Savarkar’s Hindu Militarisation Drive: Myths and Facts

Savarkar’s Hindu Militarisation Drive: Myths and Facts

Amongst many allegations levelled by the critics against Savarkar, the following two are most prominent:

  1. Savarkar “apologised” to the British and consequently turned into a “British agent” as part of his conditional release from the Andamans.
  2. Savarkar opposed the Quit India movement and started a Hindu-militarisation drive during WW2, which essentially proves that he worked for the British imperialist interests.

A factual rebuttal to the former of the two accusations was provided in this article published in IndiaFacts. The present article seeks to counter the latter. It will investigate the claims of the opposition in regard to the militarisation, examine the reasons that Savarkar himself cited for the militarisation and finally appraise its outcome i.e. if Savarkar’s militarisation drive really helped the British more than it helped the Indians.

To begin with, it is pertinent to evaluate the claim that Savarkar favoured the militarisation of Hindus in order to help the British in their WW2 efforts. For that reason, it is important to study Savarkar’s views on militarisation before the UK hopped into WW2. The following is the memorial that Savarkar submitted to the Provincial and Central Indian Governments and Legislatures in 1938- a year before the invasion of Poland (which subsequently dragged the UK in WW2):

We the undersigned citizens of India demand that the Provincial and Central Governments should introduce forthwith compulsory Military training in High Schools and Colleges, to found at least one up-to-date Military College in every Presidency to train officers and amend the Arms Act so as to bring it in a line with what obtains in Great Britain. [1]

This proves that Savarkar stressed on militarisation even before Britain’s direct involvement in WW2, i.e. when there was no question of helping the British in their war efforts. In addition, Savarkar’s life-long admiration of the military spirit is evident from the letter that he wrote to his brother Bal from the Cellular Jail of Andamans. In this letter dated as early as 9th March 1915, Savarkar found it heartening that Indians were militarised and sent to Europe to fight during WW1:

It sent a thrill of delight in my heart to hear that the Indian troops were allowed to go to Europe, in their thousands to fight against the best military power in the world and that they had acquainted themselves with such splendour and were covered with military glory. Thank God! Manliness after all is not dead yet in the land! [2]

The aforementioned letter was written six year prior to Savarkar’s release from the Cellular Jail, and therefore the claim that Savarkar recruited Hindus in the Army in WW2 to support the British because he had turned a “British stooge” in exchange for his release earlier, falls flat.

Moreover, Savarkar had sent a cablegram to the US President Roosevelt on 23rd April 1939, advocating India’s freedom from the British imperialist rule:

If your note to Hitler actuated by disinterested human anxiety for safeguarding Freedom and Democracy from Military Aggression, pray ask Britain too to withdraw her armed domination over Hindusthan and let her have free and self-determined Constitution. Great nation like Hindusthan can surely claim at least as much international Justice as small nations do. [3]

It is upto the critics to explain as to why a supposed “British stooge”, as they call Savarkar, would ask the US President to persuade the UK to “withdraw her armed domination over Hindusthan”.

It is now relevant to examine the reasons that Savarkar himself cited for this militarisation drive. In his message on the 25th May 1941, the eve of his 59th birthday, Savarkar said:

Unforeseen facilities are being thrown open to you. Unexpected opportunities have presented themselves before you. You help no one else more than you help yourselves if you utilise these facilities and opportunities to militarize Hindudom! This done, everything else shall follow: if you miss this, nothing else shall avail! [4]

A question arises as to what Savarkar possibly meant by the phrase “everything else shall follow”. The answer to this can be found in a few of his subsequent statements, excerpts of which are cited hereby. Quoting from his statement dated 6th October 1941:

Under the present circumstances, therefore, of all policies, to press on the cause of Hindu militarization is the best and the most far-sighted policy we can adopt… An Indian army wherein millions of Hindus occupy the dominant position which their population proportion entitles them to do must prove the most effective factor not only to defend our country in this present juncture but also to further the cause of the political emancipation too of our motherland in the long run. [5]

In his statement on 8th April 1942, Savarkar asserted:

If the Hindus are thus trained, armed and equipped in their millions, then and then alone they will be in a position to defend their hearths and homes from the ravages of the war and to suppress any internal anti-Hindu anarchy. Under the present circumstances this can only be done by joining the Governmental military forces in the land. [6]

It is noteworthy that owing to WW2, Britain was ready to arm the very Indians that it had once disarmed. Savarkar viewed this as a perfect opportunity to militarise the Hindus which he believed would subsequently materialise in India’s freedom, evident from the phrase “to further the cause of the political emancipation too of our motherland” and also to curb the developments that he considered “anti-Hindu” which must refer to the growth of the Muslim League.

