May 29, 2017

India: Hindutva's leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar - collaborated with British rulers & had a role in Gandhi's assassination

[Two part article on Savarkar follows]

The Wire

How Did Savarkar, a Staunch Supporter of British Colonialism, Come to Be Known as ‘Veer’?

Not only did Savarkar pledge his allegiance to the British in return for being released from prison, his propagation of Hindutva hurt the freedom movement by dividing society along sectarian lines.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi folding his hands in front of Savarkar's portrait on his birth anniversary in 2015. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Prime Minister Narendra Modi folding his hands in front of Savarkar’s portrait on his birth anniversary in 2015. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) – mythologised in popular imagination as ‘Veer Savarkar’ – not only refrained from participating in the freedom struggle after the British released him from prison on account of his relentless pleas for mercy, but also actively collaborated with the English rulers to whom he had declared his loyalty.
At the time when Subhas Chandra Bose was raising his Indian National Army to confront the British in India, Savarkar helped the colonial government recruit lakhs of Indians into its armed forces. He further destabilised the freedom movement by pushing his Hindutva ideology, which deepened the communal divide at a time when a united front against colonial rule was needed. Post independence, Savarkar was also implicated in Mahatma Gandhi’s murder.
Such is the man who was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be “the true son of Mother India and inspiration for many people”, in his Twitter salutation to Savarkar on his birth anniversary on May 28 last year. In 2015, commemorating Savarkar on his 132nd birth anniversary, the prime minister bowed before a portrait of the Hindutva icon in remembrance of “his indomitable spirit and invaluable contribution to India’s history”.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley was quick to follow up on the act. “Today, on birth anniversary of Veer Savarkar, let us remember & pay tribute to this great freedom fighter & social-political philosopher,” he tweeted. And somewhere in the stream of Twitter accolades from numerous BJP ministers that followed, the TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai joined the chorus, albeit with a caveat. While he disagreed “with his ideology”, Sardesai said he honoured Savarkar’s “spirit as freedom fighter”.
A freedom fighter he definitely was, for a certain period in the first decade of the previous century, long before he’d begun articulating the notion of Hindutva. Savarkar was then an atheist and a rationalist, who had started out on a revolutionary road to rid India of her colonial yoke, asserting:
“whenever the natural process of national and political evolution is violently suppressed by the force of wrong, the revolution must step in as a natural reaction and therefore ought to be welcomed as the only effective instrument to re-throne Truth and Right.”
On sailing to England to study law in 1906, Savarkar founded the Free India Society to organise Indian students studying in England to fight for independence. In a famous declaration before the society, he said:
“We must stop complaining about this British officer or that officer, this law or that law. There would be no end to that. Our movement must not be limited to being against any particular law, but it must be for acquiring the authority to make laws itself. In other words, we want absolute independence.”
However, when the time came to pay the price for being a revolutionary under an oppressive colonial government, Savarkar found himself converted and transformed into “the staunchest advocate of loyalty to the English government”, to use his own words. This was after he was arrested and sentenced to serve 50 years in the infamous Cellular Jail on the Andaman islands after he was found guilty of supplying the pistol that a member of the Abhinav Bharat Society used to assassinate the then collector of Nasik, A.M.T. Jackson, in 1909.
‘Veer’ Savarkar pleading with the British for mercy
Barely a month into the hardships of prison, Savarkar wrote his first mercy petition, which was rejected in 1911. The second mercy petition, which he wrote in 1913, starts with bitter complaints about other convicts from his party receiving better treatment than him:
“When I came here in 1911 June, I was along with the rest of the convicts of my party taken to the office of the Chief Commissioner. There I was classed as “D” meaning dangerous prisoner; the rest of the convicts were not classed as “D”. Then I had to pass full 6 months in solitary confinement. The other convicts had not… Although my conduct during all the time was exceptionally good still at the end of these six months I was not sent out of the jail; though the other convicts who came with me were.
…For those who are term convicts the thing is different, but Sir, I have 50 years staring me in the face! How can I pull up moral energy enough to pass them in close confinement when even those concessions which the vilest of convicts can claim to smoothen their life are denied to me?”
Then, after confessing that he was misguided into taking the revolutionary road because of the “excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907”, he concluded his November 14, 1913 petition by assuring the British of his conscientious conversion. “[I]f the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me,” he wrote, “I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of… loyalty to the English government (emphasis added)”.
“Moreover,” he went on to say, making an offer which few freedom fighters could even think of making, “my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious..The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the paternal doors of the Government?”
In his fourth mercy petition, dated March 30, 1920, Savarkar told the British that under the threat of an invasion from the north by the “fanatic hordes of Asia” who were posing as “friends”, he was convinced that “every intelligent lover of India would heartily and loyally co-operate with the British people in the interests of India herself.”
After reassuring the colonial government that he was trying his “humble best to render the hands of the British dominion a bond of love and respect,” Savarkar went on to exalt the English empire: “Such an Empire as is foreshadowed in the Proclamation, wins my hearty adherence”. “But”, he added:
“if the Government wants a further security from me then 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.”
