“We want to tell him (Rahul Gandhi) that we are honoured to be called followers of Savarkar…he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British. He jumped into the sea, escaping from the clutches of British soldiers and swam for 10 km, and fought for Independence.” Amit Shah thundered while addressing a farmer’s rally in a Surat village. This is yet another instance of his party’s relentless efforts at rewriting the history of India.
What kind of a person was this ‘Veer’ Savarkar in reality?
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was brought to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 1911 after his conviction for the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik district, who was "sympathetic towards Indian aspirations." Within six months of his imprisonment, he submitted a petition for mercy to the British government in India. In 1913, he submitted his second petition in which he wrote: "I am ready to serve the (British) Government in any capacity they like... . Where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?" [emphasis added]1
Savarkar even went to the extent of submitting himself totally to the British Empire. "I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate... .This or any pledge, e.g., of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release - any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the State would be gladly accepted by me and my brother."2
Savarkar’s jumping into the sea, which Amit Shah mythifies in his Surat speech, was not when he was sentenced to life imprisonment. It took place in March 1910 when Savarkar was arrested at London’s Victoria Terminal railway station as soon his train arrived there from Paris. They sent him back to India by ship in order to prosecute him for his 1906 anti-government speech in Bombay. Next morning, Savarkar escaped through a porthole and swam ashore where he was arrested again. The reality is quite different from what Amit Shah wants us to believe.
Savarkar’s complicity in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is also proved beyond doubt. In his crime report No.1, the main police investigating officer, Jimmy Nagarvala, stated that "Savarkar was at the back of the conspiracy and that he was feigning illness."3 Savarkar was not ‘veer’ enough to admit his role, however. Rather, in a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, on 22 Feb 1948, he wrote: "Consequently, in order to disarm all suspicion ... I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the government may require in case I am released on that condition." The supplication was contemptuously rejected.4
In fact, tendering apologies and pleading pathetically for mercy was an integral part of Savarkar’s personality. He indulged in those exercises in 1911, 1913, 1925, 1948 and 1950.
For half a century after India’s Independence the Right wingers never owned up Savarkar. It was only in 2000 that the BJP took him under its mantle, long after memories were buried and when distortions would be accepted as truths by the millennial generation.
Savarkar “died a lonely man,” says Subhash Gatade, “abhorred especially by the thriving 'Parivar' then, which made special efforts to maintain distance from him in those days.”5
A lot of history is being rewritten these days by Amit Shah and his people. It is the duty of Indians to pursue the truth. Satyameva Jayate is our national motto, after all, and it comes from our ancient scriptures, Mundaka Upanishad.
1 & 2: Savarkar’s Mercy Petition, A. G. Noorani, Frontline.
3 & 4: Savarkar and Gandhi, A. G. Noorani, Frontline.
5: The Iconisation of Savarkar, Subhash Gatade, Countercurrents.