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"Pathetic" parallels drawn between Shivaji’s heroic deeds and Savarkar's surrender

By Shamsul Islam*
Myth: Savarkarites argue, “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit”.
According to a prominent RSS functionary, “As an ardent follower of Shivaji, Savarkar wanted to die in action. Finding this the only way, he wrote six letters to the British pleading for his release”.
The RSS organ, "Organizer" while defending Savarkar’s mercy petitions wrote, “He was a master strategist. He felt he was wasting the prime of his life in the jail being tortured by the British when the country was raging ahead to fight colonialism… He was entirely justified in writing those letters to get out of the wretched jail so that he could come back to active politics and freedom struggle”.
Facts: There cannot be a lie worse than the claim that Savarkar’s mercy petitions were in league with the tricks which Shivaji used to hoodwink the Mughal rulers successfully. It is unfortunate that the Hindutva camp, which swears by Shivaji’s name, is drawing a parallel between the two.
If we go through the original text of Savarkar’s 1913 and 1920 mercy petitions (click HERE and HERE), we will realize the brazen dishonesty of the Hindutva camp in advancing such an argument. It would be sheer stupidity and open denigration of Shivaji if any one claims that the following mercy was like Shivaji’s letters to Mughals.
It is true that there was nothing wrong on part of the Cellular Jail detainees in writing petitions to the British officials. It was, in fact, an important legal right available to the prisoners. There were other revolutionaries, too, who wrote petitions to the British Government. When Craddock came to visit the Cellular jail, Savarkar was not the only one who presented a petition to him.
Apart from Savarkar, Hrishi Kesh Kanjilal, Barindra Kumar Ghose and Nand Gopal too wrote petitions. However, these were only Savarkar and Barindra Ghose (Aurobindo Ghose’s brother) who pleaded to renounce their revolutionary past in order to secure personal freedom.
Unlike Savarkar and Barin, the other two revolutionaries, Hrishi Kesh Kanjilal and Gopal, instead of pleading for personal favours, demanded a humane treatment for the whole lot of political prisoners. They showed no remorse for their past. Kanjilal, while referring to the general persecution of political prisoners in the Cellular Jail, wrote that though he himself suffered immensely, "many of my casemen suffered much more inside the jail. One of my casemen had to commit suicide. So harsh was the treatment and so great were the troubles we had to undergo, that one of my casemen turned mad."
If there was anything personal in his petition, it was the following plea, “If the Government is not pleased to send me to Indian jails, Government ought to grant me those privileges, which convicts in Indian jails always get…”
Nand Gopal, Editor of the newspaper "Swaraj" of Allahabad, was sentenced to transportation to life for seditious writing. He too, did not make any personal plea but like Kanjilal raised the issue of terrible persecution of the political prisoners in the Cellular Jail. He wrote:
 "I request the officers of the most powerful Government of the world, and to the Indian Government specially, not to render our condition wretched and miserable in order to kill the germs of sedition within us. If the religious martyrdom practised by the enemies of Christianity against Christianity has not destroyed Christianity from the face of the Globes, surely, political martyrdom shall not extirpate the Indian nationalism from the Holy soil of Bharatvarsha."