Finally, after spending ten years in the cellular jail and writing many mercy petitions, Savarkar, along with his brother, was shifted to a prison in Ratnagiri in 1921, before his subsequent release in 1924 on the condition of the confinement of his movements to the Ratnagiri district and his non participation in political activities. These restrictions were lifted only in 1937.
Savarkar. Credit: Youtube
Savarkar. Credit: Youtube
Self-glorification of a defeated man
One might have argued in 1924 that the promises he made about his love and loyalty to the British, about his readiness to serve the government in any capacity required and so on were a part of a tactical ploy – perhaps one inspired by Shivaji – employed to make his way out of prison so that he could continue his freedom struggle. However, history has proven him to be a man of ‘honour’, who stood by the promise he made to the colonial government. How then, one might wonder, did Savarkar acquire the title ‘Veer’?
A book titled Life of Barrister Savarkar authored by Chitragupta was the first biography of Savarkar, published in 1926. Savarkar was glorified in this book for his courage and deemed a hero. And two decades after Savarkar’s death, when the second edition of this book was released in 1987 by the Veer Savarkar Prakashan, the official publisher of Savarkar’s writings, Ravindra Ramdas revealed in its preface that “Chitragupta is none other than Veer Savarkar”.
In this autobiography masquerading as a biography written by a different author, Savarkar assures the reader that:
“Savarkar is born hero, he could almost despise those who shirked duty for fear of consequences. If once he rightly or wrongly believed that a certain system of Government was iniquitous, he felt no scruples in devising means to eradicate the evil.”
Without mincing words in the name of modesty or moderating the use of adjectives in the name of literary minimalism, Savarkar wrote that Savarkar “seemed to posses no few distinctive marks of character, such as an amazing presence of mind, indomitable courage, unconquerable confidence in his capability to achieve great things”. “Who,” he asked about himself, “could help admiring his courage and presence of mind?”
Perhaps in polite society, we ought to quietly look the other way with an embarrassed smile when an ex-revolutionist, after breaking down in prison, indulges in self-glorification under the cover of a pen name after his release. And, indeed, no one who did not suffer the conditions the inmates of that infamous prison on the Andaman islands had to endure, can claim the right to castigate Savarkar for refusing to contribute to the freedom movement after he was released from jail.
But his purporting of an ideology which destabilised the freedom movement by deepening the divisions along sectarian lines and his active rendering of support to the British government – which was determined to subdue the anti-colonial struggle – was a betrayal that must be hard to forgive, especially for a ‘patriot’ and a ‘nationalist’.
Derailing the freedom movement with his Hindutva ideology
The sectarian mindset, which eventually culminated into the articulation of Hindutva ideology, was evident – as Jyotirmaya Sharma has demonstrated in Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism – in the early Savarkar, that too from a tender age. Only a boy of 12, Savarkar, leading a pack of his schoolmates, attacked a mosque in the aftermath of the Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay and Pune in 1894-95. Holding back the Muslim boys of the village using “knives, pins and foot rulers”, Savarkar and his friends mounted their attack, “showering stones on the mosque, shattering its windows and tiles”. Recollecting the incident, he later wrote, “We vandalised the mosque to our heart’s content and raised the flag of our bravery on it.” When the news of Hindus killing Muslims in the riots and its aftermath reached him, little Savarkar and his friends “would dance with joy”.
The sectarian nature of Savarkar’s social and political thinking not only bred in him a deep-rooted resentment against Muslims but also clouded his understanding of historical events, leading him to perceive the 1857 War of Indian Independence as a retaliation by Hindus and Muslims against Christianity, in response to Britain’s efforts to Christianise India. In his 1909 book, The War of Independence of 1857, published during his revolutionary days, years before he had declared his loyalty to the British government, Savarkar wrote, quoting Justin McCarthy, “The Mahomedan and the Hindu forgot their old religious antipathies to join against the Christian.”
What was to stop the British government, which had passed a law against the practice of Sati (widow burning), from meddling further with Hindu customs by passing a law against idolatry, he asked. After all, “[t]he English hated idolatry as much as they did suttee.” Describing a process he perceived to be the destruction of Hinduism and Islam in India, Savarkar wrote in his book::
“The Sirkar (government) had already begun to pass one law after another to destroy the foundations of the Hindu and Mahomedan religions. Railways had already been constructed, and carriages had been built in such a way as to offend the caste prejudices of the Hindus. The larger mission schools were being helped with huge grants from the Sirkar. Lord Canning himself distributed thousands of Rupees to every mission, and from this fact it is clear that the wish was strong in the heart of Lord Canning that all India should be Christian.”
The sepoys, according to Savarkar, were the primary targets in this mission to spread Christianity in India. “[I]f any Sepoy accepted the Christian religion he was praised loudly and treated honourably; and this Sepoy was promoted in the ranks and his salary increased, in the face of the superior merits of the other Sepoys!”
