In conversation with Nehru: On Savarkar’s mercy petitions

28th may 1883 was the day when a true son of mother-India was born. A controversial figure for many but a nationalist for the rest, he was the true amalgamation of sharp intellect and bravery. His contribution in freedom struggle has many admirers but few in the ideological opposite extremes have been very critical of him. Hence, It was though not shocking but definitely disappointing, to see congressmen regularly hurling abuses to Savarkar and went to an extent of removing a part of chapter from textbooks in Rajasthan.

I was deeply hurt and wanted to know, why so much hatred for a man who sacrificed a major part of his life serving a jail term, which was so rigorous that it fills nationalists with anger. Not everybody in congress hated Savarkar, Indira Gandhi was full of praise for a man who was an inspiration to every revolutionary India produced in the 20th century. In a note to Pandit Bakhle she wrote “…. veer savarkar’s daring defiance of the British government has its own important place in the annals of our freedom movement. I wish success to the plans to celebrate the birth centenary of this remarkable son of india.” *

He was also the only man who gifted Indians the saga of 1st war of independence from an Indian point of view [The Indian war of independence of 1857 by an Indian nationalist] at the age of 24. He had so many layers in his life, yet the liberal gang paint him as traitor and a coward because he wrote so-called mercy petitions. Debating with a congressman is a useless attempt, so, I thought it would be better if I ask the man himself, whose words carry more value than the deeds of a true nationalist.

This conversation is only an attempt to present the comparative study of jail terms served by both Savarkar and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Me: – it’s an honour sir to have a conversation with you.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Good morning my dear, now can you tell me why you wanted to talk to me?

Me: – Sir recent developments in India are troublesome…..

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (cutting me in between) Yes, I know, the fascist govt. of modi has created lot of trouble for liberal free voices. Are you also one of them? My sympathies.

Me: – No sir, on the contrary, modi’s government is doing just fine, especially on the matters of internal security and your favourite foreign affairs.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (understanding the sarcasm) Ok, then tell me why are you here?

Me: – I came here to inform you that your admirers are accusing Savarkar to be a traitor and a coward.  I would love to know your views about him. Do you also think that he was a coward and a traitor?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – I have hardly any views about him, but I remember my father once advised me not to go near India house (where Savarkar stayed) during my stay in London.(1)

Me: – That’s not entirely true, you did have some reservations against him. Even Savarkar was pained by your attitude towards him, let me quote what Savarkar thought of you “I have no grudge against the British atrocities inflicted upon me in London, Marseilles and Andaman for I had vividly foreseen them as early as a boy of 14 when I took an oath at the feet of our family deity ashtbhuja devi in bhagur. My anguish deepens as I recall the sufferings and humiliations, I received in free India at the behest of the then supremo” (2) what kind of humiliations was he talking about?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (after a long pause) I am not aware of any atrocities I inflicted upon him post-independence.

Me: – Well that’s a different matter and I need to dig deeper to know what actually he was referring to. You said, you hardly have any views about him, but let me remind you sir, the first reaction when you received the news of Gandhi’s assassination was “implicate Savarkar in Gandhi’s assassination” (3). It was Ambedkar who calmed you down, when you said the same to him. He said “Jawahar, I am sorry to hear this (Gandhi’s assassination) but let me warn you that you cannot even touch him. He has learnt to play this game of legal hide and seek with the British Scotland yard for many years in london, and you know they dared not do anything. Desperate and frustrated even Winston Churchill had to deport him to India, some day here also he will go scott-free”(4) Soon after this conversation B R Ambedkar called upon president of all India Hindu mahasabha, L B Bhopatkar and apprised him of yours vindictive intentions.(5) why this vindictiveness sir?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – I have nothing more to say other than, he was a communal man and Godse was his prodigy.

Me: – Is that why you call him a traitor? I mean because u assumed, he was the culprit of Gandhi’s assassination

Jawaharlal Nehru: – No, he sided with British and wrote mercy petitions after his imprisonment.

Me: – That’s quite ironical. Nobody in Indian polity was as close to britishers like you were. You had personal relationships too, but let’s not go there. That charge doesn’t stick to him. When you were exchanging pleasantries with governor generals, he was busy fighting them. Its laughable to the point that, you sir, who were “fighting the britishers” were jailed in cosy prisons with all basic amenities while he was thrown to a cellular jail in Andaman.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Wait. He sided with britishers when he gave assurance that he will not involve himself in any political activity and was then released.

