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New Parliament Bhavan – Questions Beyond The Inauguration Conundrum

V Subrahmanyam

India has got a New Parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has inaugurated the Rs.1250 crore1 Parliament complex on 28 May in the Central Vista on the occasion of the 140th Birth Anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), the vanguard of Hindu Mahasabha and the progenitor of RSS. Modi has consciously chosen 28 May for the inauguration of the New Parliament. No questions are raised about the date associated with Savarkar’s birthday. Opposition is only interrogating the propriety of inauguration by the PM. They argue that the head of the State and the head of the Parliament, not who heads the Government, should inaugurate the Parliament. Nineteen opposition parties announced a boycott of the inauguration celebrations.2 Is it an indication that the New Parliament will not care for the voices of the opposition? Will it care?

Nowadays, PM Modi is ubiquitous. Whether it is the inauguration of Metro Trains in Bangalore or Hyderabad, or launching of Vande Bharat Trains, or releasing of imported Cheetas into the wild, the performing of Bhoomi Puja at Ayodhya, or the opening of Cricket Stadium in Ahmedabad, Modi is omnipresent. Modi is too happy to receive a portrait of himself from Jay Shah. Incorrigible skeptics called it the worst kind of narcissism. Derreck O’Brien was merciless on Modi- He said: “N.M. N for Narcissist. M for Megalomaniac. Take your pick.” 3 So be it. 

The concept of Atma Nirbhar Bharat is meant to connote that India is self-reliant and has come out from the yoke of colonialism, if not in content but at least in symbols. Why should we continue to use the Parliament Bhavan that the British constructed? We need a spacious Parliament to accommodate the largest democracy and grandma of all democracies. Don’t we? 

Let us not extend the argument that why Rashtrapati Bhavan still accommodates our Head of State. Or, will PM Modi choose to address the 15th August speech in the future other than from the usual Red Fort, as it was a Mughal construction? And after all, we suffered 1200 years of servitude. Didn’t we? 

Who is the real Savarkar?

Let us leave the inauguration issue to the Parliamentary Opposition. We have other fish to fry. Many well-intentioned people are asking questions beyond the protocol matters. Is 28 May, remembered as the birth anniversary of Savarkar, appropriate for the inaugural occasion of the New Parliament? Was Savarkar a hero of the anti-colonial struggle? Was he in the line of Kaala Pani’s real heroes- Pandit Paramanand, Yogendra Shukla, Trailokyanath Chakravarthy, Manmathnath Gupt, Ramsaran Das, Batukeswar Dutt, Shiv Verma, Sachindranath Sanyal- who faced untold troubles and tribulations in the hell like conditions in the Andaman Circular Prison that were meant to emasculate the spirits of our freedom fighters? Is it true that he wrote five clemency applications in supplication of his release? Is it true that Savarkar several times assured the British authorities that he would serve the British Government in any capacity? Did he renounce the anti-colonialist revolutionary ideas and become a great admirer of the British Empire?4 Did he transform from an avid advocate of Hindu- Muslim unity, which he believed could only throw out the British Raj lock, stock and barrel, to a hate-monger of Muslims? And the dreamer and schemer of Hindu Rashtra in India? Was he the prime person along with Jinnah to subscribe to the two-nation theory based on religion? Is Modi an avowed admirer of Savarkar because of his Hindutva theory which is the holy grail of the saffron parivar, or Savarkar’s earlier role as a staunch freedom fighter?5 Let us explore.

Revolutionary Savarkar

V.D Savarkar began his revolutionary activity by forming Abhinav Bharat with his elder Brother Ganesh Savarkar. Savarkar left for London in 1906 and did organisational activity and propaganda from India House. Savarkar believed in armed struggle against the British as the only way to liberate the country from colonial rule. He greatly admired Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872). Savarkar planned several assassinations of British officers in India and smuggled 20 Brownian pistols from England clandestinely. He helped Madanlal Dhingra (1883-1909) with weapons in the assassination of WH Curzon Wyllie. It is said that Dhingra mistakenly thought that the targeted Curzon was Lord Curzon, who did the Bengal Partition in 1905. British police caught Madanlal Dhingra, executed in Bentonville Prison of London on 17 August 1909. While Gandhi criticised Dhingra’s act, Savarkar defended Dhingra vigorously. 

kalapani jail, the black terror

At home, Savarkar’s followers in Abhinav Bharat carried out assassinations, and many were caught, including his brother Ganesh Savarkar. The Indian Government issued an arrest warrant against Vinayak Savarkar. The Scotland detectives closely surveilled Savarkar’s clandestine activities in London. Savarkar organised a stirring meeting in memory of the 1857 martyrs of the first war of Independence. The pamphlet circulated on the occasion of the meeting made waves in England and India. Meanwhile, he wrote a remarkable book infused with patriotic fervour culling out the documents in the British Archives, putting in unparallel hard work. The First War of Independence of 1857 will remain an important book, though it is padded with much passion and fervour rather than strict historiography. After Karl Marx, he was perhaps the first Indian to call the ‘1857 mutiny’ (the British were calling it pejoratively) the First War of Independence. 