“Everywhere”, he argued, “there was a strong conviction that the Government had determined to destroy the religions of the country and make Christianity the paramount religion of the land”. By thus giving religion an unwarranted centrality in his analysis of the causes of the rebellion, Savarkar, says Jyotirmaya Sharma, expressed jubilation in his accounts of the rebellion “at every instance of a church being felled, a cross being smashed and every Christian being ‘sliced’.”
While the seeds of communalism had been sown in his mind at a very young age, the poison fruit of Hindutva ideology was to blossom only in his late 20s, after Savarkar’s will to fight the British (or the Christians, as he often referred to them in his book on the 1857 uprising) had been defeated during his imprisonment. It was during his last few years of imprisonment that Savarkar first articulated the concept of Hindutva in his book, Essentials of Hindutva, which was published in 1923 and reprinted as “Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?” in 1928. This ideology was a deeply divisive one which had the potential to distract attention from the British and cast it on Muslims instead.
While he was careful to specify that Hindutva, or ‘Hinduness’, was different from Hinduism and encompassed a wide range of cultures including, among others, the “Sanatanists, Satnamis, Sikhs, Aryas, Anaryas, Marathas and Madrasis, Brahmins and Panchamas”, he nonetheless made it a point to warn that it “would be straining the usage of words too much – we fear, to the point of breaking – if we call a Mohammedan a Hindu because of his being a resident of India.”
“Mohammedan or Christian communities”, he argued, “possess all the essential qualifications of Hindutva but one and that is that they do not look upon India as their Holyland”. A cohesive nation, according to Savarkar, can ideally be built only by those people who inhabit a country which is not only the land of their forefathers, but “also the land of their Gods and Angels, of Seers and Prophets; the scenes of whose history are also the scenes of their mythology.”
The love and loyalty of Muslims, he warned, “is, and must necessarily be divided between the land of their birth and the land of their Prophets… Mohammedans would naturally set the interests of their Holyland above those of their Motherland”. One might wonder whether this line of reasoning implies that Muslims cannot be nationals of Pakistan or Afghanistan either, because they would place the interests of Saudi Arabia, wherein lie Mecca and Madina, above the interests of their own country.
Back in the 1920s, the damage that could be done to the freedom movement by his ideology did not fail to come to the notice of the colonial government. Even though Savarkar was released on condition that he should not participate in political activities, he was allowed by the British to organise the Ratnagiri Mahasabha, which undertook what is in today’s lingo called “Ghar Wapsi” and played music in front of mosques while prayers were on.
He was also allowed to meet K.B. Hedgewar, a disillusioned Congressman, who, inspired by his ideology of Hindutva, intended to discuss with him a strategy for creating a Hindu Rashtra. A few months after this meeting, in September 1925, Hedgewar founded the RSS, a communal organisation which, like Savarkar, remained subservient to the British.
In spite of the blanket ban on political participation, Shamsul Islam pointed out:
“The British rulers naturally overlooked these political activities as the future of colonial rule in India rested on the communal divide and Savarkar was leaving no stone unturned in aggravating the Hindu-Muslim divide.”
Savarkar. Credit: savarkarsmarak.com
Savarkar. Credit: savarkarsmarak.com
Collaboration with the colonial government
Savarkar was elected as the president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, the year when the Indian National Congress won what we today call a landslide victory in the provincial elections, decimating both the Hindu Mahasabha and that other communal party, the Muslim League, which failed to form a government even in Muslim-majority regions. But just two years later, the Congress relinquished power in protest when, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared India to be at war with Germany without any consultation.
In September 1939, the working committee of the Congress declared that it would render support to Britain’s war efforts in her time of crisis only if the colonial government recognised India’s independence and “the right of her people to frame their constitution through a constituent assembly”. When dominion status was the last concession Linlithgow was willing to grant to India, the ministers of the Congress resigned in protest.
Quick to grab the opportunity, the very next month, Savarkar, in his capacity as president of the Hindu Mahasabha, met Linlithgow. In the report about the meeting sent to secretary of state, Linlithgow wrote:
“The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support…. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together… Our interests are so closely bound together, the essential thing is for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends and the old antagonism was no longer necessary. The Hindu Mahasabha he went on to say favoured an unambiguous undertaking of Dominion status at the end of the war.”
Two months later, addressing the Mahasabha’s Calcutta session, Savarkar urged all universities, colleges and schools to “secure entry into military forces for youths in any and every way.” When Gandhi had launched his individual satyagraha the following year, Savarkar, at the Mahasabha session held in December 1940 in Madura, encouraged Hindu men to enlist in “various branches of British armed forces en masse.”
In 1941, taking advantage of the World War, Bose had begun raising an army to fight the British by recruiting Indian prisoners of war from the British army held by the Axis powers – efforts which eventually culminated in his invasion of British India with the help of the Japanese military. During this period, addressing the Hindu Mahasabha session at Bhagalpur in 1941, Savarkar told his followers:
“..it must be noted that Japan’s entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain’s enemies…Hindu Mahasabhaites must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute.”
