I have written about Savarkar in several of my previous posts; see the comments to the July 2012 post for the list. But there is some further information that elementary historians much younger me should be aware of.
The Indian Independence Movement was not taught in history classes when I was in school. I mentioned in one previous post that Savarkar’s granddaughter laughed at me when we were in school when I told her that I had not heard of her grandfather or his alleged involvement in Gandhi’s assassination. I must add for good measure that her father (Savarkar’s son-in-law) committed suicide in much the same manner as Savarkar himself when some embarrassing information about him came to light. That was in the early 1990s; I am not sure of the exact date. The full details are known to the CPI(M) Bhandup (Mumbai) Party Unit, whose office is close the place of work of that man who I must decline to name for the moment. The privilege is left to that political party, which I have distanced myself from for much the same reason as journalist-politician Sudheendra Kulkarni. I feel that to conceal such a matter would lead to public ignorance later.
Coming now to the Independence Movement, I have relied on the following sources for information.
- Vincent Smith: “The Oxford Student’s History of India” 15th ed., revised by H. G. Rawlinson, Oxford University Press, 1951.
- C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer: “Annie Besant” 4th Reprint, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1992.
- Abhay Kumar Dubey: “World-Famous Revolutions” Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, 1993.
The Mutiny of 1847
This has been recognised by many as the first stage of the Independence Movement. Savarkar’s book “The Indian War of Independence 1857” on the subject, available at savarkar.org did much to influence public opinion.
Lord Canning relieved Lord Dalhousie as Governor-General of India on the last day of February 1856, and remained in office for little more than six years, until March 1862. The history of his administration is the story of the Mutiny, its suppression, and the consequent reorganisation. To quote from Smith , p. 325:
The Mutiny. A panic in the sepoy army was caused in January 1857, by the discovery that the cartridges for the new Enfield rifle had been greased with animal fat, and that the purity of the sepoy’s caste was consequently endangered. The authorities did their best to remedy the blunder ignorantly committed, but the alarm extended throughout the army, and was not to be allayed, the men believing that the Government intended to force them to become Christians. Trouble with incendiary fires at Barrachpore, followed in February and March by mutinies there and at Behrampore, the cantonment of Murshidabad. In distant Ambala, too, fires in the lines during March and April indicated a rebellious spirit of the troops. The decisive outbreak occurred at Meerut on 19 May, when the Indian regiments broke out, burnt the station, murdered the Europeans, and set of for Delhi. The commanding officer of Meerut, an imbecile old man, did nothing with the two thousand two hundred European troops at his disposal, but allowed the mutinous regiments to escape and occupy the ancient capital, where the Christian population was slaughtered, and the sepoys tendered their allegiance to the titular emperor, Bahadur Shah II, then more than eighty years of age. Within a month nearly every regiment between Allahabad and the Sutlej had mutinied, and in most Districts of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh civil government was at an end. Those days are remembered as ‘the time of disorder’ (ghadr or balwa ka wakt).
The news of the rebellion determined Parliament to abolish the powers of the East India Company and transfer the government of India directly to the Crown. The Queen’s Proclamation of 1 Nov. 1858 appointed Lord Canning as ‘first Viceroy and Governor-General’. It was published at Allahabad, and a few days later the last of the Mogul emperors passed through on his way to Burma (Myanmar), where he spent the rest of his days in confinement.
The following timeline is also taken from Smith :
Leading Events and Dates of the Mutiny
||10 May: Mutiny at Meerut: rebel occupation of Delhi|
8 June: occupation of Ridge by a small British force
14 September: British recovery of Delhi
||1 July: defence of Residency begun
25 September: reinforcement of garrison by Havelock and Outram
22 November: final relief by Sir Colin Campbell and Outram; withdrawal of garrison
||21 March: British recovery of Lucknow
||6 June: defence of entrenchment begun
27 June: defence of entrenchment ended
27 June – 16 July: surrender and massacres
17July: entry of relieving force
27 November: defeat of Windham by Gwalior contingent
6 December: victory of Sir Colin Campbell (battle of Kanpur)
||June: capture of Gwalior and death of Rani of Jhansi
||April: execution of Tantia Tope
||June: recovery of Bareilly by British
||Queen’s Proclamation announced
Early Twentieth Century
We come now to developments in the early twentieth century. Smith’s book, which was revised in 1950, much after the death of the author in 1920, has missed out a lot of relevant information, and merely mentions that the Indian National Congress, founded in 1895 at the suggestion of A. O. Hume, a retired Indian civil servant, played an increasing part in Indian affairs since 1919. The book states that: “From 1919 till his death, the acknowledged leader of Congress was Mr. M. K. Gandhi, the great nationalist leader, who first rose into prominence by championing his fellow-countrymen’s cause in South Africa in 1896.” On other political organisations, it states:
Other political bodies were the Mahasabha, an orthodox Hindu association, and the Muslim League, presided over by Mr. M. A. Jinnah, which aspired to Pakistan, or the setting up of separate states wherever there was a Muslim majority. But these, unlike the Indian National Congress, were sectional organisations.
