Freedom 75
Conjuring Savarkar: Vikram Sampath’s Genealogy of the ‘Hindu Nation’[1]
by Akash Bhattacharya

A ‘Serious Biography’?[2]

Hindu supremacist politics has systematically used its grip over political power to mainstream its histories, narratives, and heroes. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its associated historians usually invoke India’s supposed ‘ancient Hindu glory’ and its ‘dark medieval Muslim rule’ in order to earn their bread-and-butter. More recently, they have set their sights on the freedom struggle, whose history they wish to recast in a Hindu nationalist mould.

Vikram Sampath’s two volume and nearly two-thousand-page long biography of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) is an important milestone in the RSS’s appropriation of our freedom struggle. The two volumes together claim to reassess Savarkar’s ‘contentious legacy’ in the light of historical facts. The objective, the author claims, is to rescue him from the condescension of the so-called Congress-defined post-coloniality. In reality though, these volumes complete the genealogy of the ‘Hindu nation’ by adding its missing modern chapter.

Sampath’s ‘extensive research’ has garnered rave reviews from eminent historians including Faisal Devji – who has called this work a ‘serious biography’ – Sugata Bose, and Francis Robinson, and even to an extent from his doubters such as Aditya Mukherjee and Shashi Tharoor.[3] In this review essay, I differ with Sampath’s academic admirers. I fear that the latter have fallen prey to the aura of objectivity that the author has created through scores of citations that accompany each chapter. 

Read closely, both volumes reveal serious methodological lapses which are unbecoming of an ‘objective assessment’ of any entity. Unlike a serious biographer, Sampath has over-relied on Savarkar’s self-narratives and on previously written contentious biographies /hagiographies.[4] Besides, a considerable number of crucial claims in both volumes remain inadequately substantiated. Sampath has also read vital texts and historical contexts rather selectively and sidestepped important evidence that contradicts his narrative. 

These glaring methodological errors are not mere oversights. The omissions and commissions have enabled the author to legitimize Savarkar as a great revolutionary and as a champion of Indian national interests. He has built a powerful narrative of Savarkar as a tragic hero of sorts – imprisoned and shackled as a revolutionary and misunderstood and vilified as a Hindu nationalist.

The power of the narrative makes a range of contentious claims believable. The author has justified Savarkar’s mercy petition from the Andamans as a tactical move suited to the needs of the time. He has whitewashed the protagonist’s divisive legacy and morally exonerated him from MK Gandhi’s assassination. He has also painted an erroneous and deceptive picture of ideological proximity between Savarkar and BR Ambedkar. 

This review essay analyses the narrative and examines the ways in which the author has (mis)used historical sources. It traces the construction of a false genealogy of revolutionary politics in India in the first volume of the biography. It reveals how this genealogy grants Savarkar a greater place in the freedom struggle than what the records warrant and sets the stage for his emergence as a Hindu hero in the age of Gandhian politics.

The essay goes on to demonstrate, through an analysis of the second volume, how Sampath manipulates the sources to produce Savarkar as a champion of Hindu interests who was ahead of his times. The essay ends with a brief reflection on the reasons behind the increasing popularity of Hindu nationalist histories despite their lack of credibility.

Savarkar Speaking

The first volume, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, takes us through Savarkar’s growing up years, his coming of age as a student activist, his leadership role in organizing secret societies such as Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat to work towards an armed rebellion against the British, his stint in London, and his eventual arrest and deportation to the Andamans. In these chapters, he comes across as a studious, intelligent, and sensitive boy with a dissident streak. He is not scared to befriend boys of a ‘lower’ caste despite social taboos.[5]

As he grows up, he becomes an avid reader of history, a budding poet, an eloquent speaker and develops a charismatic personality. He was dismissed from college for his participation in the Swadeshi Movement. He subsequently goes to London through a scholarship awarded to him by Shyamji Krishna Verma upon Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s recommendation. In London, he becomes a key figure at the India House and works with a number of young Indians who too are dreaming of organizing an armed rebellion against colonial rule.