Savarkar left for Paris to escape the British dragnet but, for reasons unknown, returned to London and was arrested. He was deported to India to put him on trial. On the way near the port of Marseilles (France), he leapt into the sea from the ship he was being taken, swam to the shores, but was caught quickly by the British police who followed him in a small boat. 

Savarkar, the Barrister at Law, was sentenced to two life imprisonments that were to run separately, each for 25 years. As in those days, all the dangerous prisoners were sent to Andaman Prison, a notorious prison called Kaala Pani. Savarkar, too, reached Andaman Circular Jail on 4 July 1911. His brother Ganesh was arrested earlier and reached this prison a year before. 

Savarkar, like any other prisoner, faced untold suffering in jail. Solitary confinement, hard labour, hell-like conditions, tortures, insults, and complete isolation from the outside world were all meant to break the prisoners physically and psychologically too. Many withstood bravely and continued struggles to make the prison conditions better. Some succumbed and surrendered to the authorities. Savarkar brothers were among those who melted under the heat of the horrendous conditions. Barindra Kumar Ghosh, was another prisoner to follow the Savarkar brothers.

Savarkar’s ‘Conversion’ and the Clemency Petitions- A Shameless Surrender to the British

Savarkar began his clemency bargain just after six months he came to prison. He wrote the first letter praying for clemency on 30 August 1911. This letter is missing, but its reference is given in another petition. Reginald Craddock, the Home Member of the Governor General’s Council, visited Andaman Jail on 14 November 1913. He met Savarkar and other political prisoners. Savarkar gave his second clemency petition to Caddock6. No doubt, Savarkar argued his case for the prisoners’ rights that were given to others but were denied to him. So far, so good. But the end part was the significant one. That shows his complete renunciation of revolutionary ideas and abject pleas for his release. 

Prime Minister Modi saluting Savarkar

Savarkar wrote. “..I remind your honour to be so good as go through the petition for clemency (emphasis added) that I had sent in 1911….”. The following text shows the unmistakable change of heart of Savarkar: “The latest development of the Indian politics and the conciliating policy of the Government has thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now no man having the good of India and Humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which, in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-07, beguiled us from the process of peace and progress. Therefore 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 which is the foremost condition of that progress” (emphasis added). A man convicted of 50 years, praying for his release just after six months of his prison life! Compare this with Bhagat Singh. He demanded that since they were the war prisoners, they should be shot dead instead of hanging them to die.

There should never be any misconception about the content and intent of Savarkar’s petition. It is not merely the expression ‘I beg to submit’ that betrayed his capitulation, as told by Rahul Gandhi. It is the context in which Savarkar, a barrister, a prolific writer, who knew the nuances of expressions, was writing from the bottom of his heart to convince the Raj to release him prematurely. Savarkar, now a mellowed man recanting his past idea of armed rebellion against the British, was laying his staunchest newfound faith in the Constitutional path the colonisers laid out. Savarkar expresses his loyalty to the English as the foremost condition of that progress. Hence, Savarkar wrote in his petition to Craddock: “As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India.. but if we are released, the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge.” When he was writing this petition, the conditions at the Kaala Pani were so horrible that every month three prisoners were committing suicide. 

 

Savarkar assures that he had taken baptism of the constitutional path and would bring back all those comrades into peace and progress. Savarkar wrote: “Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking to me as a guide”. Savarkar drives his loyalty to the peaks. He reassures the predators: “I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious, I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail, nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. Savarkar prostrates before the Raj unabashedly. “The mighty alone can be merciful, and therefore, where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” Savarkar’s surrender was unequivocal. The conservative historian RC Majumdar rightly pointed out, commenting on the clemency petitions of Vinayak Savarkar and BK Ghosh, said: ‘The arrests of great revolutionaries and sending them to Andaman prisons brought a sea change of thinking and their attitude towards the British’. RC Majumdar was right, at least in the case of these two.  