Far more information is given in Dubey , quoted below:
The ill advised partition of Bengal in 1905 By Lord Curzon saw an unprecedented upsurge of national awakening ad patriotism. This marked the rise of extremist schools of nationalism that took birth in Maharashtra and Bengal and later northern India. Aurobindo and Barindra Ghosh had founded the Anushilan Samiti in Bengal. The partition of Bengal saw an increase in the activities of revolutionaries in Bengal. Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose hurled a bomb that killed two English ladies, Mrs. Kennedy and her sister. The target was the District Judge of Muzaffarpur. In the first Alipur Conspiracy Case, Aurobindo was put up for trial but was discharged for lack of evidence. The revolutionary movement came under the spell of the younger generation who formed groups in Barisal, Chittagong, Midnapur, Hooghly, Dacca, Mymensingh, Behrampur and Calcutta. In Maharashtra, it was lead by the legendary Veer Savarkar.
Public opinion forced the annulment of the partition of Bengal. In 1907, the Congress split into two groups at Surat. They were called Moderates and Extremists as their method of agitation against foreign rule were totally different. Another facet of the national movement was the agitation carried on in foreign countries for Indian freedom. Madam Cama, Shyamji Krishna Verma, Sirdar Rana were playing a prominent part in espousing the cause of freedom in foreign countries. Madame Cama unfurled the Indian flag at the International Socialist Congress (1907) at Stuttgart.
Madame Cama’s original Indian National Flag
The Swadeshi and anti-partition movements badly affected the English. It resulted in decrease in import of British goods which affected the British industry. As both the communities took part in these agitations, the British resorted to the time tested policy of divide and rule. Seeds of dissent were sown to isolate Muslims from the national stream. Communal riots broke out at many places, the national movement was weakened and the British government came out with many repressive laws so that the tide of nationalism could be checked.
The capital of India was shifted to Delhi. As the Viceroy Lord Hardinge rode into Delhi on December 23, 1912, a bomb was hurled at him by Rash Behari Bose. The viceroy was wounded. The Minto-Morley reforms did not satisfy anybody. Savarkar had been arrested in London and sent to prison in Andamans. A youth Madan Lal Dhingra had shot Sir Curzon Wylie. Ghadar Party was organised from among Sikh emigrants on the west coast of America and Canada. Oxford educated Lala Har Dayal was an indefagitable revolutionary. He first fled to Switzerland in 1914. From there he went to America and organised the Ghadar Party.
Savarkar left for London in 1906 to study law. His passage was paid for by Shyamji Krishna Verma. He was arrested in 1909 for involvement in an armed revolt against the Morley-Minto Reforms. He was later sentenced to 50 years imprisonment in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
I cannot attempt to write full biography of Savarkar, but will now quote from C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer‘s biography of Annie Besant , which does mention Savarkar’s name, but also goes into other matters of importance in India at the beginning of the 20th century, including the founding of Banaras Hindu University. Chapter V: “Campaign for Home Rule”, which is quoted, starts by discussing a case filed against Annie Besant by the father of Jiddu Krishnamurthi, the famous Indian philosopher.
It was in 1915 that Mrs Besant’s active political work was renewed soon after the termination of a case (in which she was the defendant) initiated by G. Narayaniah, the father of the present world celebrity J. Krishnamurthi. The case terminated in 1915. Thereafter, the lawyer for the plaintiff joined her in her political work. it was characteristic of Mrs. Besant’s generosity and fairness that the frank criticism of certain Theosophical tenets and personages indulged in by the advocate aforesaid during the progress of the case did not prevent her from collaborating with him in her political work.
