Savarkar: From Nashik to Andamans- Part 2 Stormy Years in London

Savarkar: From Nashik to Andamans- Part 2 Stormy Years in London

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Revolutionary activities in London

Savarkar committed himself to establishing connections with revolutionaries around the world, foreseeing the impact of the international politics. He wrote political articles on Indian affairs in the Gaelic America of New York, and got them translated and published in Germany, France, Russia, Italy and Portugal [1]. He, along with his group in London, designed a flag of Indian independence, and it was handed over to Madam Cama and Sardar Singh Rana. Madam Cama, in August 1907, unfurled the flag at the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart, Germany. Indian revolutionaries of Abhinav Bharat were in touch with the revolutionaries of Ireland, Egypt, Russia and China. The purpose of this alliance was to establish an anti-British front internationally. A couple of years later, when Madam Cama started the Indian nationalist periodic called Talwar, Savarkar wrote, in its first issue, about the likelihood of a war in Europe within the coming four to five years and how it could be materialised to the Indian advantage [1].

The revolutionary activities of the Abhinav Bharat continued. It occupied itself with the collection and training of swords, daggers, spears and firearms [2]. Pistols were smuggled through books from London to India. Savarkar sent a number of browning pistols to India with Mirza Abbas, Sikandar Hayat, and many others [2]. Chaturbhuj brought in 20 pistols in a false-bottom box by evading the customs authorities. Senapati Bapat and Hemchandra Das learnt the bomb-making techniques from a Russian revolutionary. Bapat, Das and Hotilal Varma then started from London to India, carrying multiple copies of the bomb-manual with them [1]. Savarkar had, in India House, established a small laboratory to experiment the making of bombs.

During the time, persecution of the revolutionaries and writers progressed in India. Bhupendranath Datta (brother of Swami Vivekananda), Prithvigir Harigir, Bhaskar Vishnu Phadke were amongst the many who were arrested. Moreover, Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit SIngh (uncle of Bhagat Singh) were arrested, and transported to Mandalay Jail. Meanwhile, Bapat, Das and Varma reached India, the bomb-manuals were dispensed to different branches of Abhinav Bharat across India and were distributed amongst the revolutionaries. One copy of the manual was also given to Tilak [2]. A small factory manufacturing bombs was setup in Maniktala, Bengal.

Khudiram Bose, Maniktala Case and Anushilan Samiti

On 30th April 1908, Khudiram Bose, along with Prafulla Chaki, attempted to assassinate the district magistrate by throwing a bomb in the carriage. However, the attempt failed, since Kingsford was in a different carriage, resulting in the death of two English women instead. Prafulla killed himself with a pistol before the police could arrest him. Khudiram was tried for murder and was sentenced to death, making him one of the youngest revolutionaries of India. The incident shook the whole nation, and it became a talking point all around garnering mixed reactions. Mohandas Gandhi condemned the violence, and mourned the death of two innocent women. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, on the other hand, defended Prafulla and Khudiram, and advocated swaraj. The incident was followed by the famous Maniktala case. Aurobindo Ghosh, his brother Barindra Kumar Ghosh, and numerous other revolutionaries of the Anushilan Samiti were arrested. However, Narendranath Goswami, the approver, was eliminated by Kanailal Dutt and Satyendranath Bose. The trial ended with the transportation of Barindra Ghosh, Ullaskar Dutt, Hemchandra Das, Indu Bhushan Roy, Upendranath Banerjee to cellular jail of Andamans.

Mass-arrests in Maharashtra and imprisonment of Tilak

In Maharashtra, Shivram Paranjape was sentenced to 19 months of imprisonment. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was charged with sedition, and sentenced to 6 years of incarceration at the Mandalay prison, Burma. Lord Morley had learnt about Tilak’s association with Savarkar and Bapat, and hence arranged for his imprisonment [1]. It was followed by a succession of arrests in Maharashtra. R. N. Mandlik, Dhondopant Phadke, Balwantrao Limaye, Achyut Balvant Kolhatkar, N. V. Bhave were amongst the many who were imprisoned. The Maniktala Case had thrown light on Senapati Bapat’s connections with the Bengali revolutionaries. Bapat, however, eluded the police and went into a voluntary exile.

