How dare you compare Veer Savarkar with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose?” said Basudeb Acharia of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha. “This is an insult to Netaji.” This angry remark may have come as a shock to the uninitiated. But there is nothing new about Communists running down our national heroes or causes. No wonder, too often Left protestations end up as a farce unto themselves.
On May 4 the airport at Port Blair was renamed as Veer Savarkar Airport. It fulfils not only a long standing wish of the people of the island, but also pays tribute to the most famous revolutionary who was incarcerated in the Cellular Jail, the Indian Bastille (between 1911 and 1921). But it will be important to reflect on the Communist record before we examine the merit of what they have to say on Savarkar.
Till 1943, the Communist Party of India (established 1925), like all Communist parties in the world, was actually a chapter of Communist International, headquartered in and controlled by Moscow. With Moscow as its Mecca and Kremlin as its Kaba, it gloated that from Budapest to Beijing “sab kuch lal ho jayega (everything will turn red)”. Half-Swede and half-Indian Rajani Palme Dutt, the London-based intellectual hack of Soviet regime, would send down instructions to the Indian chapter without ever visiting India. Those who remained prisoners to the cobweb of clichés Communism built around itself are least expected to appreciate those who fought for the freedom of the country.
But against expectation, this time the charge of the light brigade was not directed against a “communal” Savarkar. It was against the alleged comparison of Savarkar with Netaji Subhas Bose. Secondly, it has charged Savarkar of seeking “clemency” from the British after having spent a decade in the Andaman. It is another thing that they were selective in quoting two lines from a long letter by Savarkar (vide p. 212-222, Penal Settlement in Andamans, by R.C. Mazumdar, Publication Division, Ministry of I&B, 1975). The prison life of no other Indian leader can qualify even as a pale shadow to Veer Savarkar’s confinement. Only the incarcerations of his mentor Tilak earlier, and Subhas Chandra Bose later — both in Mandalay jail (Burma) — call for some parallels. To die for the motherland like a Madan Lal Dhingra, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh or Udham Singh is no doubt heroic. But it is more gallant to defy death and emerge, as if out of one’s own graveyard, like Savarkar to pursue a cherished national mission throughout one’s life.
There had been a sea change in the Indian and the world political scenarios between the times Savarkar went to the Andamans and he came out. Hence, Savarkar’s petitions of April 6 and July 6, 1920 should not be seen in isolation. They were indirectly and obviously a pressure on the government and a support on behest of the revolutionary party to the national forces that were demanding a responsible government in India. In May 1920 Gandhiji wrote in Young India that no act of violence had been proved against the Savarkar brothers, both of whom were lodged in the Andamans. In fact, the Savarkar case had created a ripple in the Central Legislative Assembly. In March 1921, K.V. Rangaswamy Ayyangar, member of the Council of State, had moved a resolution to extend amnesty to Savarkar.
A study of relations between two towering contemporaries Veer Savarkar (1883-1966) and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945?) will prove interesting. On the “longest day,” June 21, 1940, Subhas Chandra Bose called on to Savarkar at Savarkar Sadan, Bombay. Savarkar advised Subhas not to waste time in agitating for the removal of British statues like Holwell Monument in Calcutta — only to end up in a British prison during the invaluable war-time. Savarkar, was surreptitiously in touch with Rash Behari Bose in Japan. He advocated that Subhas should smuggle himself out of the country and try to reach Germany and Japan (like Indian revolutionaries during World War I) to raise an Indian Army of liberation out of PoWs. In his avatar as Netaji, Subhas Bose’s future course of action developed on the prophetic lines of Veer Savarkar.
Netaji in his speech on Azad Hind Radio (June 25, 1944) acknowledged Savarkar’s perspicacity in these words: “When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision, almost all the leaders of Congress party have been decrying all the soldiers in Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Veer Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in armed forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men and soldiers for our Indian National Army.” On September 30, 1943 when Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose toured Andaman as the supreme commander of Azad Hind Fauz, he paid his tributes to the memories of freedom fighters imprisoned in the Cellular Jail. He got printed thousands of copies of the Tamil version of Savarkar’s Indian War of Independence of 1857 and distributed them in public. Andaman and Nicobar islands were re-named as Saheed and Swaraj islands. Savarkar reciprocated these noble sentiments, but alas, Subhas was not there to see it. On May 10, 11, and 12 1952 during the dissolution celebration of Abhinav Bharat, the secret revolutionary party Savarkar had founded in 1904 at Pune, the bust of Netaji graced the stage for three days. Hailing Subhas as “deathless” Savarkar said, “Long live deathless Subhas, victory to the goddess of freedom.”