Annie Besant’s characteristics may perhaps be best illustrated by a reference to her relations with J. Krishnamurthi. As is well known, Krishnamurthi’s father had entrusted the education and upbringing of his two sons, Krishnamurthi and Nityananda, to Mrs. besant. Later on prompted and financed by some who were personally opposed to Mrs. Besant and regarded her as a foreigner who tried to overturn Hindu society, the father instituted proceedings for recovering the custody of the children from Mrs. Besant who had not only spent large sums of money on the education of the boys but had arranged for their being entered in an English university. The author of this book is fully acquainted with the details of the action as he appeared for the plaintiff, Mr. Narayaniah. Mrs. Besant defended the action herself; and her demeanour and advocacy were on par with her historical performances as her own lawyer in the English courts. She was firm but always courteous to the Judge, notwithstanding that the Judge was an Englishman and was deeply prejudiced against her from every point of view — as one who had broken away from Christianity, and adopted Hindu modes of life and thought and as one who ranged against against the British government in political matters. The Judges who heard her case could not but admire the legal erudition that she displayed, the eloquence of her pleading and the logical common sense underlying every word that she spoke.
In the course of the case, she declined to disclose or to produce in court certain documents relating to Mr. Leadbeater whom she had constituted the preceptor of the boys under her guardianship and against whom certain grave allegations were made. …
In the course of his early statements, Krishnamurthi severely criticised many persons and many beliefs, the targets of such criticism including Mrs. Besant herself, his teacher George Arundale, and his immediate preceptor C. W. Leadbeater. Mrs. Besant, however, never wavered in her love and affection for him and she did not regret the benefactions that she has showered on Krishnamurthi.
Under the inspiration of Ranade, Gokhale and others the Servants of India Society was founded which pledged to work for the public good in different directions. It represented the moderate group in politics. But the partition of Bengal and the repressive policy pursued in Punjab, Bombay and Bengal and the prosecution of leaders like Tilak, Lajpat Rai and others produced great bitterness in men’s minds. Savarkar was indicted for being implicated in the assassination of Wylie. he escaped when he was being brought to India for trial, but was captured. he was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment. After his release, he became the President of the Hindu Mahasabha. The leaders of the Revolutionary Movement in Bengal edited successively the Bande Mataram, Nava Sakti, Karma Yogi and Dharma; and Bipin Chandra Pal helped in this work. The Terrorist Movement arose and spread in Bengal Many young men who joined the Movement were prosecuted and sentenced to death. Some Sikhs who had settled in Canada and the U.S. and then returned, started the Ghadar Movement.
It was in this posture of affairs that Mrs. Besant, who had already founded the Central Hindu College, planned her comprehensive work for India. Her first idea was, as already outlined, to start a great National University aimed at promoting Indian nationalism. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who was then a prominent politacal elader in the United Provinces, wanted a Hindu University side by side with the Aligarh Muslim University which was being advocated by the great Sir Syed Ahmed. Mrs. Besant, as we have seen, tried to get a Charter for the National University; but was confronted with several difficulties and opposition, she agreed, with great self-sacrifice, to hand over the Central Hindu College to serve as the nucleus for the Hindu University aimed at by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. In 1921 the University honoured itself by conferring a doctorate on Mrs. Besant.
It was about 1885 that the first Indian deputation went to England to plead the cause of India. It consisted of Surendranath Banerji,
Chandavarkar, and Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar. Other deputations went to England thereafter;and in 1913 Bupendranath Basu, Jinnah, Samarth, Lajpat Rai and others went there. Very few tangible results were achieved by these efforts and frustration became widespread. At this juncture, the Home Rule League was started on the 3rd of September 1916 by Mrs Besant who initiated the first attempt at mass appeal. She also organised “The Order of the Sons and Daughters of India.” …
… in August 1917 she was made the President of the National Congress in Calcutta.
Savarkar most certainly has been mentioned as an important person in C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer’s book, which was first published in April 1963. However, when studying the history of the Independence Movement, organisations are more important then individuals, and we see that several individuals were involved with this stage of the movement.
Further Observations on Savarkar
Owing to the Gandhi Assassination Case and the inconclusive findings of the Kapur Commission almost two decades later, it is difficult to form an objective opinion of Savarkar, who undoubtedly did much to raise the awareness of Indians in the early twentieth century. He was rightfully awarded a D. Litt. by Pune and Nagpur Universities, but I find that some of his views on Indian Culture and Internationalism cannot be taken seriously. Kavita Krishnan, in her CPI(ML) site article (2003) casts several doubts on hischaracter. The matter of his suicide is also perplexing, seeing that his son-in-law also committed suicide in a similar manner much later, and Savarkar certainly could not have been unaware of the son-in-laws activities. What has been stated by savarkar.org is most unconvincing.