A Bharat Ratna for Savarkar, who supported Partition and opposed Kashmir's dissolution?
Muslim chief ministers opposed Partition but Savarkar supported Partition and princely states' quest for independence and opposed dissolution of Kashmir into India, writes Dattatreya Dabholkar
Savarkar supported princely states which wanted to remain independent, opposed dissolution of Kashmir into India and launched a vile tirade against Mahatma Gandhi. The Partition of India, said the British Foreign Secretary, was necessary for the empire, and Savarkar played along.
The Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that Savarkar filed mercy petitions to the British at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi, has been interpreted to mean that Savarkar obeyed instructions and advice given by the Mahatma.
The fact is that Savarkar filed eight mercy petitions during 12 years in prison between 1911 and 1923, the most significant one filed in November 1913, before Gandhiji returned from South Africa. The language used in this petition was contrite, expressing remorse and carried assurances of good conduct for the future. Indeed, Savarkar had offered complete cooperation with the prison administration.
Both Hindu and Muslim revolutionaries were subjected to torture regularly in the Cellular Jail. Unable to bear the suffering, several took their own lives. Sometimes they would strike work or fast unto death. Barindra Ghosh and Savarkar however were not part of these unrest, strikes or fast in the prison. Ghosh also sent in a mercy petition but Savarkar was actually rewarded for good conduct in prison. He was first appointed a clerk, later transferred to work at the oil depot. He was eventually promoted as a jail supervisor (Swatantraveer Savarkar: A Mystery by D.N. Gokhale).
The question is why didn’t the British Government release Savarkar despite his good conduct and multiple attempts to seek pardon? The Chief Jailor Reginald Cradock’s note throws some light.
“It is practically impossible to grant any kind of liberty to Savarkar. We must not ever forget how pivotal is the status of Savarkar among the youthful generation of revolutionaries spread across Europe and India…his associates will definitely hire a boat to arrange for a daring escapade of Savarkar somewhere in the middle of his oceanic journey…,” Craddock apprehended.
It has therefore been argued that Savarkar’s mercy petitions were part of a well-thought-out strategy to get out of prison by any means rather than waste his life in prison. In any case, it would be wrong to suggest that what he did was on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi.
There is also confusion over the role of Mahatma Gandhi and Savarkar in the Partition of India. Some Indians seem to believe that the Indian subcontinent was united in British India and held together by British administrative skills and military might (and Savarkar opposed Partition).
But the subcontinent was not united even under British rule. Nepal was close to India in terms of religion, culture and language. Had the British conquered it, Indians could have claimed Nepal to be part of India.
But would Nepal too have sought separation and landed in the same kind of mess we see in Kashmir today? In reality, even militant Hindu nationalists do not demand inclusion of Nepal into India. Nobody in Nepal either makes any such demand that Nepal be amalgamated with India. But it is widely claimed that the ancient state of Gandhar was part of India during the times of Mahabharata and that later Afghanistan became a part of the Mughal empire. In 1854 the British East India Company made a futile bid to conquer Afghanistan but were routed.
Realising that the ‘Company’ was not invincible, Hindu and Muslim soldiers rebelled in 1857. But while in our imagination we might see Afghanistan as part of an Akhand Bharat, after Independence nobody demanded its inclusion into Pakistan; nor did anyone in Afghanistan demand that it become a part of Pakistan.
In 1937, on the other hand, the British Indian Government included Nagaland in India but separated Burma. It is worth noting that Nagaland is where the highest number of Indian soldiers have laid down their lives so far. It is also significant that a plebiscite conducted in Rangoon had indicated that public opinion was against separation of Burma from India. Had Burma been a part of India today, ironically, we would have been debating where Rohingya Muslims could be rehabilitated. This is also a historical fact that before the British took over India, there was no single dynasty ruling over the area known as India. The rare dynasties which did rule over substantial parts of this land mass never lasted very long.
There was no concept of ‘United India’ among rulers or the ruled. Tiny princely states fought against each other, constantly altering their own borders. There was no singular doctrine of law or a common judicial system. Traditions and prescriptions by religious scriptures as understood or misunderstood by people were in vogue. People did travel from one princely state to another and bonded with each other on their shared commitment to preserve their religion, caste and creed.