Our Communist friends have their facts wrong when the say that the home minister had compared Subhas with Savarkar. Mr L.K. Advani only said that Savarkar and Subhas Bose had shared a similar fate of deliberate disregard in post-Independence India. It is needless to emphasise that the Nehru-Gandhi family, which dominated a major part of independent India was antagonistic not only to Savarkar and Subhas but also to an entire legacy of revolutionaries like Rash Behari Bose, Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar etc. The home minister had merely pointed out this discriminatory approach. He did not at all equate the two greats, but the ungratefulness they received from those who inherited India from the British and continued to administer the country with a colonial mindset.
Communists are known to do wrong things, and occasionally for the right reasons. But accidentally they can do right things, but then for the wrong reasons. Defending Netaji in Parliament was one such — it was aimed at maligning Savarkar. But why suddenly are they so obsessive about defending Netaji? Using the choicest abuses, once they called him “quisling”, “Tojo’s dog”, “agent of imperialists” and what not. People’s War, the weekly of the Communist Party, published unpalatable cartoons showing Netaji as a cur held up by Goebbels (September 13, 1942), a mere mask for the Japanese imperial ogre (August 8, 1942), descending as the Japanese bomb to destroy India (November 21, 1942), a midget being led by Japanese imperialists (September 26, 1943) etc. To malign the national greats is an inveterate habit of the Communists. To them the Congress (with nationwide following) did not qualify more than a bourgeoisie institution and Gandhiji anything apart from an “astute leader of the bourgeoisie”. During the critical phase of 1959-40, the party described Gandhiji and Subhas as “blind messiahs”. About Jai Prakash Narayan and other members of the Congress Socialist Party who were leading an underground movement at that time People’s War (March 21, 1943) wrote, “…these vultures have been feeding on the Congress, doing dirty work of their masters… clear out the vampires… Its politics is the politics of dirty vampires…” Their vitriol had so gladdened the “imperialist enemy” the British heart that Sir Richard Tottenham, additional home secretary, had remarked “better and better” upon examining the weekly’s July 25, 1943 issue.
While Netaji was uniting not only Indians but non-resident Indians with the mantra of Jai Hind, the Communists were floating “many nation theories.” Jinnah had at least stopped short at two. It is all too well known that how they tried to sabotage the 1942 Quit India Movement, provided intellectual justification to the partition of the country, tried an arms insurrection in 1949, supported the Chinese position during 1962 Sino aggression.
Yet, having said all that, in the end, I can’t help remembering an illustrious exception. Veteran communist parliamentarian and prolific scholar Prof. Hiren Mukerjee (who years later penned a study on Netaji Subhas called Bow to the Burning Gold) on February 28, 1966, that is two days after Savarkar passed away, proposed that the Lok Sabha should pay homage to Savarkar, in recognition of his services to the nation. He was supported by U.M. Trivedi of the Jan Sangh. Prof. Hiren Mukerjee said that although Savarkar was not a member of the House, there should still be some way in which the House should register its feelings on the passing away of a great leader. The House had done so in the case of Mahatma Gandhi and Stalin who were not members of the House. Though, ultimately the House did not formally pay any homage, by observing silence, Speaker Hukum Singh conveyed the sentiments of the House to the bereaved family through the secretary of Lok Sabha. On March 4, 1966 when Union ministers, Opposition leaders, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha paid homage to Savarkar in a condolence meet organised by Delhi’s citizen’s council, Prof. Hiren Mukerjee, though differing from some of Savarkar’s views, had praised the potent brand of nationalism that he championed. Earlier Mukerjee was the one who had denounced All India Radio for not taking note of Savarkar’s Mritunjaya Diwas celebration on December 24, 1960. Yet given their shady history it is not unnatural that the example of Hiren Mukerjee would be lost upon the communists.
Published in Asianage. Balbir K. Punj is a BJP MP and can be contacted at ethtv2@.id.eth.net