The police eventually close in on Savarkar. Undeterred by the likelihood of arrest, he remains in London. He is subsequently captured, taken back to India, and deported to the Andamans. The book tells us that all throughout this ordeal he remained strong and bore his travails with fortitude. He was among the many prisoners who wrote mercy petitions when a general amnesty was declared in 1921.[6] Subsequently he was released but he was not allowed to leave Ratnagiri for another thirteen years.

In the chapters one to three, which deal with his childhood right up till his participation in the Swadeshi movement, Sampath consistently violates a cardinal rule of historically authentic biographies. Biographies can definitely be written in admiration. However, their historical character is lost when the author fails to crosscheck what the subject – Savarkar, in this case – said about his life and times, with what his contemporaries had to say about the same figures, events and processes.[7] All through the chapters, we learn much about the protagonist through his self-writings or through earlier biographies, like the one by Dhananjay Keer.[8] Keer’s authenticity is doubted by the author himself.[9]

The chapters on Savarkar’s stint in the Andamans once again provide a good example of Sampath’s disregard for cross-checking Savarkar’s own claims with other sources: a process that historians call ‘corroboration’. In the two chapters that recount Savarkar’s time in the Andamans, viz. Sazaa-e-Kalapani and Jail Chronicles, sixty-three out of one hundred and ninety-five citations (close to 40%) are from Savarkar’s own writings.[10] Other twenty percent are from accounts which Sampath himself lists as eulogies of Savarkar.

Chunks of texts drawn from these self-narratives and hagiographies are shrewdly woven together to build up an image of Savarkar as a valiant prisoner and a natural leader of men. He regularly talked back to the prison authorities and resisted the brutal prison rules, thereby earning the admiration of his fellow prisoners, we are told. Take, for example, the following extract from My Transportation for Life at the beginning of the chapter Sazaa-e-Kaalapani.

Port Blair, July 1911. On entering the cabin in the lowest deck of the S.S. Maharaja, Vinayak found that he had to share space with some fifty other members, the most unkempt and unwashed masses of the country, who had spread their beddings on every available inch of the floor…. There was not even enough space to stretch oneself, as the passengers were huddled together like cattle. Some of the European travellers on the steamer were very reverential towards Vinayak, having heard stories about him. In his honour and with the permission of the captain, a few of them sponsored a meal for the entire lot of prisoners in the basement…. After two days of fasting, with just boiled peas and dried grams to munch on, the prisoners exulted at this feast. They thanked Vinayak because of whose presence they had enjoyed it.[11]

One notices similar use of Savarkar’s own accounts in the sections that discuss his leadership of the Mitra Mela.[12] Surprisingly, crucial details about the operation and spread of the Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat also draw from Savarkar’s own writings, and from police records which too Sampath seldom subjects to critical scrutiny.[13] Tall claims about the spread and impact of Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat constitute key points in the narrative. The author claims that because of the massive spread, these two groups emerged as nodal points of a turn of the century all-India network of revolutionaries.

Savarkar is portrayed, by extension, as the early twentieth century ideological fountainhead of armed revolutionaries throughout India.  He becomes the man who ‘sent’ the Bengali revolutionary Hemchandra Kanungo to obtain a bomb manual from Paris, thus becoming the main figure behind the sensational Alipore Bomb case and the assassination attempts on Kingsford by Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki in 1908.[14] These claims about Savarkar’s role in facilitating violent activities in Bengal seem to rely more on quantum leaps of speculation than on concrete evidence.

Savarkar was no doubt a prominent figure among revolutionary circles in Western India and London, and the British saw him as a threat. However, Sampath clearly gives him an exaggerated significance without adequate evidence for the same. He even misquotes A.G. Noorani to suggest that Savarkar not only mentored Curzon Willie’s nemesis Madan Lal Dhingra in London, but that he was also the chief inspiration behind the assassination. Noorani never makes any such claim. Rather he suggests that Savarkar ‘took full credit’ for the assassination at a later date.[15]

Revolution Arbitrary  

What indeed is this revolution that Savarkar ideologically spearheaded? This question takes us back to the first chapter of the first volume. The volume begins with the British government in the Deccan reeling under the possibility of an irrepressible rebellion. This was 1879 – the fag end of a decade of agrarian disturbances throughout the Deccan. These were caused by the colonial revenue settlements.

