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Dispelling the prevarications against Savarkar’s petitions once and for all

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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:

I am not asking for any preferential treatment, though I believe, as a political prisoner, even that could have been expected in any civilized administration in the Independent nations of the world; but only for the concessions and favour that are shown even to the most depraved of convicts and habitual criminals.

Dr. Vikram Sampath, Echoes From a Forgotten Past.

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:

Now, no man having the good of India and Humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths, which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906–1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government, which is the foremost condition of that progress.


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:

I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be.


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:

Moreover my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide.


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:

The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the government?


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:

. . .and moreover when the Royal Road of constitutional success is thrown so wide open as Lord Hardinge has done, who is so depraved and fanatical as to hang to the thorny paths of blood or crime?


Now, there is a very important sentence from this petition that all vested interests deliberately ignore. I suspect malice prepense in their doing so:

If the Government suspect that my real intention in writing all this is only to secure my release, then I beg to submit let me not be released at all, with my exception let all the rest be released, let the volunteer movement go on—and I will rejoice in that as if myself was allowed to play an active part.


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.

In Canada, revolts and rebellions were the order of the day; a bold statesman like Lord Durham rose and showed confidence—and now the grandsons of the Leaders of those rebellions are fighting in Flanders on the British side. The Boers fought and lost the day; but the English realizing the gravity of the situation and remembering the history of America and Cape Colony, behaved as a wise conqueror should do, and gave them autonomy and the result is that though a Dewett did rebel, yet there only a Dewett to be put down and not a Botha, too! Or can India be suspected of being less confiding and less generous in her response to any magnanimous and sincere dealing of the British people?


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:

History shows that the fault of India, if fault it was, had been, not that she was less but that she was too generous and too confiding.


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:

When there was no Constitution, it seemed a mockery to talk of constitutional movements. But now if such a constitution exists, and Home Rule is decidedly such, then so much political, social, economical and educational work is to be done and could constitutionally be done that the Government, may securely rest satisfied that none of the present political prisoners would choose to face untold suffering by resorting to underground methods for sheer amusement!


This is not treason. This is pure logic. He again emphasizes the importance of releasing all political prisoners:

How can there be peace and mutual confidence and love in the land in which thousands of families are literally torn to pieces and every second home has either a brother or a son or a husband or a lover or a friend snatched away from its bosom and kept pining in the prisoner? It is against human nature, for blood is thicker than water.


Thereafter, he again cites examples from the world over:

Fourthly, all over the world the prisons have been thrown open to those who had been pent up for the sake of political principles. Not to mention Russia, France, Ireland and Transvaal. Even Austria could not refuse amnesty to her political prisoners even while the war is still hanging heavy over her. Nor could it be said that the prisoners thus released were convicted of ‘general participation only’ for in the case of suffragists, almost all of them had been convicted of ‘individual acts’, to quote Mr. Bonar Law, including arson, and yet were released immediately after the war broke out. It could not be that a step, which had been thought beneficial in all the nations of the world should prove disastrous only in India.


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:

Fifthly, as long as some of those whose names are rightly or wrongly, but undoubtedly revered by thousands of souls are still kept in the Jail; and are looked upon as foes to the present order of things, so long the tradition of opposing authority would continue to produce its own devotees and even blind followers.


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:

In conclusion, I beg to add, in all sincerity, that if the Government thinks that it is only to effect my own release that I pen this; or if my name constitutes the chief obstacle in the granting of such an amnesty then let the Government omit my name in their amnesty and release all the rest; that would give me as great a satisfaction as my own release would do.


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:

Well, the monster petition that the Indian public had sent to His Majesty and that had been signed by no less than 5,000 signatures, had made a special mention of me in it. I had been denied a jury in the trial; now the jury of a whole nation has opined that only the eagerness for political progress had been the motive of all my actions and that led me to the regrettable breaking of the laws.


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:

…I beg to point out, that there had been no prosecution against any member of my family till this year in 1909; while almost all of my activity which constituted the basis for the case, have been in the years preceding that…The prosecution, the Judges and the Rowlatt Report have all admitted that since the year 1899 to the year 1909 had been written the life of Mazzini and other books, as well organized the various societies and even the parcel of arms had been sent before the arrest of any of my brothers or before I had any personal grievance to complain of (vide Rowlatt Report pages 6 &c.)…

Dr. Vikram Sampath, Echoes From a Forgotten Past.

Then, he highlights further legalities:

The Proclamation does not make any distinction of the nature of the offence or of a section or of the Court of Justice, beyond the motive of the offence. It concerns entirely with the Motive and requires that it should be political and not personal


He also highlights that revolutionaries Barin Ghose and Hemchandra Das, who were directly involved in political assassination, were released:

These men had confessed that one of the objects of their conspiracy was ‘the murders of prominent Government officials’ and on their own confessions, had been guilty of sending the boys to murder magistrates, etc. This magistrate had among others prosecuted Barin’s brother Arabinda [Aurobindo] in the first ‘Bande Mataram’ newspaper case. And yet Barin was not looked upon, and rightly so, as a non-political murderer.


He highlights how the case against him would legally be much weaker:

In my respect the objection is immensely weaker. For it was justly admitted by the prosecution that I was in England, had no knowledge of the particular plot or idea of murdering Mr. Jackson and had sent the parcels of arms before the arrest of my brother and so could not have the slightest personal grudge against any particular individual officer. But Hem had actually prepared the very bomb that killed the Kennedy’s and with a full knowledge of its destination. (Rowlatt Report, page 33). Yet Hem had not been thrown out of the scope of the clemency on that ground…In the case of my brother this question does not arise as his case has nothing to do with any murders, etc.


He also highlights how the release of his brother and of himself would be compatible with public safety:

And as to my revolutionary tendencies in the past; it is not only now for the object of sharing the clemency but years before this have I informed of and written to the Government in my petitions (1918, 1914) about my firm intention to abide by the constitution and stand by it as soon as a beginning was made to frame it by Mr. Montagu.


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:

The danger that is threatening our country from the north at the hands of the fanatic hordes of Asia who had been the curse of India in the past when they came as foes, and who are more likely to be so in the future now that they want to come as friends, makes me convinced that every intelligent lover of India would heartily and loyally co-operate with the British people in the interests of India herself. That is why I offered myself as a volunteer in 1914 to Government when the war broke out and a German-Turko-Afghan invasion of India became imminent.


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:

But if the Government wants a further security from me then I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate. For even without such a pledge my failing health and the sweet blessings of home that have been denied to me by myself make me so desirous of leading a quiet and retired life for years to come that nothing would induce me to dabble in active politics now.


Another significant portion from his petition is as follows:

In the end, I beg to express my gratefulness for the release of hundreds of political prisoners including those who have been released from the Andamans, and for thus partially granting my petitions of 1914 and 1918. It is not therefore too much to hope that His Excellency would release the remaining prisoners too, as they are placed on the same footing, including me and my brother.


Ostensibly to add effect to his petition, he writes the following in the next paragraph:

The brilliant prospect of my early life all but too soon blighted, have constituted so painful a source of regret to me that a release would be a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive, to kindness so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future. For often magnanimity wins even where might fails.


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:

So important a leader is he that the European section of the Indian anarchists would plot for his escape which would before long be organized. If he were allowed outside the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, his escape would be certain. His friends could easily charter a steamer to lie off one of the islands and a little money distributed locally would do the rest.


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.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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