the Abhinav Bharat in 1952. Certainly the meeting did take place, and very possibly the two leaders discussed Bose’s intention to go to Europe and seek the support of the axis powers. Savarkar inspired Bose, who, right from 1933, had his own connections with the dictators’ governments. The working committee of September 10 decided which steps should be taken in order to prepare the nation to face the emergency provoked by the outbreak of the war.

    The preliminary condition was the devolution of full powers to a central Indian government by the British. The committee wished for the realization of the militarisation of Indian society and the Indianisation of the army. It requested a reform of the Arms Act, along the lines prevailing in the UK. It demanded also that territorial forces and paramilitary groups be strengthened, that new military organisations be created in those provinces where they did not exist before.
    (NMML, Moonje papers, subject files, n 51).

    A study of relations between two towering contemporaries Veer Savarkar (1883-1966) and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945?) will prove interesting. On the "longest day," June 21, 1940, Subhas Chandra Bose called on to Savarkar at Savarkar Sadan, Bombay. Savarkar advised Subhas not to waste time in agitating for the removal of British statues like Holwell Monument in Calcutta - only to end up in a British prison during the invaluable war-time. Savarkar, was surreptitiously in touch with Ras Behari Bose in Japan. He advocated that Subhas should smuggle himself out of the country and try to reach Germany and Japan (like Indian revolutionaries during World War I) to raise an Indian Army of liberation out of PoWs. In his avatar as Netaji, Subhas Bose's future course of action developed on the prophetic lines of Veer Savarkar.

    Netaji in his speech on Azad Hind Radio (June 25, 1944) acknowledged Savarkar's perspicacity in these words: "When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision, almost all the leaders of Congress party have been decrying all the soldiers in Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Veer Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in armed forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men and soldiers for our Indian National Army."

    On September 30, 1943 when Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose toured Andamans as the supreme commander of Azad Hind Fauz, he paid his tributes to the memories of freedom fighters imprisoned in the Cellular Jail. He got printed thousands of copies of the Tamil version of Savarkar's Indian War of Independence of 1857 and distributed them in public. Andaman and Nicobar islands were re-named as Saheed and Swaraj islands.

    Savarkar reciprocated these noble sentiments, but alas, Subhas was not there to see it. On May 10, 11, and 12 1952 during the dissolution celebration of Abhinav Bharat, the secret revolutionary party Savarkar had founded in 1904 at Pune, the bust of Netaji graced the stage for three days. Hailing Subhas as "deathless" Savarkar said, "Long live deathless Subhas, victory to the goddess of freedom."

    (*The Black Hole of Calcutta was a small dungeon where troops of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah, held British prisoners of war after the capture of Fort William on June 20, 1756. John Zephaniah Holwell claimed that following the fall of the Fort, British and Anglo-Indian soldiers and civilians were held overnight in conditions so cramped that a large proportion of those held died from suffocation, heat exhaustion and crushing. He claimed that 123 prisoners died out of 146 prisoners held. Doubt has been cast on both the numbers alleged and on whether the incident happened at all and some modern historians have suggested the incident was fabricated by Holwell as a piece of propaganda to blacken the image of Siraj.
    Holwell had erected a tablet on the site of the Black Hole to commemorate the victims, but at some point before 1822 (the precise date is uncertain) it disappeared. Lord Curzon, on becoming Viceroy in 1899, noticed that there was nothing to mark the spot and commissioned a new monument, mentioning the prior existence of Holwell's; it was erected in 1901 at the corner of Dalhousie Square, which is said to be the site of the Black Hole. At the apex of the Indian independence movement, the presence of this monument in Calcutta was turned into a nationalist cause celebre. Nationalist leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose lobbied energetically for its removal. The Congress and the Muslim League joined forces in the anti-monument movement. As a result, the obelisk was removed from Dalhousie Square in July, 1940 and re-erected in the graveyard of St John's Church, where it remains to this day)