The first Volume of Savarkar had already left me cogitabund and intrigued about what happened next. It was in 2020 that I read the first volume (reviewed here) and was eagerly waiting for Volume 2 ever since. I bought it as soon as it was released but wasn’t able to read it until this year due several health issues, from Covid that destroyed my immunity, to fractures, etc. And now when I finished it, I was again left with several thoughts stirring in my mind, some of which I am going to share today along with what I think about this book, Savarkar: A contested Legacy 1924 -1966 by Vikram Sampath.
The second Volume comes with a signed letter from the author where he mentions that this second volume is the concluding one. He also mentions how the books on Veer Savarkar in the past have either eulogized or vilified him and he hopes that this book provides the much-needed balance to Indian historiography and discourse. This volume focuses on his life, major events related to him and in India that affected him and his decisions during the years 1924 – 1966. It starts with the release of Savarkar from Poona’s Yerawada Jail in 1924 where he had been lodged for a year. After spending over a decade in the cellular jail he was again put in jail for 4 years or so. However, Savarkar was released conditionally. He was barred from (1) going out of Ratnagiri without the permission of the Government and (2) Engaging publicly or privately in any political activities. Failing this, he would be arrested again and will have undergo the remaining sentence of almost 15 years! He knew that he was more use to the country being outside rather than inside the jail. These restrictions initially were for five years but the government kept renewing them until he was finally free in 1937.
I was amazed by the fact that despite his movement and engagement in public or private political activities being restricted, Savarkar did not sit idle. He was a great social reformer. He spoke, wrote and worked towards eradicating several regressive social practices, one of the major one was, Untouchability. From getting the children of all caste study together in a school, to allowing them visiting temples, to one of his major initiatives sahabhojan or inter-caste dining, Savarkar worked relentlessly for the upliftment of the backward castes. He also called out the untouchability among the backward classes that usually went unnoticed. He did get a lot of resistance and was shouted upon with abuses and vile curses but that did not deter him a bit. He also undertook Shuddhi movements whenever he could.
After Savarkar was finally set free in 1937, he devoted all his time in freedom and political movements. He later went on to become the president of Hindu Mahasabha. Savarkar never minced words when it came to criticising Gandhi’s and Congress’s double standards and discrimination towards Hindus in their attempt to appease Muslims. Congress’s soft and compromising approach towards India’s freedom attracted a lot of ire from Savarkar. While Savarkar’s prime motive was complete freedom of undivided India and protection of Hindu rights and life; Congress was more concerned towards remaining in power and exploiting its benefits. This is when and how, the rivalry of congress against Savarkar started. Apart from violent protests against him, congress also tried to fatally harm him.
Along with Savarkar’s political journey as the president of Hindu Mahasabha and his relentless work towards India’s freedom the book also highlighted the countless riots that claimed thousands of Hindu lives. Gandhi’s and Congress’s apathy towards Hindus made Savarkar even more furious. Reading about the atrocities on Hindus during Malabar, Noakhali and many such massacres sent a chill down my spine. I was really sad to read that a couple of unfortunate decisions at a vital time destroyed any chances that Hindu Mahasabha might have had in being taken as representatives of Hindus in order to decide on the terms of freedom that included decision on partition too. Congress didn’t lose that opportunity to vilify him by making misleading and twisted statements. Eventually, Congress compromised, and Muslim league got what it wanted, Pakistan.
We see an extremely different Savarkar post Gandhi assassination. His health was failing, he didn’t succeed in his mission as he had wanted to and then the accusation of murder made him extremely withdrawn. As if he was disappointed, disheartened and just tired. While I was reading the post assassination part, I really felt like he must have been under severe depression. The grief of his brother’s demise added to it. He became extremely reclusive and confined himself in his bedroom. Neither wanted to meet anyone nor talk to anyone. During that time, he read and wrote a lot about Aatmarpan (Self-sacrifice). He argued passionately on how self-sacrifice is sacred and is entirely different from suicide. He gave examples of several saints and scholars of the past who willfully gave up their body when they realised that their work on earth is done. Following the same philosophy, he stopped having his meals and ultimately, fasted unto death.
Volume 2 wasn’t an easy read in terms of events that followed between 1924 – 1966. While Savarkar’s work towards social reforms and Indian independence was extremely inspiring, the dirty politics played by league and congress was extremely disturbing. The riots orchestrated by congress post Gandhi assassination against Brahmins, especially Chitpavan Brahmins because Nathuram and Savarkar belonged to the same, was excruciating to read. “The political angle to the riots was fanned, ironically by the Congress that had been fed on decades of Gandhian non-violent sermons.” Most villages were thus ethnically cleansed of Brahmin households as either they deserted or got killed. “Congress supporters were incensed and swarmed around Veer Savarkar’s house, but police intervention saved him from bodily harm.” But police couldn’t save his brother, who lived nearby. “Narayanrao Savarkar was dragged out and hit with stones and mortars till he fell down in a pool of blood.”
Words will fall short in stressing on the importance of this book. This clear and unbiased account of Veer Savarkar’s life was very much needed. This book puts all the facts and events forward as they were and leaves the perception and conclusion on the reader. It’s not only a pure academic work which I strongly believe should be a part of the history curriculum but is also a befitting tribute to one of the biggest revolutionaries of India who didn’t get the respect and reverence he deserved. “Sociologist and scholar Ashis Nandy terms him as the ‘disowned father of the nation of India.‘” and rightly so! After reading this, I really wish to read ‘The Indian War of Independence’ that inspired so many revolutionaries and freedom fighters in those days. I cannot stress on how much everyone needs to read this book. If you wish to know the truth, this book is for you. Truth sets you free. This book does exactly that. A MUST READ!!