For we have had enough of the Left-Liberal prevarications as regards the petitions that had been written by Savarkar to the Government of British India. Verily, one may trust them to quote lines and paragraphs from his petitions out of context in a frantic attempt to prove Savarkar a traitor, when, it is needless to say, he was not.
Dr. Vikram Sampath, the biographer of Savarkar, has included the petitions written by Savarkar in the Appendix section of his epochal book Savarkar: Echoes From a Forgotten Past. Upon reading them, I realized that the pandemonium raised by a section of the self-professed nationalists and the Left-Liberal brigade is indeed unfounded.
In the petition dated 14 November 1913, Savarkar dedicates the first four paragraphs to highlighting the malicious manner in which the British subjected the political prisoners to inhuman treatment, although they were political prisoners and not hardened criminals who were notorious for dacoity, rape, murder etc.
He clearly highlights in the fifth paragraph:
Dr. Sampath goes so far as to say that it was an indirect mockery of the British system being uncivilized. Verily, a traitor would not have mocked the enemy’s administration in so direct a manner.
The following paragraph is generally used by vested interests as evidence that Savarkar had “gone over to the British:
There are two very simple points that can explain this paragraph. The first is that while this language may appear servile today, it was in fact very common to employ such polite words in those days. It would be unfair to ignore the fact that Savarkar had studied law, and a legal document, in particular one addressed to a higher authority, uses such language quite routinely. Secondly, for a petition to be effective, one would have to strive one’s hardest to present logical arguments to convince the British that the author is willing to shun armed revolution. Of course, one cannot write, “Please release me in order that I may commence revolution against His Majesty’s Government once more”.
Now, the Congress was also campaigning for constitutional reforms. It could not have done so without some degree of loyalty to the British, for such bargaining for concessions would have required the Congress to accept the British authority over India in the first place. This is common sense. If one does not recognize the authority of a particular government, how could one demand constitutional reforms from the same government and cooperate with it for the same purpose? Thus, loyalty to the English government was implicit in participation in constitutional reforms. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, while campaigning for the depressed classes, deposed before the Southborough Committee, the Simon Commission and simultaneously continued with his legal practice. Evidently this implies an acceptance of the British authority. Can one term Dr. Ambedkar a traitor on that account? Such an allegation would not be logical even in one’s wildest dreams. How can Savarkar then be called a traitor? He only made explicit what was indeed implicit; loyalty to the British was a prerequisite of constitutional reforms. Remember that the Congress had not called for complete independence at that time. If Savarkar be declared a traitor, so must the Congress stalwarts like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji. But that would be inappropriate. The same yardstick must necessarily be applied to Savarkar.
There is another line touted by the vested interests who do not like Savarkar:
As highlighted by me earlier, loyalty to the government is implicit in the participation in constitutional reforms. You are, in legal terms, indeed serving the government if you have accepted a position of authority to implement these reforms. The words “serve the government” must, therefore, be seen in this context and not in the sense of slaving for them.
One would do well to not ignore this line from the same petition that immediately precedes the line pertaining to serving the government:
It is no secret that Savarkar spearheaded the organized armed revolutionary movement, and many revolutionaries therefore looked to him as a guide. This line shows how much he cared for his fellow revolutionaries. If he could guide them under constitutional reforms, they would have no need to take recourse to arms and, therefore, their lives would have been saved. Since they looked up to Savarkar as a guide, seeing him turn to the path of constitutional reforms could very well have prompted many of them to do the same.
Then there is the following line from the petition that is quoted as an apparent proof of his treachery:
Strange that this line must be construed as proof of being a turncoat. The prodigal son is a Biblical reference. Look up “The parable of the prodigal son”. It is quite possible that Savarkar was appealing to the religious sentiments of the British. If one goes through his book Majhi Janmathep (My Transportation for Life) one would find that Savarkar had indeed read the Bible and it did have an impression on his mind. Therefore, the case that he was appealing to the religious sentiments of the British is very much founded.
The petition dated October 1914, while different in its usage of words, pretty much covers the same topics. For instance:
Now, there is a very important sentence from this petition that all vested interests deliberately ignore. I suspect malice prepense in their doing so:
In effect, he makes a case for all the others to be released and displays his willingness to stay in prison to emphasize that he was not writing merely for himself, but for others. Why is this sentence ignored by those who quote his petitions?
In terms of content, his petition dated 4 October 1917 is even better. He cites examples from around the world to make a case for the release of the political prisoners.
He points out that the British were being magnanimous to prisoners in other countries but discriminated against Indian prisoners. In the very next sentence, he proceeds to highlight:
This cannot be a line that a traitor would use. This sentence is clear proof of his continuing patriotic fervour. The implication of the sentence is that the invaders took advantage of the generosity of India (which, manifestly, includes the British themselves).