However, for over a hundred years a certain section of people disagreed with this version of our history. This, they say, is a false version documented by British rulers. They claim there was a united India governed by a religious Constitution. So well governed was the ‘country’ that it had come to be known as the land of milk and honey. Its golden period was the ‘Ram Rajya’, an ideal state under the auspices of Lord Rama himself.
This ideal state, they believe, accomplished such heights in science and technology that mankind elsewhere could achieve only by the 19th and the 20th centuries. They are committed to re-establish once again a Hindu Rashtra, a united Hindu nation, at whatever cost such an effort may demand. Those who oppose their view of this united India, they say, are either British lackeys or pseudo secularists deserving of contempt.
They overlook that even Swami Vivekananda, a revered Hindu monk and philosopher, did not agree with them. This is what the Swami said:
“The destitute and downtrodden section of people belonging to this society was consistently crushed and exploited during the rules of all those who governed this country, irrespective of whether such rulers belonged to the Hindu, Muslim or Christian faiths. But thanks to the British rule in this country today, a single united nation comprising a variety of human races is being evolved…”
Swami Vivekananda went on to add: “There exists a wide variety of human races spread throughout India, just like there is a rich variety of human race found in Europe. Sometimes I feel a spirit of a united identity and social equality will foster in India only after adopting a democratic system of governance in this country. I firmly believe that the exclusive powers concentrated in the hands of a few upper castes will cease and the right to prescribe laws vested in the hands of religion will be quashed eventually…”
Mahatma Gandhi painstakingly built a nationwide network of activists committed to foster the spirit of serving people, irrespective of their religion, castes, creeds or language. This organisation firmly abided by the principles and values of democracy and non-violence.
It was thanks to such efforts that Britain, President Roosevelt of the US and people across the world reposed confidence in this organisation’s capability to govern this subcontinent in a peaceful manner. And yet in a letter to President Roosevelt after the Quit India Movement of 1942 was contained, Churchill had this to say:
"I am confident that by now you must have understood how superficial is the influence of Gandhi over the Indian people. During this period, every other day Indian youth were eagerly standing in long queues to seek employment in the Indian army, farmers were regularly working in their agricultural lands, judicial proceedings were taking place in the courts, factories were functioning regularly and majority of the schools and colleges were working smoothly. A few instances of violence did take place during the course of this agitation but Gandhi has not condemned it. So, you should understand that the philosophy of non-violence which Gandhi preaches is only a gimmick.
Why then did the British grant us freedom? Did we earn it with our own hard efforts or was British generosity responsible for our freedom? In 1930, the British government engaged spies from Scotland Yard. They were asked to travel across the Indian subcontinent and report on the extent of discontent toward the colonial rule. Their report said:
"We won’t be required to sacrifice this colony at least till the year 2050. A few negligible revolutionary incidents may occur due to the agitations launched by Gandhi but nothing more fierce will happen in this country."
A few years before the start of the World War II, Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for all the colonies of England, declared in British Parliament, "There is a lot of time as yet for India to become competent to handle independence."
In 1940, Sir Samuel Hoare was felicitated at Ahmedabad. Sardar Patel presided over the function. While referring to the speech delivered by Hoare in the British parliament, the Sardar presciently said, "Today you are engaged in this ferocious conflict in a do-or-die manner. If you happen to lose this battle you will end up losing everything you have won so far; and even if you emerge triumphant, that victory will be utterly futile for you because a new world order is going to shape now. No country in that new world order will be able to deny independence to any of its colonies. Forget about India alone, now very soon you will have to quit from all of your colonies."
To understand what happened in subsequent years, The Untold Story of India’s Partition written by Narendra Singh Sarila narrates hundreds of secret stories tumbling out of declassified documents.
When Hitler was on the brink of imposing a crushing defeat on Britain, President Roosevelt exerted a great degree of pressure on Churchill to grant freedom to India. Churchill was deploying every possible trick to prevent the independence of India. But when granting freedom to India became unavoidable, the question was how it was to be granted.