Known as the Deccan Riots, these led to militant and sometimes violent agitations by the Maratha Kunbi peasants against village moneylenders and their British patrons.[16] Towards the end of decade, the Deccan Agriculturalists Relief Act of 1879 was brought in to protect the peasants against future land grabbing by moneylenders, and to pacify the Deccan countryside.

The Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmins, entrenched in the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, aided the peasant agitation from time to time.[17] The alliance between the Western educated Brahmins and the local peasantry against the colonial government was a novel one. It created the context for another rebellion, organized by Vasudev Balwant Phadke – a key figure in Sampath’s narrative.

Phadke mobilized local peasant and tribal communities – Ramoshis, Kolis, Bhils, and Dangars – and mounted an armed rebellion against the British in 1875. His efforts were thwarted though, and he was captured in 1879. The first chapter, titled The Early Years, contains detailed accounts of Phadke’s rebellion. It claims, without any concrete evidence, that Savarkar, growing up in the aftermath of the rebellion, imbued its spirit and inherited Phadke’s mantle.[18] Both of them were in fact carrying forward the spirit of the rebellion of 1857, Sampath declares.

Thus, the very first chapter provides us with a rudimentary genealogy of the ‘revolutionary tradition’ with which the author identifies Savarkar. The author suggests that this ‘revolutionary tradition’ constituted a third tradition, besides the Moderate and Extremist political tendencies, in late nineteenth century Western India.

Curiously, while Sampath eagerly alludes to possible connections between the revolt of 1857, Phadke’s rebellion and Savarkar’s politics, the Deccan Riots and their anti-colonial economic agendas find no significant place in his narrative. The author abstracts the figure of Phadke, and his anti-British politics, from the socio-economic context which animated it.

In fact, Sampath greatly emphasizes on the fact that Phadke, like Savarkar, was a Chitpavan Brahmin. He argues that ever since the loss of power following the end of Maratha rule in 1818, Chitpavan anti-British militancy had always lurked below the surface. MG Ranade, Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, were all products of this subterranean militancy, Sampath suggests. Savarkar took it a notch higher by initiating secret societies that aimed for an armed rebellion against British rule.[19]  

In other words, Chitpavan Brahmin militancy against the British comes to define the ‘revolutionary tradition’ in the initial chapters of the first volume. ‘Revolution’ attains a broader meaning as we move along, but it is still defined purely in terms of the overthrow of British rule by armed rebellion.

It is tough to arrive at a consensual understanding of ‘revolution’. However historically speaking, in the context of the freedom struggle, there were multiple tendencies that identified themselves as revolutionary. Prominent among them were the Anushilan Samiti and Yugantar in Bengal, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) in Punjab, North India and Bengal, and Savarkar’s Abhinav Bharat in Maharashtra.

All the above three believed in armed rebellion against British rule but their revolutionary programmes were different. The HSRA advocated radical socio-economic reforms along socialist lines. Anushilan Samiti and Yugantar were initially focussed on political freedom alone but by the early 1930s many members of these groups had realised the limitations of their imagination and had joined the Communist and Socialist parties.[20] Unlike the Abhinav Bharat, an armed rebellion was hardly the be-all and end-all of their political aspirations, except during specific phases of their evolution.

There were other political tendencies which later-day historians have called revolutionary, almost by consensus, due to their thrust towards a radical overhaul of society alongside the attainment of political freedom from British rule. The Santhal and Munda rebellions in eastern India were prominent among these. Besides, there were a range of militant peasant and tribal movements which aimed to upstage the colonial socio-economic arrangements.[21]    

Within this broad schema of ‘revolutionary’ tendencies within the freedom struggle, Savarkar’s Abhinav Bharat appears to be a significant intervention but quite limited in its program and rather specific to the early twentieth century moment in anti-colonial politics.  Sampath abstracts the anti-British element from a range of militant and revolutionary tendencies, arbitrarily combines it with an elemental call to arms, and wraps around this an ill-defined Hindu-ness, to give his revolution a false sense of coherence.