The paragraph thereafter again emphasizes that no one would participate in revolution were constitutional reforms to be implemented, for there was simply so much to do in terms of social reforms. For instance, this portion from the petition is a good illustration of his disposition:
This is not treason. This is pure logic. He again emphasizes the importance of releasing all political prisoners:
Thereafter, he again cites examples from the world over:
The impassioned appeal to the British that they must not discriminate against Indians is very clear. Obviously, why should India alone be bereft of the release granted to prisoners, when all other countries had decided to do so in their respective territories?
The next sentence is even more significant:
This is, in fact, a warning to the British that keeping political prisoners, who were so respected, in imprisonment, would continue fostering resentment. He follows by repeating that the followers of such prisoners may also switch over to constitutional reforms should the prisoners themselves do so.
He repeats what he had written in his petition preceding this one:
Can these ever be the words of a traitor? Of course not! He goes further to include even those who had been exiled, and not merely those who had been imprisoned.
It was not only Savarkar who wrote petitions. In his petition dated 20 March 1920, he highlights:
It is significant to note that in December 1919, Emperor George V ratified the Government of India Act (Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms) through a Royal Proclamation. Clause 6 of the proclamation was as follows:
In simple words, the Emperor desired that his Royal clemency be exercised to political prisoners. In accordance with the same, most political prisoners were released from the Cellular Jail. The prisoners had to sign a pledge indicating their abstinence from politics and revolutionary activity for a stipulated number of years. On being guilty of treason again, they were to be sent back to the Andamans to serve the remainder of their life sentence. Savarkar and his elder brother, however, had been excluded from the general amnesty by the prison authorities.
Savarkar, therefore, made a brilliant case for the release of himself and his brother in the petition dated 20 March 1920:
Then, he highlights further legalities:
He also highlights that revolutionaries Barin Ghose and Hemchandra Das, who were directly involved in political assassination, were released:
He highlights how the case against him would legally be much weaker:
He also highlights how the release of his brother and of himself would be compatible with public safety:
Many have misconstrued from the earlier petitions about his offer of serving the British in any capacity he likes. While I have highlighted earlier how participation in constitutional reforms indeed entails a degree of service in the British government, Savarkar elucidates upon it further:
It so happened that during the Khilafat movement, there were apprehensions that the Amir of Afghanistan would be invited to invade India by the mobilized Muslims, in which case the country might be subjugated to Muslim Raj from the British Raj. Dr. Sampath writes in his book that Chittaranjan Das, the mentor of Subhas Chandra Bose, wrote to Lala Lajpat Rai that he did not fear the seven crore Muslims of India, but the seven crores of Hindustan, plus the armed hordes of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Turkey would be irresistible and would pose a grave national threat to India.
One would be astounded to learn that Gandhi supported such a pernicious move:
Savarkar knew it would pose a grave danger to India. He had evidently foreseen the possibility of India being subjected to such an invasion from the Islamic hordes right from the days of World War 1 itself. This also finds mention in his book Majhi Janmathep. There would be discussions about it with the Muslim prisoners in Cellular Jail. The Muslims would fantasize about Muslim Raj in India while Savarkar, armed with facts, would disappoint them by stating that this would not materialize, and that it was Germany on whose strength the erstwhile caliphate was fighting the British, and not the other way around.
It is significant to note that the harshness of Cellular Jail had a considerably adverse impact on Savarkar’s health. He had developed dysentery and was gripped with fever burning 102 degrees for many months. He, therefore, highlights his willingness to stay out of politics:
Another significant portion from his petition is as follows:
Ostensibly to add effect to his petition, he writes the following in the next paragraph:
That quote may also be used to prove that Savarkar had gone over to the British. However, it must be noted that he has not regretted the revolutionary activities themselves, but the fact that circumstances had been so.
While Savarkar was at Cellular Jail, one of the revolutionaries had written a long letter detailing the horrors all political prisoners had to face in the jail. The revolutionaries together, Savarkar included, hatched up a plot to smuggle this letter to mainland India. The letter had been sent to the newspaper The Bengalee and it created a sensation throughout India.
In light of this, Sir Reginald Craddock from the Home Department of the Government of India, had personally arrived for an inspection at the Cellular Jail. If the vested interests, despite all evidence to the contrary, suspect that Savarkar had become an ally of the British, they would do well to note Reginald Craddock himself detailing that Savarkar was not apologetic and that he “cannot be said to express any regret or repentance for whatever he did”. He further notes:
Surely, Reginald Craddock knew more than our friends on the Left?
In which petition has he expressly sought forgiveness? None?? That’s right! You may, therefore, cease calling him maafiveer.
Another revolutionary, Sachindra Nath Sanyal in his memoirs Mera Bandi Jeevan, talks about sending an identical petition as Savarkar and being released while the latter was still imprisoned since the government feared that their release would rekindle the fizzled revolutionary movement in Maharashtra that they had spearheaded through their secret organisation – Abhinav Bharat.
Interesting that Sachindra Nath Sanyal is not demeaned by the vested interests. Indeed, he should not be, and the same must apply to Savarkar.