In reciprocation, the British commander-in-chief, “expressed his grateful appreciation of the lead given by Barrister Savarkar in exhorting the Hindus to join the forces of the land with a view to defend India from enemy attacks,” according to Hindu Mahasabha archives perused by Shamsul Islam.
In response to the Quit India Movement launched in August 1942,  Savarkar instructed Hindu Sabhaites who were “members of municipalities, local bodies, legislatures or those serving in the army… to stick to their posts,” across the country. At that time, when Japan had conquered many Southeast Asian countries in India’s vicinity, Bose was making arrangements to go from Germany to Japan – from whose occupied territories the INA’s assault on British forces was launched in October the following year.
It was under these circumstances that Savarkar not only instructed those serving in the British army to ‘stick to their posts’, but had also been involved for years in “organising recruitment camps for the British armed forces which were to slaughter the cadres of INA in different parts of North-East later.” In one year alone, Savarkar had boasted in Madurai, one lakh Hindus were recruited into the British armed forces as a result of the Mahasabha’s efforts.
Even though the British Army, with which Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha were collaborating, managed to defeat Bose’s INA, the subsequent public trials of INA officers at the Red Fort roused in the Indian soldiers of the British armed forces a political conscience, which played a crucial role in triggering the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny in 1946, after which the decision was made by the British to leave India.
In coalition with the Muslim League when Pakistan resolution was passed
That Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha actively collaborated with the British may not be difficult to comprehend, since it is widely known that the Hindutva groups regarded Muslims, and not the British, as their primary enemies. What is likely to raise more eyebrows today is the collaboration of the Hindu Mahasabha with the Muslim League.
When the Congress leaders were arrested during the Quit India movement, the Hindu Mahasabha, still presided over by Savarkar, entered into a coalition with the Muslim League to run the governments in Sindh and Bengal – a move Savarkar justified as “practical politics” which calls for “advance through reasonable compromises”.
After all, in spite of the deeply-held conviction by Savarkar and his party that the Muslims – whose holy land lies in a foreign country – cannot be regarded as Indian nationals, the Hindu Mahasabha nevertheless had a great deal in common with the Muslim League. Both parties made no contribution to the struggle for independence from the colonising empire and both were communal parties whose ideologies antagonised the prospects of India remaining undivided after independence.
Even after the Sindh assembly passed a resolution in 1943 demanding that Pakistan be carved out of India as a separate state for the Muslims, the Mahasabha ministers continued to hold their positions in the coalition government. Not entirely surprising, given that Savarkar had put forth his two-nation theory “a clear sixteen years before the Muslim League embraced the idea of the Hindus and the Muslims as two distinctive nations and demanded the division of India.” And when India was eventually partitioned, Savarkar blamed Gandhi for allowing Pakistan to break away from India, an accusation that stoked the fires of hatred against Gandhi among many of his close devotees, including his ‘lieutenant’ – Nathuram Godse.
The second part of this series will focus on Savarkar’s role in Gandhi’s assassination.
Pavan Kulkarni is a freelance journalist. 

 o o o

The Wire

How Savarkar Got Away With Gandhi’s Assassination

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar turned his back on his lieutenants in order to escape charges in Gandhi’s murder. But a commission established his guilt posthumously.

Stamps with pictures of Savarkar and Gandhi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Stamps with pictures of Savarkar and Gandhi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Five months after India’s independence, on January 14, 1948, three members of the Hindu Mahasabha – Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte and Digambar Badge, an arms dealer regularly selling weapons to the Mahasabha – arrived at Savarkar Sadan in Bombay. Apte and Godse were among the very few who “had the right to move immediately past that room up a flight of stairs to the personal quarters of the dictator of the Hindu Rashtra Dal,” according to Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s book, Freedom at Midnight, written based on information acquired from in-depth interviews and extensive research of official documents including police records.
Badge, who did not have such unrestricted access to Savarkar, was told to wait outside. Apte took from him the bag containing gun-cotton slabs, hand grenades, fuse wires and detonators, and went inside with Godse. When the duo returned to Badge after 5-10 minutes, Apte was still carrying with him the bag of weapons, which he asked Madanlal Pahwa – an angry Punjabi refugee who had come from Pakistan after partition – and his seth, Mahasabha member Vishnu Karkare, to carry with them to Delhi.
Both Pahwa and Karkare had already visited Savarkar before Godse and Apte arrived at Savarkar Sadan with the weapons that day. According to Collins and Lapierre:
“Godse, Apte and Badge were not the first of their little group to penetrate the headquarters of Veer Savarkar that January day. Earlier, Karkare had ushered Madanlal into the master’s presence. Karkare had described the young Punjabi as ‘a very daring worker’. Savarkar’s response was to bestow one of his glacial smiles on Madanlal. Then he had caressed his bare forearm as a man might stroke a kitten’s back. ‘Keep up the good work,’ he had urged.”