Now comes the question of cooperation with the British that would be a natural consequence of this militarisation. Savarkar explained it thus in his statement on 6th October 1941:

There is no question of co-operating or non-co-operating with the British Government in their war-efforts. The only question that you have before you is to find out how best you can turn this inevitable co-operation with the British as profitable to your own country as it is possible under our present circumstances to do. [7]

Savarkar considered this cooperation with the British, during WW2, as unavoidable, and therefore he instead focused on utilising this “inevitable co-operation” to achieve the goals that he saw beneficial towards the nation. The following excerpt from the same statement further throws light on this:

Because let it not be forgotten that those who fancy that they can claim of not having co-operated with the Government and helped the war-efforts either on account of the demoralizing and hypocritical fad of absolute non-violence and non-resistance even in face of an armed aggression or as a matter of policy simply because they do not join the fighting forces, are but indulging in self-deception and self-complacency. They pay taxes, serve in the railway, postal, legal and even police department and are openly out to pool up as much profit as they can in supplying directly to the military departments clothing, blankets, food and all other articles. Thus they too provide the Government with the very sinews of war. For all practical purposes they too cannot but cooperate with the British Government with this only difference that their policy of boycotting the army deprives the nation of the only outstanding benefit it could have received in return for this inevitable co-operation. [8]

As mentioned before, the British were willing to train and militarise Indians who had long been disarmed. Savarkar considered it an opportunity to rekindle the martial spirit amongst the Hindus. It is apparent from his statement dated 8th April 1942:

Moreover the martial mentality and capacity thus developed today by the Hindus is bound to prove an incalculable asset to the national strength even after the war. [9]

Similarly, a few days later on 23rd April 1942, Savarkar stressed on the importance of rejuvenating the naval military vigour amongst Hindus:

Now that the Government have thrown open, under pressure of circumstances, the services in the navy to the Hindus, we shall be only harming our own interests if we lose this long expected chance to revive the naval military spirit in our people in Konkan. It is these Hindu castes like the Bhandaris, Kharvis and others who once rendered the Maratha Navy a terror over the Portuguese and the English and had inflicted several crushing defeats in naval engagements on them as for example when in a sea-fight the well-known English war-ship ‘Revenge” was captured by the Marathas… Unfortunately these naval instincts were deliberately suppressed till today by the British Government. But circumstances have at last and to some extent at any rate forced open the closed doors. Let us not now lose through inertia the chance of reviving our naval and military instincts and aptitude by failing to send our Hindu youths in as large a number as possible to join the naval fighting forces. [10]

Savarkar had previously lambasted the Congress’ efforts to discourage the recruitment in the Army, in his speech in the 22nd Session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Madurai in 1940:

And now that the war has opened out an opportunity for us to send hundreds of thousands of Hindus to the army, the navy, the air services and to get them fully trained, equipped and armed as up-to-date soldiers and commanding officers and for building shipyards, aeroplane factories, gun factories, ammunition factories and get thousands of our mechanics trained into war technical experts, shall we turn our back on all these facilities, refuse to join the army or to decline to participate in the manufacture of our materials simply because some fools will call it a co-operation with the Government or some booby will curse it as an act of violence? [11]

It is worth mentioning that Subhas Bose too, during his Azad Hind radio broadcast on 25th June 1944, criticised the Congress for dissuading the Indians from enlisting in the Army and at the same time appreciated Savarkar’s militarisation efforts:

When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision almost all the leaders of the Congress party are decrying all the soldiers in the Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Veer Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in the Armed Forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men from which we draw the soldiers of our Indian National Army. [12]

Savarkar’s militarisation drive aided the INA’s efforts, as acknowledged by Bose himself. Goreges Ohsawa, the Japanese writer, states in his study of the activities of Subhas Bose and Rash Behari Bose:

The chief of the Indian National Army proceeded alone to the front line and talked to Indian officers and soldiers in the British Army not to be false to their love of India and the Independence of India in strong heart-stirring words. Miracle was accomplished. The shooting was stopped. Savarkar’s militarisation policy in World War II began to shape. [13]

It is also worth noting that the naval recruitment which Savarkar stressed on, as described earlier, is what proved instrumental towards achieving independence. Clement Atlee, the Prime Minister of the UK during India’s independence, himself confessed later to the retired Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court Phani Bhushan Chakraborty that it was the Naval Mutiny which forced the British to leave [14].

It should be interesting to note that Gandhi himself recruited Indians in the Army in WW1. In his “Appeal for Enlistment” dated 22nd June 1918, he appealed:

It behoves us, therefore, to learn the use of arms and to acquire the ability to defend ourselves. If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army… Hence the easiest and the straightest way to win swaraj is to participate in the defence of the Empire. [15]

Now, apart from the “political emancipation” of the nation that Savarkar envisaged as a result of the Hindu militarisation, there was another more fundamental reason behind Savarkar’s zealous Hindu militarisation drive. And that was the Muslim League’s ardent support to the British war effort, resulting in a rise in the proportion of Muslims in the Army, which Savarkar considered perilous. He stated on 6th October 1941:

