Last Saturday, May 28, was Veer Savarkar’s birth anniversary. This great revolutionary was born in 1883 in Bhagur, a village near Nasik in Maharashtra.
A born genius that he was Savarkar had a rare talent in poetry and his poems were published by well known newspapers when he was hardly 10 years old. When he was just 16 years old, Savarkar formed a body named Abhinav Bharat whose principal objective was to drive out the British from India and attain complete political independence for the country.
I was 15 years old and just out of High School when a friend who had gone to Lahore bought for me an old copy of Savarkar’s book The First War of Independence, 1857. The book had cost Rs.28. which at that point of time was a huge sum.
Since my school days I have been an avid book- lover. If any one were to ask me to name two books which have had a lasting impact on my life I would readily identify a couple of books I read as a teenager – one that I read as a fourteen year old boy – Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people, and the second one that I read the following year – the highly inspiring saga by Savarkar referred to above.
Sind, in undivided India, was a part of Bombay Presidency. So, until 1947, there was no separate University for Sind. All colleges in the province were affiliated to Bombay University. But the first time in my life I visited Bombay (now Mumbai) was in 1947, after independence, and after being displaced from Karachi. I was in Bombay just for two days. The friend with whom I was staying asked me if I was keen to see any particular place in Bombay. “Please take me to meet Veer Savarkar“, I said to him. And he did take me to Savarkar’s Shivaji Park residence, where for some forty five unforgettable minutes, I sat in awe of his magnetic personality while he kept asking me about the condition of Hindus in Sind.
The British Government described Savarkar’s book as ‘incendiary’. The condemnatory epithet was actually an honour when used by a cruel colonial power that was so frightened that it banned the book even before its actual publication. The story of the journey of the book’s manuscript from India to England, France, Germany, Holland and back, and the role it played in inspiring revolutionaries after its clandestine publication, is as thrilling as any of the battles fought in 1857.
Savarkar wrote it in London, where he had gone to study law but soon got involved in revolutionary activities, when he was only 25. The original text in Marathi was completed in 1907, to mark the 50th anniversary of 1857, and was secretly sent to India. But it could not be printed in India because the British authorities, who had come to know of it, raided the printing press.
Miraculously, the manuscript was saved and sent back to Savarkar in Paris. His fellow-revolutionaries translated it into English but no printer in England or France was willing to print it. Finally it was printed in Holland in 1909 and copies of it were smuggled into India. But the author was arrested in London in 1910 on charges of sedition, brought to India, convicted for two life imprisonments, and transported to “Kala Pani”, the dreaded Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was the same place where the British had deported thousands of patriots who had participated in the uprising of 1857. Savarkar spent 11 years in near-solitary confinement in a dark, dingy cell that overlooked the gallows where prisoners were routinely executed.
Though banned, the book went into several reprints. Madame Cama brought out the second edition in Europe. Lala Hardayal, a leader of the revolutionary Ghadar Party, brought out an edition in USA. It was printed for the first time in India in 1928 by Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Ras Behari Bose got it published in Japan in 1944, and the book became almost a textbook for the soldiers of the Indian National Army. Before the ban was lifted in 1947, Savarkar’s book was available in several Indian languages in the underground network. Thus, this was not a book written by an ordinary historian enjoying his comfort, safety and academic support structure, all of which he takes for granted. Rather, it was penned by a revolutionary who suffered unimaginable hardships for his activities and which in turn motivated countless other revolutionaries in their common goal of liberating India.
In keeping with its historical importance the Central Hall of Parliament House is adorned with the portraits of important national leaders.
Inside the Hall, in line with the passage connecting it with the Rajya Sabha Chamber, is a dais which is a permanent part of the Hall. In the arch overlooking the dais is the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.
In the arches on the right and left side of the dais are the portraits of C. Rajagopalchari and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Besides, there are twenty gilt-edged rectangular picture frames provided in the wooden panelling of the Hall, containing the portraits of other national leaders. These panels display the portraits of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Pandit Motilal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Chittaranjan Das, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, Morarji Desai, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr.Rammanohar Lohia, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Dadabhai Naoroji. In the arch facing the dais is the portrait of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
In case of every leader whose portrait is in Parliament’s Central Hall, the Lok Sabha Secretariat never fails to invite MPs to come to the Parliament House on his or her respective Birth Anniversary and pay floral tributes to that leader. For last Saturday also invitations were duly sent to all MPs. A notice was also published in Bulletin Part II of the Lok Sabha.
Quite a number of MPs were there. But from the Congress only one single MP was present, Hon’ble Speaker Smt. Meira Kumar. Since February 2003, when Swatantryaveer Savarkar’s portrait was first put up in the Central Hall and formally unveiled by the then President Dr. Abdul Kalam, the Congress Party has been boycotting all functions relating to this portrait including the first function involving the President himself!
This is singularly unfortunate, and I would like to urge the Congress Party to reconsider its stand.
When in 1966, Savarkar breathed his last, Smt. Indira Gandhi paid rich tributes to him and called him a great figure of contemporary India whose name was a by-word for daring and patriotism. He was cast in the mould of a classic revolutionary and countless people drew inspiration from him, she said. The then Vice-President, Dr. Zakir Hussain, in his homage to Savarkar said: “A great revolutionary as he was, he inspired many young men to work for the liberation of the motherland.”
I recall whenever there was a function in the NDA days, relating to Savarkar, Vasant Sathe was invariably present. He told me that during his tenure as I&B Minister a documentary on Savarkar was planned and some people raised objections. On Smt. Gandhi’s advice he brushed aside those objections and the documentary was made.
I recall that during NDA years Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was requested to launch a feature film on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. I also attended the opening function of the film at the Siri Fort Auditorium. Sitting by my side was Director, Jabbar Patel, with whom I had a brief argument.
My plea to him was: in order to project Dr. Ambedkar’s greatness was it at all necessary to project Gandhi as a ‘hypocrite’? After all, for millions in the country both are icons. Why not stress the positive attributes of both? And I mentioned to him the film I had seen on Gandhi and his son Harilal who became wayward because of his father’s sternness. The relations between father and son became so sour that it wasn’t an easy task to write a script fair to both. Yet Chandulal Dalal and Neelam Bhai Parekh who wrote the original book about Harilal Gandhi and Feroz Abbas Khan who directed the film and the play did it so wonderfully that the audiences were touched by the fair and sympathetic treatment of the plot. The name of the film was “Gandhi, my Father”; The play was titled, “Mahatma vs Gandhi.”
30 May, 2011