Badge – who had known Savarkar since 1944-45 and Godse since 1940-41 – was asked by Apte the day after their visit to Savarkar Sadan if he would be willing to join them to Delhi. “Apte told me that Tatyarao (Savarkar) had decided that Gandhiji, Jawarhar Lal Nehru and [Huseyn Shaheed] Suhrawardy should be ‘finished’ and had entrusted that work to them,” said Badge – a co-conspirator in Gandhi’s murder who secured a pardon in exchange for turning into an approver and divulging the details of the conspiracy before the court.
After sorting out some household affairs in Poona, Badge returned to Bombay on January 17 to join them on their mission to Delhi. “Godse suggested that we should go to take one last ‘darshan’ of Tatyarao (Savarkar),” Badge testified. On entering the compound of Savarkar Sadan, Apte asked Bagde to wait in the room on the ground floor and went upstairs with Godse. When the two returned downstairs, they were followed by Savarkar who wished the duo: “Yashasvi houn ya (Be successful and come)”.
As the they left Savarkar Sadan, Apte told Badge in the taxi, according to his testimony:
Tatyaravani ase bhavisya kale ahe ki Gandhijichi sambhar varse bharali – ata apale kam nishchita hamar yat kahi sanhya nahi [Tatyarao (Savarkar) has predicted that Gandhi’s 100 years are over, there is no doubt the work will be successful].”
But successful it wasn’t in the first attempt made on Gandhi’s life three days later on January 20, in the Birla House in Delhi. The plan to assassinate Gandhi during his public prayer failed and Pahwa, who had set off a bomb near the podium over which Gandhi sat addressing the crowd, was arrested. The rest of the conspirators began their run from Delhi.   
“Madanlal was still loyal to his fellow conspirators,” Collins and Lapierre wrote.
“[He] was sure they would try again. He was determined to win them as much time as he could by refusing to talk (to the police)… Then, calculating that the others had by now had time to flee, he gave a harmless account of their activities in Delhi. Suddenly, in a moment of self-assertion, he… admitted he had been at Savarkar Sadan with his associates and boasted he had personally met the famous political figure.
At midnight the police ended their interrogation of Madanlal for the night and closed their first daily register of the case… They knew they were faced with a plot. They knew how many people were involved. They knew it involved followers of Veer Savarkar.”
The police informed Gandhi that Pahwa was not a lone wolf and that “there was a serious likelihood that others would try again.” The then DIG of Delhi, D.W. Mehra, insisted on the tightening security at Birla House and requested Gandhi for permission to search suspicious people coming into the premises to attend his prayer meetings.
“‘I will never agree,” Gandhi said in a sort of half shriek. “Do you search people going into a temple or chapel for prayer?’”

“No, sir,” Mehra replied, “but there is no one in them who is a target for an assassin’s bullet.”
“Rama is my only protection,” Gandhi retorted. “…The rulers of this country have no faith in my non-violence. They think your police guard will save my life. Well, my protection is Rama, and you will not violate my prayer meetings with your police.”
Gandhi’s unwavering faith in the Hindu god, Rama, was indeed a blind one, as the Hindutva fanatics demonstrated to the world a few days later, when Godse – after another long meeting with Savarkar 3 -4 days after the failed attempt – returned to Delhi and shot Gandhi thrice at point blank range on January 30, 1948.
Savarkar. Credit: Youtube
Savarkar. Credit: Youtube
A ‘fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar’ murdered Gandhi: Sardar Patel
On the February 22, Savarkar, who was by then held under detention, gave to the Indian government the same undertaking he had once given to the British Raj:
“I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political activity for any period the government may require in case I am released on that condition.”
“The government had only to accept this humiliating and explicitly open-ended offer if its aims were political,” lawyer and historian A.G. Noorani said. But “[t]hey were not.” The Delhi police arrested Savarkar the following month. A special court, headed by Justice Atma Charan, was constituted on May 4.
Sardar Vallabhai Patel – then the deputy prime minister and Union home minister, and now a figure claimed by the Hindu Right as their own – was the chief prosecutor of the case, who was convinced of Savarkar’s guilt. In a letter he wrote to Nehru on February 27 that year, he clearly stated:
“It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”
However, personal conviction would not compromise Patel’s commitment to due legal process. Allaying Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s concern that Savarkar “was being prosecuted on account of his political convictions,” Patel wrote a letter to him 20 days before Savarkar was named in the chargesheet, explaining:

“I have told (the Advocate-General and other legal advisers and investigating officers), quite clearly, that the question of inclusion of Savarkar must be approached purely from a legal and judicial standpoint and political considerations should not be imported into the matter… I have also told them that, if they come to the view that Savarkar should be included, the papers should be placed before me before action is taken.
But distinguishing the legal procedure he upheld from the personal conviction he harboured about Savarkar’s guilt, Patel added:
“This is, of course, in so far as the question of guilt is concerned from the point of view of law and justice. Morally, it is possible that one’s conviction may be the other way about (emphasis added).