But if we Hindusabhaites utilise this opportunity to the largest measure possible by extending military co-operation with the British Government in a responsive spirit and measure we shall do a double service to Hindudom. …secondly in addition to this immediate benefit we shall be able to press on the Hindu Militarization movement to such an extent as to secure permanently a dominant position for the Hindus in the Indian army, navy and air-force wherein today the moslems are almost monopolising and the Hindu element is woefully subordinated as a result of the criminal negligence towards and even a downright condemnation of military life which the Congress under the Gandhist lead had been guilty of. [16]

He again cautioned about the low enrollment of Hindus in the Army on 23rd April 1942:

Remember again that the proportion of Hindus in the military, naval and aerial forces today is already dangerously low. If even now the Hindus, through folly or fear fail to enter these forces, others, unconcerned with Hindu interests and in cases even ready to endanger them will rush in and we Hindus shall find ourselves in a worse plight and weaker by far even than what we are today. [17]

It must be noted that Viceroy Linlithgow had, on 3rd September 1939, declared that “Britain had automatically turned India into a belligerent in the allied cause” [18]. Congress, in response, placed its demand for immediate independence. Consequently, Linlithgow attempted to woo the Muslims in his favour. He promised the Muslims that “full weight would be given to their views and interests” [19]. In March 1940, Jinnah announced the objective of the Muslim League to be an establishment of a separate Muslim State and also actively supported the British in their war efforts thereafter.

So, in hindsight, it is clear that Savarkar was right on this front. Prior to the partition, the Muslim regiments of the Army were assigned to Pakistan, in addition to the division of the rest of the Army along religious lines in accordance to the Muslim League’s demand. In fact, “any Muslim domiciled in Pakistan would not have the option to serve in India, and any non-Muslim domiciled in India would not have the option to join the armed forces of Pakistan” [20]. Pakistan got 140000 out of the 410000 army men, 40% of the Navy and 30% of the Air Force [21].

Savarkar had realised early on that the “Quit India” might turn into “Split India”. His statement on 14th July 1944:

The Hindu Mahasabha had foretold that just as the Swaraj-Khilafat movement ended in strengthening the Khilafat forces and gave birth to the Pan-Islamic movement so also this Swaraj-Pakistan movement can only result in strengthening the Pakistani forces… So true it has come out to the letter. So completely justified had been the policy which refrained the Hindu Mahasabha from being duped into the movement of “Quit India But Keep Your Army Here”. which has now ended in such miserable fiasco. From “Quit India” the Congress has inevitably landed on “Split India”. [22]

It is important to look at the Gandhian policy during this time. The following is an excerpt from Gandhi’s “Letter to a Muslim” published in The Hindu on 8th August 1942:

Provided the Muslim League co-operated fully with the Congress demand for immediate independence without the slightest reservation, subject, of course, to the proviso that independent India will permit the operations of the Allied armies in order to check Axis aggression and thus to help both China and Russia, the Congress will have no objection to the British Government transferring all the powers it today exercises to the Muslim League on behalf of the whole of India, including the so-called Indian India. And the Congress will not only not obstruct any Government that the Muslim League may form on behalf of the people, but will even join the Government in running the machinery of the free State. This is meant in all seriousness and sincerity. [23]

Lastly, a telegram sent by Savarkar on 28th April 1959, to the then PM Nehru is cited since it is relevant to the present discussion:

Punitive and prohibitive military reprisals in kind and measure can alone restore our lost prestige. Let us follow up with compulsory military training of youths and repeal of the Arms Act. [24]

Savarkar advocating militarisation nearly 12 years after the independence is the final nail in the coffin of the theory of the opposition that Savarkar’s militarisation drive was to serve the British. Thus, it can be established that far from helping the British, Savarkar’s militarisation policy helped the anti-British activities and at the same time safeguarded the Hindu and Indian interests in wake of the Muslim separatism.


[1] A. S. Bhide, Veer Savarkar’s “Whirl-wind propaganda.”, p. 33

[2] Letter 4, Letters from Andaman

[3] Bhide, p. 91

[4] Historic Statements by Savarkar, p.3

[5] Ibid., p.5

[6] Ibid., p.9

[7] Ibid., p.4

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid., p.9

[10] Ibid., p.10

[11] Hindu Rashtra Darshan, p.89

[12] Dhananjay Keer, Savarkar and His Times, p.261

[13] Georges Ohsawa, The Two Great Indians in Japan, p.48

[14] Biswanath Bose, RIN Mutiny 1946: Reference and Guide for All, p.22

[15] Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 14, p.440

[16] Historic Statements by Savarkar, p.5

[17] Ibid., p.11

[18] Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan, p.47

[19] Ibid., p.48

[20] Daniel Marston, The Indian Army and the End of the Raj, p. 268

[21] Ibid., p. 271

[22] Historic Statements by Savarkar, p. 78

[23] Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 76, p. 382

[24] Historic Statements by Savarkar, p.150

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Mangesh Joshi

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