New Delhi: Nearly four decades before Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was put on trial for conspiracy, the two had shared stage for Dussehra celebrations in London where one praised pacifist Rama and the other the demon-slayer Durga.
On 24 October 1909, Gandhi was invited to preside over the celebrations by the local Indian community which he accepted on the condition that there would not be political content in the speeches. Veer Savarkar , who was then studying law in London, was also invited.
"In spite of their pledge, both Gandhi and Savarkar conveyed their political ideals concealed in religious speeches to the audience. "While speaking about the festival, Gandhi praised the virtues of pacifist Lord Rama and Savarkar extolled Goddess Durga who eliminates evil - both referred to their political ideologies which were at variance when it came to methods, one peaceful and the other militant," says Pramod Kapoor, author of Gandhi-An Illustrated Biography and publisher of Roli Books.
Addressing the audience, comprising both Hindus and Muslims, Savarkar, a staunch Hindu nationalist leader, said, "Hindus are the heart of Hindustan, adding that just as the beauty of the rainbow is enhanced by its varied hues, Hindustan will appear more beautiful if it assimilated all
that was best in Muslim, Parsi, Jewish and other communities." "Gandhi agreed with his views," says Kapoor.
39 years later on May 24, 1948, nine people, including Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse and Veer Savarkar would go on trial for killing the Mahatma, who would die with 'He Ram' on his lips. All except Savarkar were pronounced guilty. The 319-page book has snippets of the Mahatma's life, his letters to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Nazi Dictator Adolf Hitler and several rare photographs.
It has an interesting story about a ceremony to mark grant of university status to Hindu College in Benaras, founded by Annie Besant, in 1916 where the Viceroy was to preside over the grand function.
Speaking at the event, Gandhi who had earned a name for himself in South Africa but was yet to assume any substantial leadership role in India, was critical of the Maharajas.
"He said there was no salvation for India unless they stripped themselves of the jewellery and held it in trust for the poor. Many princes walked out. Gandhi then commented on the heavy security in place for the Viceroy with policemen all around and posted on rooftops. 'Why this distrust? Is it not better that even Lord Hardinge should die than live a living death'. He referred to the fact that India 'in her impatience has produced an army of anarchists.
"I myself am an anarchist but of another type'. He then went on to make a positive reference to bomb-throwers, at which point Annie Besant told him to stop," says Kapoor in the book.