Book Review- Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Sampath brings the story of arguably the most contested figure of the freedom movement. There are very few who view Savarkar as a person. For both his haters and admirers he is an idea and a force. 

The “Man who could have prevented partition” or the “Man who signed the mercy petition”. There is rarely a middle path.

As a manuscript, the book is very well written considering all the literary aspects. It consists of a bulk of facts but still manages to make it a smooth read. You will always be waiting for the next chapter. It is very well researched and compiled. The book will burst a lot of myths about Veer Savarkar and the Freedom Movement. 

Vikram Sampath brings us the man behind the myth and demystifies his career and life. Born in a Chitpavan Brahmin family of landlords. Savarkar seems to be a benevolent figure even in his childhood when he invites poor peasants to rest near his house. It was unthinkable for common folk to even look the landlord in his eye in those days.

Glimpse from the book

Early Life

The family of Savarkars was a nationalist one. They were the landlords of Bhagur, a town near Nashik (M.H.). Vinayak had 2 brothers Narayan Rao and Babarao. The latter being the eldest one. It was a picture perfect family. But Vinayak got orphaned at the age of sixteen when his father succumbed to the plague. He had already lost his mother at an early stage of his life.

The influence of events which are seldom mentioned in our annals are often missing in the analysis of such an influential figure. The loss of both his parents did not deter him. 

Revolutionary Beginnings

Vinayak with his brother Narayanrao created Mitra Mela in1903. It is this Mitra Mela that will ultimately become Abhinav Bharat. 

Abhinav Bharat had prestigious members such as Har Dayal who would later form the Ghadar Party.

Vinayak’s book on the mutiny of 1857 was found in the raids on the members of HSRA including Bhagat Singh. This symbolises the respect revolutionaries had for each other and often what is missing from our books. The revolutionary movement was not isolated and regional as were made to believe. Vikram Sampath brings these important revelations to us through his book. 

The Fall

The assassination of Curzon Wyllie by Madan Lal Dhingra and Jackson’s assassination by Anantrao Laxman Kanhere both of whom were members of Abhinav Bharat. This brought Abhinav Bharat and Savarkar in limelight and his issue grew. On 30th January, 1911 Savarkar was sentenced for two transportation for life which implied fifty years.

The Jail Years

The Jail Experience of the subject is an eye opening account of what happened inside the infamous Cellular Jail. The cell is described as follows-

Each cell measured 13’6” by 7’6”. There was a small ventilator.

They had to bathe in front of the warders and guards. This greatly compromised their dignity.

Another of the case is mentioned where the prisoners were denied facilities as basic as sanitation and if they by mistake or on account of being ill defecated in the cell were punished in the following way-

A punishment of standing in the stocks was meted out by Barrie. This was executed between six and ten in the morning and twelve to five in the afternoon, during which the prisoner had to stand with chains fastened to his hand and tied to the roof above him. During this period, he was forbidden from answering nature’s call completely. This was Barrie’s way of teaching errant convicts the art of self control.

The KOLHU Affair-

The prisoner had to work until 30lts of oil was produced.

From six to ten they were yoked to the wheel, which they turned round and round till their breath became heavy. Some of them had fainted many times during the work.

The door was only opened when the meal was announced. 

While you were at the Kolhu, you felt very thirsty. The waterman gave no water except for a consideration, which was to palm off to him some tobacco in exchange.


PETITIONS

The issue that surrounds Savarkar the most is one of the mercy petitions. This is the issue where his legacy is most contested. One finds the mercy petitions filed by him at the end of the book. One can read it after he has seen all the aspects of the life of the subject through the text. 

The second mercy petition was addressed to the Chief Commissioner of Andaman Islands sometime in October of 1914. 

“If the government suspect that my real intention in writing all this is only to secure my release, then I beg to submit let me not be released at all, with my exception let all the rest be released, let the volunteer movement go on- and I will rejoice in that as if myself was allowed to play an active part.”

A similar demand of releasing the remaining political prisoners with his exception was put forward in the subsequent petition written to the Government of India dated October 5, 1917. 

The writing clearly points to the selfless zeal that still existed within him for fellow nationalists. 

All of the petitions claimed amnesty on legal grounds and a humanitarian basis only after those were already in place for the convicts who were brought on similar charges.

Sampath introduces us to many unsung heroes of the freedom movement. It starts with the mention of one of the first armed rebellions led by Vasudeo Balwant Phadke who fought against the British in favour of a Republic. The early revolutionaries were followed by-

  • The Chapekars who assassinated Rand on the pretext of cruelty during the plague. This greatly moved young Vinayak and he vowed to raise the banner of revolution.
  • Shyamji Krishna Verma- The man who created the famed India House where Abhinav Bharat grew and consolidated.
  • Madan Lal Dhingra
  • Anant Laxman Kanhere 

The Final Verdict

 Vikram Sampath has managed to create a revolution with his book. With the book, Vikram Sampath brings an account that is very well documented and no undocumented claim has been made in the gigantic manuscript.

All the references can be cross verified.

The book was a necessary one and its release has been influential in starting the debate about the man who is said to be the father of Hindutva and the only man who could have prevented partition. His ideological inheritance is of utmost importance as it marches triumphantly across India. The history has been harsh on him and he has been put in the backstage of the freedom movement. His contributions were denied recognition. In addition to being a great revolutionary, he was also one of the greatest reformers of his time.  

Savarkar was anti-caste when even Mahatma Gandhi regarded caste as a necessity. 

The book also does a huge favour to all who do not identify as the leftists. The left has controlled academics for far too long. Writing their own versions of history and at times quoting each other rather than rooting for sound evidence. When asked they would often but where are the right wing intellectuals. It has a clear answer, they are in the shadows of history where they last put them. Writers like Sita Ram Goyal were denied agency and recognition because they refused to cower to the will of the authoritarian left. 

Now, with the arrival of the likes of Sampath, Sanjeev Saniyal and J. Sai Deepak has created a new breed of right wing intellectuals and provided a fresh perspective on things. Their popularity has made the left uneasy and that is why they recently attacked Sampath’s scholarly credentials. The English leftist speaking elite which steered the direction of Indian education now is becoming increasingly insignificant.

This makes Sampath’s work even more decisive and it has established itself as the pivot of change. The scholarly answer to an ideological question. The book itself is a landmark around which the alternative viewpoint will gather and strengthen.

About the Author – Shubhank Singh Chouhan, Btech ( Mechanical Engineering), DTU 21′
Worked as a content writer for Loud Revel. Currently Preparing for Civil Services.

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