Me: – then released? He kept writing those petitions for 10 years, then too he wasn’t released but was shifted to Alipore jail and was there till 1924 and later was restricted to not move out of Ratnagiri till 1937. And if that logic is to be considered, is there a possibility that you got cosy prisons because you were close to britishers or maybe they restricted your political activity by blackmailing you in the name of cellular jail?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – This is preposterous. Don’t you know how to talk to a PM, you can be put in jail for making such statements. Did nobody tell you I jailed Dharampal and his friend in tihar for merely asking my resignation? (6) He had the audacity to write an open letter (7) to all MPs questioning my leadership, and here you are questioning my legacy. Keep a check on yourself.

Me: – I know sir, as first PM of independent India, you only made sure that complete freedom of speech was undesirable and needed some restrictions.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Good then, stop asking such questions.

Me: – But sir, under fascist regime of modi it’s a new normal. PM is abused in choicest of words. He can be questioned even about toilets in remote villages. Nowadays, the PM is responsible for everything that happens in India. There is absolutely no restriction, people are free to express their extreme opinions, at least when it comes to PM, yet they are not jailed.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (asking his secretory) What kind of fascist regime is this? Is he being sarcastic?

His secretory: – No sir, he isn’t sarcastic. The feedback I’m getting from our neutral journalists and congressmen is that the modi government is definitely a fascist one.

Jawaharlal Nehru to me: – Strange. If someone had criticised me, I would have made sure they learn their lessons.

Me: – You did make sure that some people learn their lessons. But present PM is busy with fulfilling your daughter’s dream of eradicating poverty. He seldom reacts to his distractors.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (slightly irritated) Ok this interview is over. I need to take my cigarette break. “Menon. Where is my 555?”

Me: – No sir, the question remains unanswered. Pease tell me, why after serving 10 years of rigorous punishment Savarkar is called a coward & traitor and you on the other hand, who served jail terms in cosy places, attended visitors, wrote books, even got your sentence reduced to visit your ailing wife is celebrated as a bold leader. You never faced the kind of ordeal Savarkar went through, yet here you are, the freedom fighter we should respect and Savarkar, a traitor we must abhor.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Listen, even if I was given such rigorous punishment, I would have never written any apology letter or mercy petition.

Me: – You are wrong sir, allow me to remind you a chapter [“An interlude at nabha”] in your autobiography “Toward freedom”. Will you describe in your own words what happened in nabha?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Well, see after the deposition of the Maharaja of Nabha by the Government of India. “A British Administrator was appointed to rule the Nabha State. This deposition was resented by the Sikhs, and they agitated against it both in Nabha and outside.” (8)

Sikhs were protesting in jathas and were getting brutally suppressed by British administration, “I had been reading accounts of these beatings from time to time, and, when I learned at Delhi, immediately after the Special Congress, another jatha was going and I was invited to come and see what happened, I gladly accepted the invitation. Two of my Congress colleagues A. T. Gidwani and K. Santanum of Madras accompanied me.” (9)

“On arrival at Jaito, the jatha was stopped by the police, and immediately an order was served on me, signed by the English Administrator, calling upon me not to enter Nabha territory and, if I had entered it, to leave it immediately. A similar order was served on Gidwani and Santanum, but without their names being mentioned, as the Nabha authorities did not know them. My colleagues and I told the police officer that we were there not as part of the jatha but as spectators, and it was not our intention to break any of the Nabha laws. Besides, when we were already in the Nabha territories, there could be no question of our not entering them, and obviously we could not vanish suddenly into thin air. Probably the next train from Jaito went many hours later. So, for the present, we told him, we proposed to remain there. We were immediately arrested and taken to the lock-up. After our removal the jatha was dealt with in the usual manner.” (10)

“We were kept the whole day in the lock-up, and in the evening, we were marched to the station. Santanum and I were handcuffed together, his left wrist to my right one, and a chain attached to the handcuff was held by the policeman leading us. Gidwani, also handcuffed and chained, brought up the rear. This march of ours down the streets of Jaito town reminded me forcibly of a dog being led on by a chain.” (11)

Then we all three were transferred to nabha jail, tied together.

Me:- That’s really bold of you to protest against the injustice done by nabha administration, according to your book you were put in jail for 2 weeks (i.e. the period of your trial)  and the order was passed for you to not enter the territory of nabha. Which you had to sign and comply, Right sir? (12)

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Yes.