It is an attempt to rationalize a definition which is arbitrary by all means but highly significant to the narrative at hand. After all, if there was no coherent all-India revolutionary movement aligned to the Abhinav Bharat, there would be nothing for Savarkar to spearhead.  

A Hindu Freedom

The release of the ‘revolutionary’ from the Andamans ushers us into a different era. This was the difficult 1920s – the era of mass movements, of definitive steps towards political independence, of powerful upthrust of anti-caste politics, but what is more the era of Muslim alienation from the freedom struggle. This was also the time when the shackled ‘revolutionary’ gradually transformed himself into a Hindu nationalist ideologue, while not officially giving up the aspirations of launching an armed rebellion. This phase initiates us into the second volume of the biography, titled A Contested Legacy.

The initial chapters – one and two – of this volume tells us about Savarkar’s anti-caste activities in Ratnagiri in the years following his release. Savarkar comes across as an avid reformer championing inter-dining, temple entry, Dalit education, and so on. Disappointingly, fifty out of the eighty-five citations are once again from his own writings.[22] Thus, in yet another crucial chapter, which seeks to establish Savarkar as a reformist rather than a conservative Hindu, there is a disturbing merger of the subject’s voice (Savarkar) with that of the author (Sampath).

For instance, Sampath this describes a set of activities by borrowing claims verbatim from Savarkar’s Ratnagiri Parva:

Similarly, in 1928, be it during the Gokulashtami celebrations in August or in a circus show in Ratnagiri, Savarkar used all opportunities to integrate the untouchable community with the rest of society.[23]

The next major incident is of course not cited at all.

To dismantle the proprietary rights that Brahmins held over traditional Vedic knowledge, making it inaccessible to other castes (Vedokta bandi), Savarkar freely taught the sacred Gayatri mantra to everyone. In May 1929, he organized a function in Ratnagiri to declare that anyone who called himself a Hindu had the right to conduct Vedic ceremonies as the Vedas belonged to all castes, and also to wear the sacred thread. He distributed sacred threads to several untouchables of the Mahar and Chamar castes and told them, ‘Take these holy threads and stop bickering.’ The thread was a symbol of a huge division between the Brahmin and the non-Brahmin castes. This simple act of Savarkar brought down a big bastion of Brahminism and caste discrimination, making it an extremely emotional moment for the untouchables who had all along been despised.[24]

These assertions about Savarkar’s anti-caste credentials are buttressed by stories of mutual respect and admiration between Ambedkar and him. Sampath quotes a letter written to Savarkar by Ambedkar where the latter lauds him for appreciating the need to dismantle the varnashrama dharma and for seeing through the limited Gandhian project of eradication of untouchability.[25] This letter was indeed written. However, Ambedkar’s repeated refusal to accept Savarkar’s invitation to Ratnagiri is explained away as a mere coincidence.[26]

A single letter, combined with a glowing self-narrative on his social experiments, can hardly establish Savarkar’s anti-caste credentials as exceptionally progressive. A comparison between his programme of ‘dismantling’ caste and Ambedkar’s annihilation of caste, lays bare the differences. Savarkar was mainly interested in inter-dining, removal of taboos on sea travel, education, temple entry and so on. Ambedkar in contrast regarded inter-dining as only a preliminary step, inter-caste marriage as a significant step and the redistribution of Hindu joint family property and rejection of the shastras as essential for annihilating caste.[27] Ambedkar’s programme was clearly far more radical than that of Savarkar.

Sampath does not attempt any such comparison though. His focus is on confirming Savarkar as a closer ally of Ambedkar than MK Gandhi was.[28] This obsession has two reasons behind it. First, establishing Savarkar as superior to Gandhi is important for declaring the former as the true saviour of the Hindus. Second, Ambedkar comes of great use in the later chapters when Sampath selectively quotes from his book Pakistan or the Partition of India to rationalize Savarkar’s ideas of Akhand Hindustan.

