Author, Burning for Freedom

Author, Burning for Freedom
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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Savarkar and Travancore

Hi, Everyone! There are so many commendable qualities in Savarkar that I could write pages and pages on them. But today, the particular aspect I want to mention is the fact that no matter what, he never, ever even for a moment betrayed his country or his people in thought or deed—that is what my research has revealed to me.

Savarkar was very much ahead of his times, and very often that lead to misunderstanding him, even by those devoted to him. His every word and action was scrutinized, judged, and many times looked at through the spectacles of the Congress perspective. He was also, it seems, held to a much higher standard than other leaders of the Freedom Movement. While so many of the latter have been forgiven for any indiscretions or not-so-savory actions (big or small,) Savarkar is held accountable for everything he ever said or did. Never is any excuse made for him, nor is he given the benefit of doubt—funny thing is, he does not need either.

From lack of understanding unnecessary aspersions have been cast upon him. One such case is Savarkar and his advice to the Maharaja of Kashmir and Maharaja of Travancore, just before independence was given to India in 1947.

I first heard of this some months before I started to write and research Part II of my novel Burning for Freedom. It was told to me by someone (who shall remain nameless) in hushed tones, as if repeating a deep, dark secret. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said, “But Savarkar advised the Maharaja of Travancore to remain independent.” He seemed to think it was treacherous of Savarkar to do so, and that it must be kept hidden from the general public. A couple of thoughts rushed into my mind right away at this.

What cheek, I thought, that someone (of whose capacity for logical and analytical thinking I very much had my doubts) should think so of one who has given so much of himself for the freedom of his country. It seemed to me that to speak thus of what Savarkar did gave it the aura of it being something unsavory, rather than the action itself.

The other thought was that I certainly had to look into it, and no matter what my conclusion, whether it was something that cast a blemish on Savarkar or not, I was going to reveal it in my novel.

My novel was not just about eulogizing Savarkar, it was for showing Savarkar as he was, for showing what happened in history then. If I was being extremely frank and unbiased in exposing Gandhi, then I had to be equally frank and unbiased in revealing Savarkar. My credibility as a writer and researcher depended on it, and this was so very important to me.

One may agree or not agree with Savarkar in what he advised the Maharaja of Travancore. What is important is to know the circumstance and the context of the occurrence, to know how Savarkar saw the situation, what he felt, and how he reacted.

The background of this incident is this: Thanks to an indiscreet press conference of Nehru, described by his biographer Leonard Mosley as “a direct act of sabotage,” Jinnah who had agreed to a United India now had put the Pakistan demand back on the table. A ruthless Direct Action was unleashed upon the Hindus to achieve this and the neither the Government nor the Congress leaders were protecting them from the violent and ruthless wrath of the Muslim League. By June 1947, the violence had reached horrendous heights. Pakistan was granted to the Muslim League, but there was no decrease in the violence. Now the Muslim League was clamoring for the whole of Punjab and Bengal. To top that, Mountbatten was pushing the Maharaja of Kashmir to accede to Pakistan and the Nizam of Hyderabad had every intention of remaining independent (one must keep in mind he occupied a very large territory in middle of India) if he couldn’t accede to India.

Savarkar with his unerring political acumen was certain that Pakistan was going to attack India immediately after independence (that is exactly what Pakistan did) and gouge out whatever pieces of India it could and lay claim to them. With a Government that had shown itself to be helpless and incompetent, with Nehru and Gandhi still pushing non-violence upon the Hindus, and with Gandhi advocating the dismantling of the army of India, India was so very vulnerable—most certainly that’s how Savarkar saw it.

How desperate and helpless must Savarkar have felt! It is at this time that Maharaja of Kashmir and Chief Minister of Travancore wrote to him seeking an opinion for their wish to remain independent. He advised them to do so and encouraged them to build a strong army which could save India if his worst fears came true. It was most certainly not an act of betrayal of India.

Below, I am giving the excerpt from my novel Burning for Freedom—a small conversation I created to highlight this.

“Gullible, naïve Hindus!” muttered Savarkar. “Gajanan, where are the letters I received from Maharaja Hari Singh[1] and Ramaswami Aiyar?”[2]

“Here they are, Tatyarao,” said Gajanan, digging them out from a pile of letters by his side and handing them to Savarkar. “They are determined to remain independent. They want to know your opinion.”

“Here are my drafted replies, Gajanan,” said Savarkar. “I have told them they have my full support in this decision—and they must immediately start building up an extremely strong army.”

Gajanan gaped.

Keshu blurted out, “But, Tatyarao … is that wise?”

Savarkar was silent for a long moment. Then he looked up. Tears were glinting in his eyes.

“Picture this scene, Keshu, Gajanan. Do you really think that the Muslims who are so aggressively mowing down the Hindus now are going to just stop after independence? No! Pakistan will surely attack Hindustan and try to take over as much of our country as they can. If they reach Delhi, we are lost! And don’t forget, the Nizam’s land is a sizeable chunk smack in the middle of our Hindustan. He is panting for an Islamic State in Hyderabad and looking for a way to accede to Pakistan”—the tears rolled down his cheeks—“what faith can we place in our Government? They have proved themselves to be biased, incompetent, and heartless! Do you have faith that they will defend our country? Can we take that chance?”

“But, Tatyarao, an independent Kashmir and Travancore compromises the integrity of Hindustan, doesn’t it?” cried Keshu.

“Times are desperate, Keshu—desperate! It calls for desperate measures. Mountbatten is pushing the Maharaja of Kashmir to join Pakistan; that cannot be permitted! Our roots are in the Himalayas of Kashmir; they are our natural protection from enemies. If we have Kashmir as a strong independent Hindu state in the north—just like Nepal—and Travancore in the south, we will have armies to count on when Pakistan attacks. Otherwise, if Gandhi does actually dismantle our army, as he is advocating, Hindustan will be a sitting duck!” He fell silent.

“Tatyarao, surely, surely the Government of India won’t be so idiotic!” cried Gajanan.

“A Pakistan taking over Hindustan is … is …”

“Yes, Keshu,” said Savarkar, “a horrendous thought to even put in words but not an impossibility!”

A few days later, Ramaswami Aiyar was attacked by a Christian; fortunately he survived. He resigned from his post, and Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Bala of Travancore acceded to India. The Maharaja of Kashmir managed to hold out and remain independent.


[1] Maharaja of Kashmir.
[2] C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, Chief Minister of the State of Travancore.

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