Britain declared India’s partition on 3rd June 1947. A week later, at the annual gathering of England’s Labour Party, Foreign Secretary Earnest Bevin said:
"Partition of India is necessary for us and we have succeeded in selling this idea to the Muslims of India. We need to have bases of our armed forces at places like Lahore, Baluchistan and Karachi so as to keep an eye on Russia as well as the oil-rich countries in the Middle-East. There is no possibility that a united India will grant us such bases for our armed forces but Pakistan, which will be economically weak right from its inception, will…”
Sikandar Hayat Khan and Fazal Ul Haq, chief ministers of Punjab and Bengal provinces, were resolutely against the partition of India. Partition of India was not in the interests of Muslims because their population in united India was 25%. They would therefore wield considerable influence and clout in the lower house of the Indian Parliament. Their strength in the armed forces too was substantial at 35%.
Besides, they would also wield power in Muslim-majority provinces. Muslims of India felt a close bond with the Red Fort of Delhi, Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Dargah Ajmer Sharif, Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah, Fatehpur Sikri and etc, which would not be a part of Pakistan. By selling the idea of India’s Partition to M.A. Jinnah, the British essentially fooled the Muslims.
But a section of the intelligentsia has been busy asking why Congress didn’t oppose the Partition. When it became evident that British would quit India, several princely states declared their states as independent. A group of ‘kingdoms’ in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh got together to advance this cause. They were demanding a plebiscite in their states. Besides demands for Khalistan and Dravidistan, Suhrawardy and Sharat Chandra Bose were firm about a united Bengal.
Mahatma Gandhi had opposed Partition. He famously said, “First chop my body into two halves before partitioning this nation.” His commitment to a united India cannot be questioned. But what was Veer Savarkar doing when transfer of power was taking place?
By 1937 when all restrictions imposed on Savarkar had been lifted and he was released, Savarkar’s political views had changed radically. Once lyrical in his praise of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and emphatic that Indians must preserve the spirit of unity between Hindus and Muslims, he had taken a U-turn.
During his incarceration in Ratnagiri, he suggested in the book on ‘Hindutva’ that the main enemy of Indians were not the British but Muslims. This was similar to the views of RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar. After his release from Ratnagiri prison, addressing the annual session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Ahmedabad, he said, "We must not commit the mistake of assuming that India has become a united nation. We must accept that there are two states of Hindus and Muslims in this huge subcontinent."
He went on to say, "Shivaji honouring the daughter-in-law of Kalyan city’s governor and returning her to her family is neither an example of idealism nor worth following. Instead of returning her to her husband and thereby allowing him to increase his own breeding, Shivaji should have donated her to one of his soldiers to accomplish the growth of our Hindu breeding."
Following this shocking and disgusting speech, Savarkar launched a tirade against Gandhi, possibly in the hope that it would please the British rulers. But when India became free, so little was the political clout of Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS that the British did not even bother to seek their opinion on Partition.
When Pt. Nehru and Sardar Patel were forging a united India, Savarkar was offering his support to the kings and princes aspiring to remain independent.
The king of Travancore-Kochi wrote to President Roosevelt, "Thorium is a fuel necessary for generating the atomic energy needed in the future of mankind and largest deposits of Thorium are located in my state. If you insist upon Churchill to grant me the status of an independent state then I won’t hesitate to enter into a contract with you for arranging the supplies of thorium in a manner suited to meet all your needs." After this outrageous letter, this unhinged king unilaterally declared his resolve to remain independent. Savarkar offered his support to him. This story can be found in a Marathi book Akathit Savarkar written by Madan Patil.
Balraj Madhok from Kashmir was one of the most significant leaders of the Kashmir Praja Parishad, of the RSS and thereafter the Jana Sangh. Madhok is on record saying, "We always wanted Kashmir to exist as an independent HinduRashtra." Both Savarkar and Golwalkar had been the guests of Kashmir’s Maharaja Hari Singh and opposed dissolving the princely state of Kashmir into India.
Their advice to Maharaja Hari Singh was to employ an army of soldiers from Nepal to lay the foundations of a Hindu-Rashtra. Thanks to such foolhardy advice Maharaja Hari Singh ended up signing the accord to merge his state with India only after half of Kashmir was captured by Pathan mercenaries engaged by Pakistan.
Historians unfortunately have ignored many such facts now available in the public domain. A reassessment of our ‘heroes’ is certainly called for.
(Translated and condensed from the original Marathi to English by Girish Vidyadhar Katre)
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)