There were close links between the revolutionaries of Maharashtra and Bengal. Sir Valentine Chirol was travelling in India at the time. He wrote to the London Times: “The Deccan is honeycombed with secret societies… Even in Bengal, the Bengalees did the shouting; it was Poona that provided the brains that directed the Bengali extremists” [1].

Gatherings in London

Several assemblies were organised in London in the last quarter of the year 1908. October 16th was observed as the Anti-Partition Day, and the meeting was chaired by Lala Lajpat Rai, Khaparde, Karandikar, and Bipin Chandra Pal, followed by another meeting to sympathise with the Indians in South Africa. With Mancherjee Bhownagari in the chair, the speakers included Lajpat Rai, Pal, Khaparde and Savarkar. A National Conference was held on 20th December. The meeting constituted of Madam Cama, Khaparde, Gyanchand Varma, Aga Khan, VVS Aiyer, Dr Kumarswami, and Savarkar. A resolution demanding Swaraj was moved. A gathering was arranged, on 29th December 1908, to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. Gokulchand Narang, Lajpat Rai, Pal, and Savarkar were the speakers [1].

India House and the newspaper reports

The Indian students drew fire from the English newspapers. The Standard reported: “It is beyond question that not a few of the highly intelligent Indians in our Universities and reading for the Bar, are striving their utmost by such means, particularly to accustom the minds of young rising generation to the idea of an armed revolt!” [1]. The London Times wrote on the similar lines, and urged the government to take strenuous measures to control the education and the appointments of the teachers of the Indian students [1].

Subsequently, the reporters of numerous newspapers like Daily Mail, Manchester Guardian and Dispatch interviewed Savarkar [3]. One such report by Cambel Green in the Sunday Chronicle reads: “It may be that my eyesight is not good! It is a house of mystery. Mr Shyamaji Krishnavarma works for the independence of India. If he does not approve of the assassinations of British officials, who accidentally or incidentally suffer thereby, he excuses them. He has offered rupees towards a fund of Indian Martyrs’ Memorial for the men hanged in Bengal. Anyhow the shadow of Krishnavarma is on India House. That is to be fair and to say the least. Now what is the answer? I had an opportunity of a long friendly discussion with Mr V. D. Savarkar, who seems to be not only the spokesman for the students but the spokesman for Mr Shyamaji Krishnavarma. He is a young Grey’s Inn Law student, 23 years at a guess. He has a clear olive complexion, clear deep penetrating eyes, a width of jaw such as I have seen in few men. His English is excellent. If I mistake not, Mr Savarkar will go far- I hope he will go far in the right direction” [3]. He added, “The fact is Mr V. D. Savarkar believes in India for Indians, in the complete emancipation of India from the British rule… Mr Savarkar said, ‘We do not mind detectives watching outside and following us, if the climate suits them!’ ” [3].

Spies at the India House

The British police were vigilant about the activities at the India House. Consequently, some spies masquerading as students were sent to India House. Niranjan Pal later wrote: “Two of such men ingratiated themselves with Savarkar and secured lodgings in the India House. But such was Savarkar’s magnetic personality that soon they came under his spell and of their own accord, confessed everything to him” [1]. The Bombay government, in an attempt to acquire the inside information of the India House, sent a person named Kirtikar to London. He stayed at the India House under the pretext of being a student of dentistry. But soon Aiyar and Dr Rajan grew suspicious. One day, Savarkar and Aiyar entered his room. At the sight of Aiyar’s pistol, Kirtikar confessed everything. However, he was not thrown out of the India House. Instead, every subsequent report sent by him to the Scotland Yard was first scrutinised by Aiyar [3].

Madanlal Dhingra and Wyllie Assassination

Madanlal Dhingra, a close friend of Savarkar in London, assassinated Curzon Wyllie- a British Army officer and a political Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of State for India. The event took place on 1st July 1909 at the annual function of the Indian National Association. Dhingra also shot a parsi doctor Cawas Lalcaca who came in aid of Wyllie. Dhingra’s initial target was Lord Curzon- the man responsible for the partition of Bengal. A few days earlier, Dhingra had chased him, but his efforts went in vain. Dhingra then decided to assassinate Wyllie. As Wyllie fell, Dhingra attempted shoot himself, but was overpowered by some of the attendees.

