Wrong to link Savarkar with Gandhi’s assassination, even Ambedkar thought he was implicated at Nehru’s behest

·7-min read

There are glaring cases of how a systematic campaign of calumny has been led against Vinayak Damodar Savarkar on the issue of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination contrary to available evidence. This evidence proves that he was not just innocent, but had even opposed the anarchist ways of Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte, Gandhi's killers, and their followers in the Hindu Mahasabha.

Stories have repeatedly surfaced in the media quoting Left and Muslim leaders accusing Savarkar of Gandhi's assassination, along with Godse and Apte, despite the fact that Savarkar was acquitted in the case by court. They say Savarkar was let off only because of lack of evidence, which gave him the benefit of the doubt.

This accusation is patently false, and is proved by the fact that just before India's Partition, Godse, as a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, repeatedly accused Savarkar and other senior leaders of the party such as Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, BS Munje and LN Bhopatkar of being passive in opposing the Congress and Gandhi.

Once, Godse and his colleague Apte violently opposed Savarkar at the party convention held at Barshi in Maharashtra on 15 December, 1946. This was the time when Partition looked certain and the situation was becoming dire in respect of Hindu-Muslim riots. The meeting decided that in such a delicate situation, the Hindu Mahasabha should support the interim government led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, which had been in power for three months at that point.

Godse and Apte opposed the proposal. But when Bhopatkar expressed his opinion that the Hindu Mahasabha could be dissolved as a party when the time comes, Godse, in a fit of rage, chased him with a knife! Bhopatkar would have been stabbed had the other members not intervened.

Savarkar even chided Godse for interrupting and bullying Gandhi at a public meeting in June 1947, two months before Partition. This was the period when Godse and Apte were opposing Gandhi's alleged Muslim-appeasement policies. It was, therefore, not surprising that as the editor of two newspapers Agrani and Hindu Rashtra, Godse repeatedly criticised the Hindu Mahasabha leadership including Savarkar for being unable to protect Hindu interests and called upon the youth to act independently sidestepping the senior Hindu Mahasabha leadership.

Almost the entire Hindu Mahasabha leadership was in disagreement with the anarchist ways of Godse and Apte. In fact, both before and after Independence, Savarkar had himself preached in the form of speeches and articles that anarchist ways are justified when one is fighting for independence from a foreign power but totally untenable when used against your own country's leadership because this can lead to anarchy, which no independent nation can afford.

On being accused in Gandhi's assassination, and then being acquitted, Savarkar was for some time a broken man. He just couldn't believe that he who had sacrificed the most for the nation in terms of suffering physical torture would have to go to jail in independent India.

In fact, when Savarkar was made an accused by the Nehru government, most of the Cabinet members including the then law minister Ambedkar had opposed it. But they all had to bow to the wishes of Nehru, who was bent upon prosecuting Savarkar in the case.

Yet, according to new evidence, Ambedkar secretly met Savarkar's lawyer and Hindu Mahasabha leader Bhopatkar in Delhi and inspired him to fight the case vigorously telling him that he (Ambedkar) felt that the case against Savarkar was very weak and that he would be ultimately acquitted.

In fact, Ambedkar had such sympathy for Savarkar that he came to the Delhi court at least twice, once with his wife and another Congress leader, Kakasaheb Gadgil. On 22 June , 1949, when the hearing began in the court of Justice Atma Charan, Ambedkar sat in the front row with his wife and Gadgil to ensure that the judge noticed his presence.

It is pertinent to note here that Savarkar and Ambedkar shared something special. They were the only two leaders in the last hundred years, apart from Munje, who could comprehend the strategy of pan-Islamists to develop a Muslim-dominated polity in India based on Muslim appeasement which, in turn, was based on false Muslim victimhood theory.

Interestingly, Savarkar opposed Gandhi on the ideological plane but invariably showed him respect at a personal level. He didn't allow his ideological differences to turn into personal prejudice. When talking about Gandhi, Savarkar would always address him as 'Mahatmaji'.

In one of his articles dated 3 August, 1928, Savarkar clarified his view on Gandhi in clear terms.


He said: "We want to do and say only those words that will be useful to support and assist Mahatmaji as it is appropriate to fight in unison. Whenever we find national interest is compromised, we will definitely try to stop him. That too for the sake of the nation. Otherwise, our motto is: Vayam Panchadhikam Shatam (from the Mahabharata, it means we are all together and hence 105 €" 100 Kauravas and 5 Pandavas)."

In 1943, when Gandhi went on a 21-day fast, Savarkar sent a telegram to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, saying, "Mahatma Gandhi's life is not so much his own as it is a national asset." When Gandhi was released from detention in Aga Khan palace, Pune, in May 1944, Savarkar released a statement saying: "Given the old age of Gandhiji, his deteriorating health and his recent severe illness, the government's decision has brought a sigh of relief to the nation."

Interestingly, Savarkar and Gandhi came face to face only twice in their careers and on both the occasions they showed mutual respect for each other. The first occasion was the 1909 Dussehra celebration of Indian students in London while Gandhi was on tour to the United Kingdom (UK) from South Africa.

Gandhi, the chief guest, expressed hope that India would reap the fruits of Savarkar's sacrifice and patriotism. The second occasion came when Gandhi visited Ratnagiri in 1927 and praised Savarkar's work to remove untouchability with his own unique model. Interestingly, a resolution passed by the Congress at its 1923 Kakinada (Andhra Pradesh) session sought Savarkar's release from rigorous imprisonment at a time when Savarkar had been shifted from the cellular jail in Andaman to Ratnagiri jail.

Significantly, the Savarkar vilification campaign, of which besides the Congress most of the so-called secular parties have been part, began in full earnest in 2003 when a senior Congress leader dubbed Savarkar as an enemy of Hindu-Muslim unity and an architect of Pakistan in what was complete falsification of history.

Around the same time, the mercy petition charge was enjoined to it in what was a 'put-down-Savarkar-at-any-cost campaign'. What was surprising about the campaign was that even Pandit Nehru, Savarkar biggest political rival, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, never made these charges against him. On the contrary, Indira praised Savarkar more than once as prime minister and even released a stamp to commemorate him.

Significantly, in a surprising gesture before he died, Pandit Nehru, a broken man then, knocked down by India's humiliating defeat against China in the 1962 war, invited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to take part in the 1963 Republic Day parade at Delhi. In response to his invitation, a contingent of RSS volunteers dressed in khakis took part in the parade.

Nehru never explained as to how he became an admirer of an organisation that he had virtually accused of Gandhi's murder in 1948. But inferences can be precisely drawn from the prevailing circumstances and the history of the Independence struggle. He had closely seen how Gandhi's policy of complete non-violence and 'Hindu€"Muslim unity at any cost' had failed to prevent horrendous communal violence at the time of Partition.

Nehru had also experienced how his own neglect of India's defence requirements due to his pacifist beliefs had proved costly to India in the India-China war of 1962, in which India's lack of defence preparedness was the main reason behind its humiliating defeat.

The RSS had always preached strong self-defence against aggressors and scores of RSS volunteers have contributed in various ways towards maintaining internal security.

These two things perhaps compelled Nehru to self-introspect and see the Congress' and his own blunders of the past in a new light. It is not out of place to surmise in retrospect that this resulted in his belated appreciation of the RSS. Had Nehru lived longer, he would have perhaps changed his opinion on Savarkar too.

Uday Mahurkar is a central information commissioner with the Government of India. Chirayu Pandit teaches at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The article is an edited excerpt from their latest book, 'Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition' (Rupa publications).

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