Savarkar’s defence
Photo taken during the trial of the persons accused of participation and complicity in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in a Special Court in Red Fort, Delhi. The trial began on May 27, 1948. V.D. Savarkar, wearing a black cap, is seated in the last row, while Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte are up front. Credit: Photo Division, GOI
Evidence found against Savarkar in Badge’s testimony included:
  1. Savarkar’s meeting with Godse and Apte on January 14, with the arms that were used in the first attempt against Gandhi’s life only a few days later,
  2. Apte informing Badge that Savarkar had decided that Gandhi had to be assassinated and had entrusted them with the task,
  3. Another meeting of Savarkar with Apte and Godse on January 17, when Badge witnessed Savarkar wishing the two: “Be successful and come back”.
  4. Apte telling Badge on leaving from Savarkar Sadan that Savarkar had predicted that Gandhi’s 100 years were over and there was no doubt the task (of assassinating Gandhi) would be successful.
Savarkar, in his skilful defence, pointed out that the meeting of Godse and Apte with Savarkar on January 14 cannot be established from Badge’s account, because he did not claim to witness the meeting itself. His account only mentioned that on the 14th, he arrived at Savarkar Sadan with Apte and Godse, where he was made to wait outside, while the two went in. Savarkar argued:
“Firstly…visiting Savarkar Sadan does not necessarily mean visiting Savarkar. Apte and Godse were well acquainted with Damle, Bhinde and Kasar who were always found there (in Savarkar Sadan)… So Apte and Godse might have gone to see their friends and co-workers in Hindu Mahasabha.”
After thus drawing other members of Hindu Mahasabha into the line of fire for his defence, Savarkar then went on to say, “Secondly… Apte and Godse deny it and state that they never went with Badge and the bag (of weapons) to Savarkar Sadan as alleged.”
With regards to Badge’s claim about Apte informing him that Savarkar had decided that Gandhi had to be assassinated, Savarkar said in his defence:
“..taking it for granted that Badge himself is telling the truth when he says Apte told him this sentence, the question remains whether what Apte told Badge is true or false. There is no evidence to show that I had ever told Apte to finish Gandhi, Nehru and Suhrawardy. Apte might have invented this wicked lie to exploit Savarkar’s moral influence on the Hindu Sanghatanists for his own purposes. It is the case of the prosecution itself that Apte was used to resort to such unscrupulous tricks. For example, Apte is alleged to have given false names and false addresses to hotel keepers.. and collected arms and ammunition secretly..”
After thus attacking Apte, who refused till the very end to admit in court that Savarkar had anything to do with the conspiracy, Savarkar then pointed out that in any case both Apte and Godse deny having told Badge that Savarkar had decided that Gandhi had to be assassinated. The same reasoning was again used to defend himself from Badge’s claim of having been told by Apte that Savarkar had predicted Gandhi’s time was up.
Photograph of the pistol used by the Hindutva activist Nathuram Godse to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. Credit: Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission of Inquiry report, 1969.
His defence against one of the most crucial pieces of evidence – his meeting on January 17 and saying to Apte and Godse “Be successful and come back” – warrants longer quotations:
“Firstly, I submit.. that Apte and Godse did not see me on 17th January 1948 or any other day near about and I did not say to them, ‘Be successful and come back’… Secondly, assuming that what Badge says about the visit is true, still as he clearly admits that he sat in the room on the ground floor of my house and Apte and Godse alone went upstairs, he could not have known for certain whether they.. did see me at all or returned after meeting someone of the family of the tenant who also resided on the first floor of the house.”
After thus arguing that his testimony does not establish that Godse and Apte necessarily met him at Savarkar Sadan, he went on to make more concessions:
“Taking again for granted that Apte and Godse did see me and had a talk with me, still it was impossible for Badge to have any personal and direct knowledge of what talk they had with me for the simple reason that he could not have either seen or heard anything happening upstairs on the first floor from the room in which he admits he was sitting on the ground-floor. It would be absurd to take it as a self-evident truth that.. they must have talked to me about some criminal conspiracy only. Nay, it is far more likely that they could have talked about anything else but the alleged conspiracy.”
With regards to Badge’s testimony that he saw and heard Savarkar wishing Apte and Godse, “be successful and come back”, Savarkar told the court:
“Even if it is assumed that I said this sentence it might have referred to any objects and works.. Such as the Nizam Civil Resistance, the raising of funds for the daily paper, Agrani, or the sale of the shares of Hindu Rastra Prakashan Ltd.. or any other legitimate undertaking. As Badge knew nothing as to what talk Apte and Godse had with me upstairs, he could not assert as to what subject my remark “Be successful etc’ referred.”   
