Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Veer Savarkar -3

Savarkar was the first Indian to conclude that the 'mutiny' of 1857 in India was in fact a war of Independence. He had reached this conclusion independently, and had planned to publish it in a book which was proscribed even before it could be published. Savarkar commemorated the event in 1907.

Interestingly, writing in the August 28, 1857, edition of the New York Daily Tribune, Karl Marx had stated that the rebellion took on the character of a national revolt against British colonial rule. Marx noted that the British, in creating a native army, had simultaneously organised the 'first general centre of resistance which the Indian people were ever possessed of.'

For the first time, soldiers of the Indian Army, recruited from different communities, Hindus and Muslims, landlords and peasants, had come together in opposition to British rule.

As a part of his effort towards armed revolt against the British, Savarkar got in touch with Gadar Party revolutionaries in north America and along with Madam Cama was active in organising the India Defence League in Europe.

He also got in touch with Irish freedom fighters like Eamon de Valera who were then waging an armed struggle to free Ireland from the British. Savarkar wanted to co-ordinate India's fight for freedom with the Irish revolutionaries.

It was these activities that led to his arrest. En route to India in captivity, he let himself out through a porthole and plunged into the sea. He swam to the shore and sought asylum, but was captured, and against international law, forcibly taken to the British ship.

The year was 1910. Savarkar was tried for treason and sentenced to 50 years. When he landed on the Andaman island, as he trudged up the slope, carrying his baggage on his head, the first thought that entered Savarkar's mind was strategic in nature: One day this Andaman island would be the bastion of free India in the Indian Ocean.

During the First World War, the Germans sent a cruiser Emadem to the Andamans in an unsuccessful attempt to free him. Savarkar firmly believed that an enemy's enemy is a friend and had no hesitation to take German help for Indian freedom.

It is significant that before he escaped from Calcutta to go to Germany, Subhas Bose had met Savarkar in Bombay.

After 14 years of hard labour he was released and kept in detention in Ratnagiri. Savarkar is one of the few leaders of the freedom movement who endured 14 years of hard labour. Restless at the thought of not being able to contribute to the freedom struggle, Savarkar tried every trick to get out of the Andaman jail.

He wrote to the British that he repented his actions. This to Savarkar was a tactic. Although this has been portrayed by his detractors as a 'betrayal,' little realising that Savarkar's intentions were to get out of Andaman alive, by hook or crook.

Savarkar has been vilified as a conspirator and instigator for Gandhi's murder. It is true that the two differed on many issues, but it must not be forgotten that Gandhi himself is on record of having praised Savarkar's efforts in Ratnagiri to fight for Dalit rights.

Judge Atma Charan Agarwal did not find him guilty in Gandhi Assassination case. Savarkar was acquitted, but the damage had been done, and the image of Savarkar was tarnished.

It is a pity that some of his detractors choose to disbelieve the verdict. Manohar Malgaonkar, after extensive research, published The Men who Killed Gandhi in 1977. He does not point to any guilt on Savarkar's part.

One hopes that the younger generation sees him for what he was and does not view him through a distorted prism. This is the least one could do for someone who devoted his whole life to the Indian freedom struggle, elimination of caste, succour to Dalits, and instilling a strategic culture in India.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    by Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd) and Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)