The English police now grew extremely cautious of the activities of Indian nationalists in London. Scotland Yard immediately put Morley and Curzon under a protective police surveillance [4]. The Director of Criminal Intelligence, Charles stevenson-Moore, wrote in September 1909: “The London police may be trusted henceforth to utilize all the resources at their command in order to keep in touch with the movements of the more dangerous extremists in London” [4]. Prior to the Wyllie assassination, the Department of Criminal Intelligence (DCI) had received a report that the situation in London was far more tense than they had anticipated. Some India House members used to practice shooting at a range near Tottenham Court Road and also used airgun in the rifle range at the back of the India House. The owner of the rifle range later told the police court that Dhingra had been there for practice on the day of the assassination. Following the assassination, the Scotland Yard became watchful of the activities of the Indian nationalists. David Garnett- the Irish writer who was a friend of Savarkar and others at the India House later wrote in his autobiography- “My Friends were kept under a close watch by Scotland Yard, and there was usually a detective hanging about, watching their lodgings or following them in the street” [4].

Three days after the assassination, i.e. on 5th July, an assembly was organised in Caxton Hall by some Indians, in condemnation of Dhingra’s act. Mancherjee Bhownagari, Aga Khan, Surendranath Banerjee, Bipin Chandra Pal, Khaparde denounced Dhingra’s deed. Dhingra’s father and brother had already disowned him publicly. As the meeting proceeded, Aga Khan declared that the meeting was unanimously for the motion condemning Dhingra. At that moment, someone in the audience scornfully took an objection. The chairman, a little annoyed, asked for the name of the person. “My name is Savarkar”, the man roared. Hearing the name, there was a disturbance amongst the audience. A brawl followed. A Eurasian man, Mr Palmer, struck Savarkar on his forehead. MPT Acharya, who was standing by Savarkar, punched Palmer in retaliation. VVS Aiyar was about to shoot Palmer down, but Savarkar held him back. Long story short, the meeting ended without passing the resolution condemning Dhingra. The very evening, Savarkar dispatched a letter to the London Times. Citing the fact that the matter was subjudice, he argued against the condemnation of Dhingra in advance [1].

A written statement was found on Dhingra’s person when he was arrested, which was suppressed by the police. Dhingra’s trial commenced on 10th July. He offered no defense but for his demand that his written statement be read. Following the trial, he was sentenced to death. Two days prior to Dhingra’s execution, Savarkar got his statement printed and Gyanchand Varma posted the copies to various Irish and American newspapers. It was hard to an English newspaper willing to publish the statement, but finally an Irishman working as an assistant editor of the Daily News agreed and it was published on the morning of 16th August- a day before Dhingra was to face the gallows. Its excerpt reads- “I believe that a nation held in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise; since guns were denied to me, I drew forth my pistol and fired… As a Hindu, I feel that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God”. Dhingra’s last words were- “My wish is that I should be born again of the same Mother and that I should die the same death for her again” [1]. Churchill regarded Dhingra’s words as “the finest made in the name of patriotism” [3].

It’s noteworthy that the Irish were extremely appreciative of Dhingra’s sacrifice. Numerous placards in the Irish newspapers paid tributes to Dhingra [6].

Those were turbulent times for Savarkar. India House was closed down a few days before Wyllie assassination. He then stayed at Bipin Chandra Pal’s residence for some days. However, following the assassination, an angry crowd surrounded Pal’s residence. Pal put them at peace by explaining to them that Savarkar was only a guest. However, Savarkar thought it best to leave Pal’s residence to ensure Pal’s safety. At the same time, he was on the CID’s watch. The British intelligence knew very well that Savarkar was the brains behind the activities of the India House members. But they lacked the evidence. Throughout June 1909, the DCI, the Bombay government and the Home Department had considered the extradition of Savarkar. But since the case against him was not strong, they resolved to collect the evidences in London in regards to the case being prepared against him in India [4]. Savarkar was already under a mental stress. His elder brother Babarao was arrested and sentenced to a transportation to Andaman cellular jails in June. His entire property was confiscated. It was a time of crisis. The problems rained all at once. Deprived of food, money and rest, he went from door to door trying to find an accommodation. He had to quit two lodgings in a single day. Finally, a German landlady provided him an accommodation for a few days. A few days prior to the Wyllie assassination, on 22nd June, Savarkar was also informed that his call for bar had been postponed because of his “seditious behaviour” [4]. He appealed against it, and was subjected to an acute cross examination by experienced barristers. Eventually, the charges failed and Savarkar was allowed as a member of Grey’s Inn. Yet he was not permitted to practice for the time being.