Me: – Kindly describe further what happened and throw some light on the condition of jail in which you spent those 2 weeks.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Well “In Nabha Jail we were all three kept in a most unwholesome and insanitary cell. It was small and damp, with a low ceiling which we could almost touch. At night we slept on the floor, and I would wake up with a start, full of horror, to find that a rat or a mouse had just passed over my face.” (13)

Coming back to the case, after a shoddy trial we were charged with conspiracy. “Meanwhile, we were approached, on behalf of the Administrator, by the superintendent of the jail and told that if we would express our regret and give an undertaking to go away from Nabha, the proceedings against us would be dropped. We replied that there was nothing to express regret about, so far as we were concerned; it was for the administration to apologize to us. We were also not prepared to give any undertaking.” (14)

Me: – Courageous stand sir.

Jawaharlal Nehru:- (feeling proud of himself) After the trial was finished, we were waiting for the judgement but “The judgment was not read out; we were merely told that we had been awarded the maximum sentence of six months for breach of the order to leave Nabha territory. In the conspiracy case we were sentenced the same day to either eighteen months or two years, I forget which. This was to be in addition to the sentence for six months. Thus, we were given in all either two years or two and a half years.” (15)

Me: – Seeing your plight, even your father interfered, right sir?  It’s always good to have an influential father. I think only after his interference you received proper clothes, fruits and eatables. (16)  Not every freedom fighter had similar privilege

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (with an angry look on his face) Yes, so what, it wasn’t my fault that my father was an influential leader, he knew people in places.

Me: – I am sorry for stating the obvious. Please carry on sir.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (sipping his glass of water on the side table and continues) “My father knew something of Indian states, and so he was greatly upset at my unexpected arrest in Nabha. Only the fact of arrest was known; little else in the way of news could leak out. In his distress he even telegraphed to the Viceroy for news of me. Difficulties were put in the way of his visiting me in Nabha, but he was allowed at last to interview me in prison.” (17)

Me: – So did you sign the bond of compliance to never enter the territory of nabha, again?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – Yes, we did. And our 2-week worst nightmare ended.

Me: – So what happened after that? You were active again to participate in the freedom struggle, we fondly remember you for.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – No, after the release “All three of us, Gidwani, Santanum, and I brought an unpleasant companion with us from our cell in Nabha Jail. This was the typhus bacillus, and each one of us had an attack of typhoid. Mine was severe, and for a while dangerous enough, but it was the lightest of the three, and I was only bedridden for about three or four weeks, but the other two were very seriously ill for long periods.” (18)

Me: – So sorry to hear sir, well let me absorb a few things

  • for the first and only time in your otherwise comfortable life, you were jailed in a proper prison, which isn’t even 1% of the cellular jail where Savarkar was kept.
  • Not only your father tried helping you in your release, you ended up signing a bond never to enter the territory of nabha.
  • And after the release you were bed ridden due to typhoid which you caught in jail.
  • All this happened in just 2 weeks and it was a nightmare for you?

Think of those revolutionaries who were in cellular jail, many committed suicides to escape the sufferings. Some were tortured to death and Savarkar, who was given 2 life imprisonment of 50 yrs kept fighting and wrote petitions not only for himself but for others because he wanted to survive, so that he can fight against them, again, yet he is a coward & you are not?

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (speaking angrily) He sided with britishers and was released on a condition never to participate in freedom movement. That was the gist of his mercy petition (19) He became a stooge of britishers.

Me: – Firstly, even after writing many petitions, he was released from cellular jail after 10 yrs and then too kept on a house arrest. Even then he secretly participated in freedom movement. Besides you are calling him a coward for complying with britishers is a bit too rich.

Let me narrate an anecdote of the ceremony that was held on June 8 1986, in which greater London council decorated India house with a blue plaque (the highest social honour) and hailed Savarkar as “patriot and philosopher”. The ceremony was presided over by the veteran politician & statesman Lord Fenner Brockway, in the concluding part of his emotional message he said “……..Savarkar of course I never met, but whatever I have read and heard about him, I have no hitch in saying that when Savarkar was fighting here for his motherland , the Indian national congress had not even thought of it” (20)

Besides you too must be aware, it was ploy to convince britishers for clemency and he had no intention to bow down to britishers (British secret service files) (21).