Savarkar willingly accepted conditions of his release

Savarkar’s biography "Veer Savarkar" by Dhananjay Keer can be described as the official biography as Keer made it clear in the preface of the book itself that he was relying for writing this biography on ‘a plethora of material which was kindly made available to me by Savarkar himself and his kind interviews…’
This biography, while presenting actual details of Savarkar’s release, also throws light on unsavoury deals struck between the British and Savarkar. While referring to Savarkar’s release in 1924 biography reads:
"Now helpful winds began to blow in his direction. Sir Rufus Isaacs, now Lord Reading, who as Solicitor General had led for the Crown in Savarkar’s extradition trial in England, was Governor General in India. He must have felt sympathy for Savarkar. His Excellency Sir George Lloyd, the Governor of Bombay, came with his Councillors to interview Savarkar. Lt Col JH Murray, IMS, who was the Jail Superintendent in the Cellular Jail, was now at Yeravda as the Jail Superintendent. 
"The conditions of release were prepared in the light of the discussions held between Savarkar and H. E. the Governor who was accompanied by Mr. A. Montgomerie, the then home member. After substituting a few words, Savarkar accepted the conditions; signed the terms on December 27, 1923…Savarkar was released conditionally on January 6, 1924, from Yeravda Jail. The terms read: 
"That Savarkar shall reside in Ratnagiri district and shall not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of Government or in the case of emergency of the District magistrate; that he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of Government for a period of five years. Such restrictions being renewable at the discretion of government at the expiry of the same term."
This was not the last written undertaking that Savarkar gave to the British rulers. His biography by Keer gives details of another one submitted by him in 1934:
"In May 1934, Savarkar was arrested again and detained for two weeks in connection with shots fired at a military officer Sweetland in Bombay by Wamanrao Chavan, who was a Sanghatanist [member of the Hindu Mahasabha] firebrand from Ratnagiri. Savarkar wrote from Ratnagiri prison on May 8, 1934, that he had nothing to do with the boys Waman Chavan and Gajannan Damle; the latter had been arrested because Chavan had kept his trunk at his place… He further said that he was prepared to cease taking part in any agitation, social or political without the previous sanction of the Government."