The standout argument in the second volume pertains to Sampath’s unqualified justification of Savarkar’s Hindu nationalist ideas. Through chapters three and four he argues that Hindu consolidation became essential in the wake of Pan Islamism’s arrival in the Indian political landscape through the Khilafat movement. The need for Hindu consolidation only grew in the face of growing Muslim demands for Pakistan and the Indian National Congress’s ‘appeasement’ of the same. Chapters five and six talk about Savarkar’s assumption of the Presidentship of the Hindu Mahasabha and celebrates his strong advocacy of a united free India with minimum concessions to the Muslim League, and a notion of citizenship based on a vaguely defined love for one’s motherland.

By the end of the second volume, Savarkar emerges as a misconstrued thinker. His majoritarian and conservative ethnic nationalism appears to the reader as the correct template for building a strong and inclusive nation; but a template that was ahead of its time in 1947. In chapter ten Sampath draws upon Savarkar’s own testimony and other writings and combines it with meagre circumstantial evidence to exonerate Savarkar from any guilt by association with regard to Gandhi’s assassination.[29] However Sampath is keen to establish that Savarkar was indeed Godse’s ideological mentor.[30] In the last chapter we learn about the government’s continued efforts in the 1960s to implicate Savarkar in Gandhi’s assassination. The book ends with Savarkar’s death, but the conclusion is rather open ended, as if the misunderstood man’s time was yet to come.    

Prejudice as History 

If drawing upon Savarkar’s own writings is the key method employed by Sampath in the first volume, a blatantly partial reading of texts and contexts is the standout method in the second. Sampath’s reading of the historical circumstances that led to Hindu consolidation during the 1920s leaves a lot to be desired. This is a crucial section in the volume. The essentialized notion of Muslim separatism laid down in chapters three and four is later cited to justify Savarkar’s aggressive campaigns in the 1940s.

Sampath portrays Gandhi’s efforts towards building a multi-community and multi-party anti-imperial front by bringing together the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements as a fatal mistake; one that ceded space to Muslim separatism and necessitated a counter Hindu consolidation.[31] In reality, it was Gandhi’s controversial withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation movement in 1922, before the Khilafat demands had been met, more than the movement itself, that led to the worsening of Hindu Muslim relations during this period.[32]

The process of preparation of the Nehru Report of 1928 presented a possibility for a Congress-League reconciliation, but it was successfully torpedoed by none other than the Hindu Mahasabha.[33] In other words, the Hindu Mahasabha was hardly a benign by-product of Muslim political assertion. It played a key role in the waning of Congress-Muslim League political cordiality and the rapid rise of Hindu Muslim tensions from the mid-1920s onwards.[34]

Thus, single-minded Muslim separatism was hardly the sole reason being the inter-community tensions of the 1920s. Neither was there any inevitability to the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in this context. This period also saw the rise of Left movements, most prominently under the leadership of the HSRA.

The HSRA was well cognizant of the rising tensions but seldom blamed the anti-imperial united front for ceding space to pan-Islamism and fomenting riots. On the contrary, they advocated and practised a politics of class solidarity as an antidote to Hindu Muslim tensions. Sampath is happy to abstract Bhagat Singh’s bravery from his politics but chooses to ignore how his presence in the political landscape contradicts the author’s essentialized narrative of Hindu consolidation.   

Sampath repeatedly falls back upon the long-held stereotype that Indian Muslims were essentially separatist. He drives the point home by picking and choosing convenient examples, like Muslim loyalty to the British in the late nineteenth century, Muslim League support for the 1905 partition of Bengal, the Moplah rebellion (1921) in which Hindus were attacked, and the murder of Swami Sharddhanand by Abdul Rashid (1926).[35]  

The attacks on Hindus were indeed unfortunate but put in their context both Muslim loyalty to the British and support for the 1905 partition do tell a story which is more complicated than the singular Muslim separatism narrative.[36] Loyalty to the British in the late nineteenth century was hardly uncommon. Hindu stalwarts such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and in fact large sections of the Bengali bhadralok remained loyal during and after the revolt of 1857.