Skeptical Raj

But the British Raj was still skeptical. They did not want him to get released nor wanted his services outside the prison. He was given relief from hard labour. “Savarkar was given the work of a clerk and afterwards was allowed to work as the foreman of the oil depot and department in the later part of 1920.” 7 Apart from this petition, he submitted similar petitions in 1914, 1917, and the final one was on 20 March 1920. All the five petitions were for clemency.

Craddock was not satisfied with Savarkar’s pleas. After returning from Andaman, he filed a report8. He mentioned that the Savarkar’s petition was for clemency. Craddock opined that the criminal acts they committed must not go unpunished. So he advised that he let Savarkar follow prison discipline, ask for better facilities in the jail and read books, whichever were allowed according to rules.

Savarkar fully complied with the prison discipline. He never participated in the prison struggles led by other prisoners.9 Savarkar criticised other political prisoners who got some facilities after a struggle in 1914. ‘These political prisoners became loyal to the authorities, and whatever the facilities they want, they are getting.’ RC Majumadar cast doubts upon Savarkar’s comment. He writes: ‘Savarkar never gives an example nor provides any evidence’.10

Trilokyanath Chakravarthy( 1889-1970), who spent 30 years in several jails in various periods, complained about Savarkar. ‘We, the prisoners, are divided into two groups- Naram and Garam. Savarkar and Barin Babu faced untold suffering initially. Now they become dear to the Jailor and the Superintendent. They are not ready to come with us by sacrificing their facilities.’ 11 

Did Gandhi ask Savarkar to write clemency letters? Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says yes.

Defending the indefensible

One petition written in 1913 is enough to show the complete transformation of Savarkar from an anti-colonial rebel to an ardent supporter of the British regime. British colonialism was no more his enemy. He developed the concept of Hindutva.  He found new enemies in Muslims.

The Hindutva supporters are at the forefront of defending Savarkar’s surrender to the British. How do they do it?

Y.D. Phadke writes: His appeal was a ruse. There is no evidence that he collaborated with the British.12 

Tarun Vijay, the editor of Panchajanya, admits that Savarkar wrote the clemency petitions. Why? “As an ardent follower of Shivaji,  Savarkar wanted to die in action.” And that was the only way to get out, Tarun argues.

Ved Rahi defends the RSS Organ Organizer in the same tone. Savarkar was a master strategist. When the country raged against colonialism, why should he waste his time languishing in jail? 

So, the Saffronite Brigade does not want to defend Savarkar by saying that the lefties, liberals, etc. misinterpreted clemency letters. He wrote clemency letters. They agree. But it was just a tactic.

After tired of answering the text of the clemency petitions, the Hindutva Brigade brought a new justification to the mercy letters. Rajnath Singh, the Minister for Defence, said that Savarkar wrote these letters at the behest of Gandhi. The first petition was written when Gandhi was in South Africa. When Savarkar gave his second petition to Craddock (1913), Gandhi was in jail in South Africa. The third one was written when Gandhi was exhorting to fill the jails with freedom fighters. The British brought Savarkar back to mainland in 1921, pleased with his discipline.  Gandhi was writing in Young India about the  Montagu reforms promising amnesty to all the political prisoners. GN Devy writes in Indian Express: “A centennial archaeology and fabrication of history that flies in the face of all evidence cannot be defended even by a defence minister”13

The moot question is: Did Savarkar fight against the British after his release? Did RSS or Hindu Mahasabha have any history of participation in the freedom movement? Savarkar opposed the Quit India Movement. And so did the RSS. 

In fact, Savarkar kept his promise to the British earnestly. In all the petitions to the Government, he was labouring hard to convince the Lords that he was loyal to the British; he believed in the constitutional path. “I offered myself as a volunteer in 1914 to Government when the war broke out..”. And “trying my humble best to render hands of the British Dominion a bond of love…Such an Empire wins my hearty adherence.” 14 

While addressing the 23rd session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, Savarkar exhorted Hindus to join the British Army. He said: “The war, which has now reached our shores, directly constitutes, at once, a danger and an opportunity, both of which render it imperative that the militarisation movement must be intensified and every branch of the Hindu Mahasabha in every town and village must actively engage itself in rousing the Hindu people to join the army, the navy, the aerial forces and the different war-craft manufactories.” 15

After renouncing the anti-colonial programme, Savarkar devoted his entire life to developing the concept of Hindutva, the theory of two nations, and spreading the dreams of establishing the Hindu Rashtra. That is why he is still the dearest to the Saffron Parivar. They do not bother if he had betrayed the cause of anti colonial struggle because they were never in the anti-colonial struggle.

Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years (in 1910-1911), and was in the Cellular Jail for less than ten years, and was finally released in 1924 from Yerwada Jail. He secured remission of more than 35 years. In the Cellular Jail and other jails, hundreds of other revolutionaries remained incarcerated for the entire term of their convictions. There were, of course, martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaq Ullah Khan, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Roshan Singh, who neither begged for mercy nor were shown any leniency. Many Ghadarite and Bengal revolutionaries refused “to plead with the British authorities for mercy. Nor did they agree to give up their struggle for India’s liberty in exchange for their own personal liberty.” 16

Savarkar remained as a revolutionary only for a few years. He succumbed to the rigours of Kaala Pani’s17 horrendous conditions and began to cringe. Merely after six months, he ditched his ideals of liberating the country from colonial predators. He praised the British Empire. He, without any fig leaf, expressed his desire to serve the British in any capacity. He became part of the ‘divide-and-rule strategy of the imperialists. He developed Hindutva and changed his goal post to ushering in Hindu Rashtra.

The honorific Veer stares in our faces in the backdrop of his abominable abjuring the anti-colonial fight. If we dig the facts, no one but Savarkar honoured himself with the title of Veer in his own writings.18

If we celebrate those who perpetuated the servitude, we are not opposing colonialism even symbolically. Are we?

28.05.23

Foot Notes

  1. The original budget cost was Rs. 977 crores. But the costs shot up by 29%. NDTV, 20 January 2023
  2. Hindu, 25 May 2023
  3. Deccan Herald, A Study in self-love: Modi and his personality cult, Shenin Joy, et al. 9 March 2023
  4. Vinayak Chaturvedi, a Professor at the University of California, who wrote the book: Hindutva and Violence: V.D.Savarkar and Politics of History, emphasises this aspect in his interview with Barkha Dutt. Available on YouTube. 
  5. After the BJP government came to power in 2014, it began to replace the old plaques with new ones deleting the names of more than 453 freedom fighters. The new list is sought to put Savarkar as the second most prominent name. Freedom fighters complained to the President that the names of Bengalis, Bengali-speaking Muslims and communist revolutionaries had deliberately dropped. Millennium Post, 6 September 2020
  6. National Archives; Vikram Sampath, Savarkar: Echoes from a Distant Past, Penguin, 2019
  7. Manini Chatterjee, The Kaala Pani Story, The Indian Express, 21 September 2004
  8. R.C. Majumdar, Penal Settlements in Andman, 1975
  9. Ashok Kumar Pandey, SavarkarKaala Paani aur Uske Baad, (Hindi), 2023, Rajkamal Prakashan
  10. RC Majumdar, op cit.,
  11. Trailokyanath Chakravarthy, Jail mein tees varnish ( 30 years in Prisons) (Tr. Ratna Chandra Ratnesh from Bengali), Samvad Prakashan, 2018. Compared to Savarkar, Trailokya Nath Chakravarthy’s life was full of struggle and replete with sacrifices that even today inspire all. Born in Kapasiatia district ( Now in Bangladesh), At the Young age of 17, he joined Anusheelan Samiti in 1906; He was sentenced and convicted in the Barishal Conspiracy case and sent to Andaman. He was released in 1927. Again he was arrested for political activities and was sent to Mandalay jail in Burma. After release, he joined Hindustan Republica Army. He was again jailed from 1930- 38. He tried to raise a rebellion against the British during WW2 time. He actively participated in the Quit India Movement. He was again jailed for four more years. After 1947, he founded Pakistan Socialist Party. In 1954 he became a Member of Parliament in East Pakistan. He passed away in 1970 in Delhi. (Wikipedia)
  12. A Complex Hero, The Indian Express, 31 August 2004
  13. G.N. Devy, Gandhi, Savarkar and History, 19 October 2019, The Indian Express.
  14. Savarkar’s mercy petition dated 30 March 1920. 
  15. Shamsul Islam, India Cultural Forum, 23 Aug 19
  16. Manini Chatterjee, The Kaala Pani Story, The Indian Express, 21 September 2004
  17. In all, 585 freedom fighters were deported from 1909 to 1938; the largest contingent was from Bengal, i.e. 398. Answered in RS on 9.7.2019. 
  18. Ashok Kumar Pandey, Savarkar, op. cit.  
Subrahmanyam Varanasi
Subrahmanyam Varanasi
Subrahmanyam Varanasi, Social activist and advocate from Guntur.

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