Never mind, there is a bit more to your nabha story. Kindly continue.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (stood up staring out of window, some thought must have engulfed him or maybe he was feeling regret, nonetheless he continued) “There was yet another sequel to this Nabha episode. Probably six months or more later, Gidwani was acting as the Congress representative in Amritsar, keeping in touch with the Sikh Gurdwara Committee. The Committee sent a special jatha of five hundred persons to Jaito, and Gidwani decided to accompany it as an observer to the Nabha border. He had no intention of entering Nabha territory. The jatha was fired on by the police near the border, and many persons were, I believe, killed and wounded. Gidwani went to the help of the wounded when he was pounced upon by the police and taken away.

No proceedings in court were taken against him. He was simply kept in prison for the best part of a year when, utterly broken in health, he was discharged. Gidwani’s arrest and confinement seemed to me to be a monstrous abuse of executive authority. I wrote to the Administrator (who was still the same English member of the Indian Civil Service) and asked him why Gidwani had been treated in this way. He replied that Gidwani had been imprisoned because he had broken the order not to enter Nabha territory without permission. I challenged the legality of this as well as, of course, the propriety of arresting a man who was giving succour to the wounded, and I asked the Administrator to send me or publish a copy of the order in question. He refused to do so.” (22)

Me: – Sad episode indeed. But did you defy the order and went to help your friend in need and fight the britishers. This would make a courageous ending to a rather deplorable episode of your freedom struggle and you can shut the mouths of all Savarkar cheerleaders. Please tell the readers that you defied the order and went to nabha.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – (with a grim look on his face, came back to his couch and with a pinch of remorse and started speaking) “I felt inclined to go to Nabha myself and allow the Administrator to treat me as he had treated Gidwani. Loyalty to a colleague seemed to demand it. But many friends thought otherwise and dissuaded me. I took shelter behind the advice of friends and made of it a pretext to cover my own weakness. For, after all, it was my weakness and disinclination to go to Nabha Jail again that kept me away, and I have always felt a little ashamed of thus deserting a colleague. As often with us all, discretion was preferred to valour.” (23)

Me: – (putting up a disheartening smile to cover my pain) Sir just 2 weeks and it instilled a fear in you that, you didn’t even go to help your friend & fight the administration, and your admirers have the audacity to question the patriotism of Savarkar. Why shouldn’t your integrity be questioned? After all, your jail terms were like a hotel stay where u can write letter, eat proper food, meet visitors, read books.

Anyway, I rest my case, thank you sir for giving me your valuable time. I hope you won’t mind if I publish this conversation.

Jawaharlal Nehru: – I wish I could say it was nice talking to you. I have no problem if you publish the interview. I have already described this incident in my autobiography, but I am not sure if my admirers in congress can digest this fact. With this one conversation I will be compared with Savarkar.  Now it’s up to them to either disown both of us or accept Savarkar too as a hero. I can only say take care of yourself, modi may be your PM but I have a functioning ecosystem. They all will come at you. They can’t digest criticism, I can, but I am not alive anymore.

Me: – I am honoured to interview you and forgive me to bring out the truth at a time when you are no more to defend yourself. But we need this truth to be told.

Goodbye sir.

References:-

  1. Harindra Srivastav, 4 stormy trials of veer Savarkar, prabhat prakashan (page no. 17)
  2. Ibid (page 18)
  3. Ibid (page 18-19)
  4. Ibid (page 19)
  5. Ibid (page 19)
  6. Gita Dharmapal, Essential writings of dharampal, publication division ministry of I&B (page no. 6)
  7. Dharampal, Rediscover India, SIDH (page no. 132-134)
  8. Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward freedom, Cornwell press inc. (page no. 97)
  9. Ibid (page 97)
  10. Ibid (page 97-98)
  11. Ibid (page 98)
  12. https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/nehru-s-nabha-jail-ordeal-lost-in-past/story-EBrTBPS8u8UPMHndqThAjP.html
  13. Jawaharlal Nehru, Towards freedom, Cornwell press inc (page no. 98)
  14. Ibid (page no. 100)
  15. Ibid (page no. 100)
  16. https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/nehru-s-nabha-jail-ordeal-lost-in-past/story-EBrTBPS8u8UPMHndqThAjP.html
  17. Jawaharlal Nehru, Towards freedom, cornwell press inc. (page no. 101)
  18. Ibid (page no. 102-103)
  19. https://www.scribd.com/document/166077690/Savarkar-s-Mercy-Petition
  20. Harindra Srivastav, 4 stormy trials of veer Savarkar, prabhat prakashan (page 19-20)
  21. http://anurupacinar.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/British-Secret-Files-on-Savarkar-1911-21.pdf
  22. Jawaharlal Nehru, Towards freedom, cornwell press inc. (page 103)
  23. Ibid (page 103)

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