While nationalist narratives do critique bhadralok loyalty, the latter has seldom been labelled as essentially disinterested in Indian nationalism. Prejudicial branding of Muslims enables Sampath to hide the significant participation of Indian Muslims in the freedom struggle since the early twentieth century.[37] This oversight in turn reinforces his claim that Hindu were in grave danger at the hands of the Muslims.

Having established Muslim separatism as an essential feature of the community, Sampath easily justifies Savarkar’s Hindutva as a ‘inclusive’. Savarkar is vindicated in making a vaguely defined ‘love for the motherland’ a precondition for claims to Indian citizenship. Conditional inclusion of Muslims and an aggressive counterattack if the overtures were rejected, are rationalized as the needs of the time. 

As already mentioned, the author selectively cites BR Ambedkar’s Pakistan or the Partition of India to justify his claims about Muslim separatism and the Congress’s ‘appeasement’ of the same. In the process, the Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar emerges as the true champion of Hindu interests.    

In this book, Ambedkar is certainly critical of the Pakistan proposal and argues that both Muslim separatism and the Congress’s failure to handle the situation are to blame for the impasse. However, there are some critical points that Sampath ignores. First, even as Ambedkar is critical of several Muslim politicians, he categorically refuses to make any essentialist judgment about Muslim nationalism. In a very nuanced take on the situation, Ambedkar calls the Pakistan proposal a ‘characteristic which the Muslim body politic has developed’; one that may go away in time, but one could not be sure.[38]  In other words, he sees it as a genuine demand for Muslim self-determination, and one that has emerged through a long-term process. This is a historical rather than an essentialist treatment of the issue.

Second, while Sampath acknowledges that Ambedkar did not find the Hindu Mahasabha proposal of Akhand Hindustan, without any major concessions to the Muslim League, as practicable, he does not acknowledge the full range of Ambedkar’s views on this proposal. Ambedkar rejected the Hindu Mahasabha proposal first and foremost because he believed that Hindus were not a nation in the first place.[39] That being the level of disagreement with Savarkar’s perspectives, all stories about Ambedkar’s affection for Savarkar can be put to rest.          

In Conclusion 

The two-volume biography thus hardly qualifies as an objective reassessment. It seeks to conjure up the spirit of Savarkar by presenting facts in a way that is likely to sway a non-specialist in the subject. Sampath’s unapologetic stance on Savarkar’s mentoring of Godse, of his virulent anti-Muslim speeches, of his Hindu ethnic nationalism, sets a new negative benchmark for Hindu nationalist histories. He uses a large number of citations, but the majority of the citations drawn from the archives pertain to circumstantial issues rather than to the main events in Savarkar’s life. Legal testimonies, police records are inexplicably accepted as statements of truth. 

The popularity of Hindu nationalist histories calls for close scrutiny by democratic minded historians – of these histories as well as the of our practices. Hindutva political ascendancy, and the institutional support that their histories consequently enjoy, is greatly responsible for their popularity. Casual endorsements by academic stalwarts under the pretext of academic freedom adds to their strengths. But that is not all that is there to it.

The RSS has over the years crated an audience for its histories by implementing several micro-level processes at the macro-level. On the one hand, they have built their own institutions – schools as well as historians’ collectives – which they used to intervene in mainstream educational spaces.[40] On the other hand, they strongly invested in public histories. They went beyond difficult academic prose and popularized their narratives in accessible forms through stories, poems, novels, biographies, social media friendly visuals and texts. They have built an audience which is eager to believe them.

On the other side, the relative failure of democratic minded historians to take their narratives to the people, to connect their research with popular mass movements, has also played into the hands of the RSS. The writing of the school textbooks under the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 was an important form of outreach, but it was hardly enough. Going forward, we, democratic minded historians, must think of public outreach methods that are broad-based but are also well-guarded against blatant distortions and manipulations by Hindu nationalists.