Robert Payne, in his book The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, summarised Savarkar’s defence as follows:
“He had never met with the conspirators; if he did then the meeting had nothing to do with the conspiracy; he never came down the stairs; if he did, and if he spoke the parting words, ‘Be successful and come back,’ then it must be understood that he was talking about something entirely remote from the conspiracy…Savarkar took each sentence (of Badge) out of its context and showed that it was devoid of any precise meaning.”
“The circumstantial evidence,” he noted, “was impressive, the story told by Badge was a convincing one.” Payne was not the only one who found Badge’s testimony convincing. Justice Charan also found Badge to be a truthful witness. The judge pointed out:
“(Badge) gave his version of the facts in a direct and straightforward manner. He did not evade cross-examination or attempt to evade or fence with any question. It would not have been possible for anyone to have given evidence so unfalteringly stretching over such a long period and with such particularity in regard to the facts which had never taken place. It is difficult to conceive of anyone memorising so long and so detailed a story if altogether without foundation.”
Photograph taken on the occasion of the final immersion ceremony of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi at Allahabad on February 12, 1948. Credit: Photo Division, GOI
Escaping the gallows
Nonetheless, some crucial parts of Badge’s testimony regarding the meetings on January 14 and 17 were not corroborated by the two witnesses produced in the court. One of them was an actress by the name of Shantabai Modak, who had met Apte and Godse on the Poona Express and then offered them a lift to Shivaji Park in the vehicle of her brother, who received her at Dadar Station on January 14. She told the court that:
“The two houses (that in which her brother lived and Savarkar Sadan) were on the right-hand side of the road. We passed.. (the) house in which my brother lives, and stopped the car opposite the Savarkar Sadan. The two gentlemen (Apte and Godse) got down. We then went ahead to turn the car and bring it back to my brother’s house. I saw the two gentlemen heading towards Savarkar Sadan.“
While this evidence establishes that Apte and Godse did get down from the car in front of Savarkar Sadan, the judge pointed out that it does not go so far as to establish that they “had got down in front of Savarkar Sadan to visit Vinayak. D. Savarkar… [N]ot only.. Savarkar but A. S. Shinde and Gajan Damle also resided in the Savarkar Sadan.”
Aitappa Kotian, the taxi driver who drove Godse, Apte and Badge to the meeting on January 17, was another witness produced by the prosecution. He testified:
“I.. stopped the taxi at the intersection of the second road on the south side of the Shivaji Park. The.. passengers got down from the taxi there. So far as I could see they went up to the second house from the corner of the road on my right (which was Savarkar Sadan).”
This evidence, the judge pointed out, does not corroborate the part of Badge’s testimony where he claims to have heard Savarkar saying “Be successful and come back” to Godse and Apte. In the absence of records that reveal the subject of the conversation that took place on the first floor between Savarkar, Godse and Apte, it cannot be presumed that Savarkar’s alleged remark was made in reference to the mission to assassinate Gandhi.           
“As is the case with most of the conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence of the agreement amounting to criminal conspiracy. However, the circumstances cumulatively considered and weighed, would unerringly point to… collaboration…. The incident… had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if … capital punishment is awarded…”
If the words above were written in the judgment by Justice Charan, Savarkar would not have escaped the gallows. But they weren’t. These words are from contemporary times – from the Supreme Court’s judgment indicting Afzal Guru. Justice Charan subscribed to a different school of legal thought which found it worthy to take the risk of letting a thousand criminals go unpunished in the process of ensuring that not a single innocent is man penalised.
Thus even though he regarded Badge as a truthful witness, in the absence of independent corroboration of some crucial parts of his testimony, the judge found it “unsafe” to convict Savarkar, in spite of the circumstantial evidence which Payne had found “impressive”. So it was that Savarkar was acquitted, while Apte and Godse were awarded death penalty.
“Hardly a parallel in cowardice”
Another view of the men charged with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi during their trial at the Red Fort in May 1948. Savarkar is in the last row. Credit: Photo Division, GOI.
“Nathuram… was deeply hurt by… Tatyarao’s [Savarkar’s] calculated, demonstrative non-association with him either in court or in Red Fort Jail,” wrote P.L. Inamdar in his memoirs, The Story of the Red Fort Trial, 1948-49.  The lawyer who defended two of the co-conspirators – including Nathuram’s brother, Gopal Godse – told his readers:
“How Nathuram yearned for a touch of Tatyarao’s hand, a word of sympathy, or at least a look of compassion in the secluded confines of the cells. Nathuram referred to his hurt feelings in this regard even during my last meeting with him at the Simla High Court.”
But during the trial, Savarkar did not even turn “his head towards.. Nathuram.. much less speak with him,” Inamdar wrote.
“While the other accused freely talked to each other exchanging notes or banter, Savarkar sat there sphinx-like in silence, completely ignoring his co-accused in the dock, in an unerringly disciplined manner.”
Commenting on Savarkar’s conduct during the trails, Noorani, whose academic preoccupation is the study of the trials of Indian political figures, wrote in his authoritative book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection, “The annals of great trials provide hardly a parallel in cowardice and deceit.”