Savarkar's change of heart

RC Majumdar is regarded as a true Bhartiya (read Indian) historian by the Hindutva brigade. He must have been shocked to find mercy petitions of Savarkar and Barindra Kumar Ghose while sifting through heaps of official papers relating to the Cellular Jail in the course of writing his landmark book on the Cellular Jail, Penal  in Andamans. He could not avoid commenting: 
"These undoubtedly indicate that the incarceration in the Andamans had produced a great change on the great revolutionary leaders and their attitude towards the British Government and their view of destroying it by revolution or secret conspiracies had suffered a radical change."
Majumdar, after in-depth study of the British archival material on the Cellular Jail, compared the same with the Savarkar memoirs which the latter penned after coming out of the jail. He paid special attention to the minutes of the meeting, which took place between the Home Member of the Governor General’s Council, Sir Reginald Craddock and Savarkar. It was during this meeting that Savarkar presented his mercy petition to the British Government. After going through all these documents, Majumdar straightforwardly concluded:
"While Savarkar had changed his views, the Government view remained the same as before. Savarkar for example, said that ‘if Gokhale’s resolution on compulsory education in the Legislative Council is accepted by the Government, and if such measures of progress are assured to the Indians that they may rise as a nation, then all the revolutionaries will turn to the path of peace’. ‘If we advance definitely through methods of peace, it is immoral for us to enter on methods of violence’. 
"To this Craddock replied: 'I am sorry you are entirely wrong there, for they are still advocating terrorism and they still swear by you. In India and in America your followers are still busy with their plans of secret societies and revolutionary activities'."
Craddock’s description of the above reality when Savarkar was in attendance also provides answer to the question that why despite Savarkar’s begging for mercy from the British masters, he was not released. The Hindutva brigade often claims that Savarkar’s mercy petitions were a tactical move to get freedom in order to secure another opportunity for fully working for the freedom of the country.
It is further argued by them that the British Government understood this ruse of Savarkar and it was for this reason that his jail term was not abated and if it was not so the government could have released him. However Majumdar’s description makes it clear why Savarkar was not released. 
It is true that he had surrendered before the British might but nationalist revolutionaries in India and outside, oblivious of this fact, still held him as an icon of India’s liberation.
The situation demanded that Savarkar must be kept imprisoned in order to convince the revolutionaries about the futility of their cause. When the rulers needed Savarkar outside the jail to break Hindu-Muslim unity in early 1920s, they took no time in setting him free though he was awarded double jail term of fifty years.
The British decided to wait and watch cautiously so far as the question of any kind of remission to Savarkar was concerned. The ball was in Savarkar’s court and he needed to prove his words by his deeds.
Surely, Savarkar did not disappoint the rulers. He started keeping aloof from the fellow revolutionary prisoners, a fact corroborated by Trailokyanath Chakravarti in his memoirs. According to his account, on an average three prisoners in the Cellular Jail committed suicide every month.
This was simply because of the brutal treatment meted out to the prisoners. The prisoners decided to defy the repression through open defiance. However, Savarkar and few others refused to join the struggle. Non-participation by Savarkar and others in the ongoing struggle of fellow prisoners in the Cellular Jail helped the British rulers in overcoming the criticism that there was no rule of law there.
According to Majumdar when the news of the death of prisoners and protest hunger strike in the Cellular Jail was published in the Bengalee of Calcutta and its editor Surendra Nath Banerjee asked many questions in the Council about the state of affairs in that jail. 
It was stated on behalf of the Government that the trouble was solely the work of a few wicked prisoners; the leading prisoners had no sympathy and did not join with them. This was partly true. For, as stated above, Barin Ghose and Savarkar brothers did not join the strike. 
Access the book here
Chakravarti says in his memoir that the Savarkar brothers secretly encouraged us but when asked to join us they refused. This and similar remarks of Chakravarti mentioned above cast very uncharitable aspersions against notable revolutionary leaders like Savarkar and Barin Ghose.
Savarkar offered his own explanation for keeping aloof from the struggle of political prisoners. According to his memoirs:
"Some of the political prisoners were of opinion that the lead in the strike should be taken by the older members among us, that is by those who had spent more years in that prison. It was also for them to formulate demands on behalf of us all. But I explained to them how the purpose of the strike may be defeated by such steps and how our cause was likely to suffer by it. 
"If I were openly to lead them, Mr. Barrie and the authorities over him would get the opportunity they needed to take off all the concessions which had come to me and old political prisoners according to jail rules, and would put me back in solitary confinement. And the essential publicity of the strike by correspondence, personal messages and similar other methods will suffer, and the means of getting news from India through newspapers and other sources would come to an end…
"To risk one’s life for such a petty object was to kill the national movement itself, and if I was to plunge in the strike I must not withdraw from it, whatever the cost be of such a strike. Hence it was for the young and the energetic among us to shoulder the burden, and these hundred and odd persons must by turns keep up the agitation and all the activities connected with it.
"The last and the most important reasons for my abstaining from it was that I would have forfeited thereby my right of sending a letter to India. It was a rule that a letter was allowed to be sent annually by one whose record during the year was clear of any punishment. 
"If I were punished or went on strike, my right would go along with it, and to be deprived of my right was not only to harm the strike, but, more important than that, to lose the chance of working for the freedom of the political prisoners themselves."
However, Majumdar, unconvinced by the logic of Savarkar, wrote:
"How far the younger generation of the political prisoners was impressed by it, it is difficult to say, but the comments of Chakravarti indicate that at least one section was not quite satisfied. In any case, the younger groups stuck to their programme and continued the general strike."
It is admitted by Savarkar’s biographer, Keer too, that:
“Savarkar was given the work of a clerk and afterwards was allowed to work as the foreman of the oil depot and department in the latter part of 1920.”
It is pathetic to draw parallels between Shivaji’s heroic deeds against Mughal rulers of India and surrender of Savarkar before the British rulers. The Hindutva camp tries to brush aside the fact that this ‘Veer patriot’ Savarkar, though sentenced for 50 years (in 1910-1911), was in the Cellular Jail for less than 10 years and was finally released in 1924 from Yerwada Jail in Maharashtra. Thus he was able to secure remission of more than 35 years.
There were hundreds of other revolutionaries who in the Cellular Jail and other jails remained incarcerated for full terms of their convictions. They are also keeping mum about thousands of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Chandershekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Roshan Singh who neither begged for mercy nor were shown any leniency. 
There was also large number of Ghadar revolutionaries and Bengal ‘terrorists’ who refused "to plead with the British authorities for mercy. Nor did they agree to give up their struggle for India’s liberty in exchange of their own personal liberty."
The saddest part is that the photo of such a coward is displayed not only in the Maharashtra Assembly but also in the Parliament House of India!
---
*Abridged version of the chapter titled 'Myth 2: Savarkar’s Mercy Petitions were a ruse to secure freedom in order to work for the liberation of the motherland' in the book "Hindutva-Savarkar Unmasked" by the author (Media House, Delhi, email: books.mediahouse@gmail.com). Contact:/notoinjustice@gmail.com

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