[1] This review essay is based on Vikram Sampath, Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past (1883-1924), Gurgaon: Penguin, 2019, (Vikram Sampath - Savarkar Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924. 1-Gurgaon _ Viking (2019) - Copy.pdf) and Vikram Sampath, Savarkar: A Contested Legacy (1924-1966), Gurgaon: Penguin, 2021 (Savarkar (Part 2) A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966 by Vikram Sampath ( E-Copies of both books were accessed from Library Genesis.

[2] Sampath, 2019, p.8.

[3] Ibid, p.8, 9. India Today Conclave, 9 October 2021 (, The Lallantop, 15 October 2021 (

[4] Sampath himself gives a list of these in the introduction to volume 1. Sampath 2019, p.23-25. 

[5] Ibid, p.37.

[6] Vikram Sampath has repeatedly suggested that these petitions were not uncommon, and many prisoners wrote them. My personal opinion in the matter is that the mercy petition is not the key issue in the Savarkar debate. His Hindu nationalist ideology needs to be foregrounded, critiqued, and challenged.  

[7] For the relationship between biography and history, see Vijaya Ramaswamy and Yogesh Sharma ed., Biography as History, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. 

[8]This includes three volumes of Savarkar’s work compiled as Ratnagiri Parv, Hindu Mahasabha Parv and Akhanda Hindustan Ladha Parv. This also includes Dhananjay Keer’s biography of Savarkar called Veer Savarkar. It also includes the first English biography of Savarkar titled The Life of Barrister Savarkar which is widely believed to have been ghost written by Savarkar himself, besides Savarkar’s collected works in the form of Savarkar Samagra, and one-off articles and speeches. 

[9] Sampath writes, “Keer’s biography in English is among the first complete accounts of Savarkar from his birth in Bhagur in 1883 till the time of his death in 1966. It has been hailed by fans and criticized by opponents for being highly eulogistic.”, Ibid, p.25.

[10] Ibid, p. 695-705.

[11] Ibid, p.318.

[12] Ibid, p.87-89.

[13] Ibid, p.101-115.

[14] Ibid, p.183-185.

[15] A.G. Noorani, Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection, New Delhi: Leftword, 2002, p.14.

[16] For details on the Deccan Riots, see Ravinder Kumar, Western India in the Nineteenth Century, London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1968.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Sampath 2019, p.51.

[19] Ibid, c.1.

[20] This is described in the Bengali autobiography of a member of Anushilan Samiti, Bhabaniprasad Bandyopadhyay, Gram Panchahar theke Hijli Jail, Shaili Publications: Kolkata, 2021.

[21] For an overview, see Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition, New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004, p.158-169, 191-205.   

[22] Sampath 2021, p.781-785.

[23] Ibid, p.84. 

[24] Ibid, p.85.

[25] Ibid, p.109.

[26] Ibid, p.111.

[27] BR Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, Delhi: Critical Quest, 2007. 

[28] In his desperate bid to delegitimize Gandhi, Sampath refers to a number of conversations between Gandhi and Savarkar of which there are no records.

[29] This has been a controversial issue. My opinion is that Sampath has essentially vindicated Sardar Patel’s take on the matter, that legally he may have been exonerated but morally he is not. Sampath almost proudly discusses how Godse had been mentored by Savarkar for years. 

[30] Sampath 2021, c.10.

[31] Ibid, c.3.

[32] This is much debated issue. The Khilafat Movement was opposed by sections of the Congress as well since they felt that its goals did not fit with those of the Congress. Prominent among them was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Either way, a singular emphasis on the movement for the worsening of Hindu Muslim tensions during the 1920s is not an acceptable claim. For details on the context and multiple viewpoints on the issue, see Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.  

[33] Ibid, p.82.  

[34] Ibid.

[35] Sampath 2021, c.3, 4. 

[36] For details, see Ayesh Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 

[37] Sampath barely mentions Maulana Azad once. For more such figures, see Shamsul Islam, Muslims Against Partition, New Delhi: Pharos Media, 2015.

[38] BR Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, Bombay: Thacker and Co., 1945, p. iii.

[39] Ibid, p. viii.

[40] The school network is well known. Less is known about the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY). 


Conjuring Savarkar: Vikram Sampath’s Genealogy of the ‘Hindu Nation’