This ‘cowardice’ out of which Savarkar chose to disown his ‘lieutenant’ (as Godse’s brother said he was regarded) stands in stark contrast to the audacity of the Hindu Mahasabha today, which – perhaps emboldened by Narendra Modi government’s great respect for freedom of speech – has publicly announced its mission to install Godse’s idols in temples across the country.
Seventeen years after Godse was hung – or “martyred”, as the Mahasabha tells us – Savarkar, then aged almost 83, renounced food and medicine in the beginning of February 1966 and died on February 26. But the truth about his role in Gandhi’s murder was not cremated with his body. Only three years later, evidence found by the Kapur Commission implicated Savarkar in Gandhi’s murder.
Kapur Commission, 1969, established Savarkar’s guilt
Cover of the Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission of Inquiry report.
When Godse’s brother was released from prison in 1964, a programme was held to commemorate him. There, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s grandson, G.V. Ketkar, boasted that he knew about Godse’s intention to kill Gandhi. What followed was a national controversy, which led to the setting up of a commission under Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur in 1969, with the mandate to investigate who all had prior knowledge of the plot to assassinate Gandhi, which authority they informed and what measures were taken by the authorities who received this information.
Two of Savarkar’s aides who hadn’t previously testified during his trials spoke up before the commission. Their statements not only provided an independent corroboration of the two meetings with Savarkar which Badge had referred to in his testimony, but also revealed that before carrying out the assassination, Godse and Apte had met Savarkar once again on January 23 or 24, after Madanlal Pahwa’s first attempt on Gandhi’s life had failed.
Based on the statements of Savarkar’s bodyguard, Appa Ramchandra, Justice Kapur stated in the commission’s report:
“On or about 13th or 14th January, Karkare came to Savarkar with a Puniabi youth (Madanlal) and they had an interview with Savarkar for about 15 or 20 minutes. On or about 15th or 16th Apte and Godse had an interview with Savarkar at 9.30 P.M. After about a week so, may be 23rd or 24th January, Apte and Godse again came to Savarkar and had a talk with him.. for about haIf an hour.”
Statements of Savarkar’s secretary, Gajanan Vishnu Damle, also corroborated the fact that Apte and Godse met Savarkar in the middle of January. Both their statements, as well as Badge’s testimony, indicated that Savarkar had lied before the court when he said, “Apte and Godse did not see me on 17th January 1948 or any other day near about (emphasis added).
Their statements not only established the close working relationship Gode and Apte had with Savarkar since 1946, the report said, but also provided evidence which shows that:
“Karkare was also well-known to Savarkar and was also a frequent visitor. Badge also used to visit Savarkar. Dr. Parchure (another accused for whom P.L. Inamdar won an acquittal) also visited him. All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating sometime or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar. It is significant that Karkare and Madanlal visited Savarkar before they left for Delhi and Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews.”
After re-examining all the relevant information – old and new – unearthed by Bombay’s deputy commissioner of police, Jamshed Nagarvala, the Kapur commission concluded:
“All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”
Distortion of popular history 
The findings of Kapur Commission which implicated Savarkar in Gandhi’s murder did not, however, discourage the first BJP-led NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee from installing a portrait of Savarkar, alongside that of Gandhi, in the central hall of the parliament building in 2003.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi folding his hands in front of Savarkar's portrait on his birth anniversary in 2015. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Prime Minister Narendra Modi folding his hands in front of Savarkar’s portrait on his birth anniversary in 2015. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This move sent Vishwanath Mathur – a freedom fighter from Bhagat Singh’s party who had also served a sentence in the cellular jail – into a fit of rage. Describing Savarkar as a “coward being portrayed as a freedom fighter”, Mathur protested:
“This government is determined to legitimise a symbol of national shame. Not only did he beg for mercy from the British and was an accused in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, he was also a proponent of the two nation theory.”  
Neither do these findings of the Kapur Commission – or for that matter, the listing of the various incidents of Savarkar’s collaboration with the British – discourage Narendra Modi and other ministers in the government from celebrating Savarkar’s birth anniversary, year after year, and glorifying him as a great freedom fighter and a patriot.
Because allowing a truthful portrayal of the father of Hindutva ideology will invariably compromise the prospect of turning India into the Hindu rashtra he had envisioned, spreading lies to counter historical facts and reinforce the myth of “Veer” Savarkar is therefore an imperative for the success of the project unfolding before us.   
As in previous years, May 28, 2017, the 134rd birth anniversary of Savarkar, once again provided a platform for Hindutva ideologues – inside and outside the government – to repeat the lies about their founding father. For “with sufficient repetition,” Goebbels had once said, “[i]t would not be impossible to prove.. that a square is in fact a circle.” Or, for that matter, that cowardice is in fact courage. That collaboration with the colonial government is the same as fighting for freedom. And that a sectarian ideologue who was prepared to go to any length to oppose those who stood for the unity of all Indians is in fact a great patriot and national hero.
Pavan Kulkarni is a freelance journalist.