Situation in Maharashtra, Arrest of Babarao Savarkar, Kanhere and Jackson Assassination

Meanwhile, the revolutionary activities of Abhinav Bharat continued in India. Using the bomb manuals smuggled to India, K. G. Khare manufactured and experimented with some bombs at Pen in Maharashtra. And he taught the art of bomb making to many young revolutionaries. Damodar Chandrachate, Aba Gaidhani, Vinayak Deshpande, Shankar Soman, Shridhar Barve, Trimbak Marathe, Ramachandra Bhate were amongst the disciples of Khare [3]. In addition, numerous other attempts of manufacturing bombs were made in Nashik, Kothur, Aundh, Vasai and Pune. Bhate started a branch of Abhinav Bharat in Vasai. Dr Parulkar, Nathu & Sidhu Marathe, Bapurao Wagh, Advocate Thakur, Mukund Desai, Gopal & Gangadhar Gokhale were some of its members. It was agreed upon that Bhate and Dr Parulkar would bring from Bombay the necessary material for manufacturing bombs, and Gopalrao Patankar (who possessed the bomb manual) would provide the money for it [3]. Patankar once even sold his family jewelry to raise funds. A bomb factory was setup. The manufactured bombs were taken away by Patankar in trunks. The pistols that Savarkar sent with Chaturbhuj were handed over to Patankar, and were concealed at Pen.

In 1909, Savarkar’s elder brother Babarao was arrested for having published a book comprising of patriotic poems. The British government of India was wary of the secret societies run by Babarao in and around Nashik, and hence took the first opportunity of his arrest. Following a trial in Bomby, Babarao was condemned to transportation. Jackson, the collector of Nashik, was responsible for Babarao’s arrest. Jackson was already infamous and was held accountable by the locals for torturing one advocate Waman Khare. There were also a couple of incidents where the locals were beaten to death by the British officers. Hence the political climate of Nashik had become a hot potato. Planning of Jackson’s assassination was already underway.

Anant Lakshman Kanhere, an 18-year-old youth, had made up his mind to assassinate Jackson. Ganu Vaidya informed Deshpande, Soman and Joshi (members of Abhinav Bharat) of Kanhere’s intentions. The pistols to be used were sent by Savarkar and brought in by Chaturbhuj. On 21st December 1909, Kanhere shot Jackson dead at Vijayanand Theatre. He then attempted to shoot himself, but was overpowered by deputy collector Khopkar and one Mr Jolly.

During the investigation, Ganu Vaidya was arrested, and a browning pistol and some bottles of acid were recovered from his house. Ganu mentioned Karve’s name to the police. Under police torture, Karve disclosed Patankar’s name. And Patankar confessed that he got the pistols from Chaturbhuj, in order to save the bomb factory at Vasai. From Chaturbhuj, the police learnt that the pistols were sent by Vinayak Savarkar. He also disclosed the fact that he was to hand over the pistols to Bhat and Thatte according to Savarkar’s instructions, but he later gave the pistols to Patankar on Bhat’s direction. Quoting from Dr V. M. Bhat’s Abhinav Bharat- “Thus the chain of Jackson assassination began with Kanhere and ended with Savarkar in London” [3]. Savarkar wrote an article titled “Martyrs of Nashik” in Madam Cama’s weekly Talwar.


[1] Savarkar And His Times, Dhananjay Keer

[2] History Of The Freedom Movement in India Vol. 2, R. C. Majumdar

[3] Veer Savarkar: Father of Hindu Nationalism, Jaywant Joglekar

[4] Intelligence And Imperial Defence, Richard J. Popplewell

[5] The Life And Times of Veer Savarkar, A. K. Gandhi

[6] Struggle For Freedom, R. C. Majumdar

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Mangesh Joshi

Mangesh Joshi, a Mechanical Engineer by training, is currently working for Garuda Prakashan as a developmental editor.