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Bharat Ratna to Savarkar, the only beneficiary of British masters' 'large-heartedness'?

By Shamsul Islam*
On October 15, 2019, BJP released its manifesto for the Maharashtra Assembly elections. Apart from making miscellaneous promises it made a specific promise to the Maharashtra voters, that BJP would secure Bharat Ratna, the highest national honour, for the Hindutva icon, 'Veer' Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and two of the greatest thinkers and warriors of anti-Brahmanical Dalit resurgence, Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule.
It is interesting that no such promise, which has national ramifications, was made in Haryana, which also goes to the polls along with Maharashtra.
This Maharashtra promise is shocking for two major reasons. First, Savarkar cannot be honoured as a national hero with the type of legacy which he finally left behind. He did start as a fighter for an all-inclusive India, but ended up as a British stooge, both ideologically and action wise. He propounded the concept of Hindutva, which was synonymous with casteism, subjugation to the British and Hindu separatism.
Secondly, to tag Phules with Savarkar is a huge insult to the former who lived and died for a caste-free and egalitarian society.
In fact, Bharat Ratna to Savarkar will amount to denigrating martyrs/participants of the Indian freedom struggle. This Hindutva icon wrote not one or two but six mercy petitions (in 1911, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1918 and 1920) to the British masters, begging forgiveness for his revolutionary past. A perusal of parts of the two mercy petitions will prove to what lower depths this 'veer' consigned himself before the British rulers.
The 1913 petition ended with the following words:
"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. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. 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? Hoping your Honour will kindly take into notion these points."
(Cited in RC Majumdar, "Penal Settlement in Andamans", Government of India, Delhi, 1975, pp 211-213.)
His mercy petition of 1920 was also a comprehensive one which offered total surrender. It submitted:
"Whether you believe it or not, I am sincere in expressing my earnest intention of treading the constitutional path and trying my humble best to render the hands of the British dominion a bond of love and respect and of mutual help. Such an Empire, as is foreshadowed in the Proclamation, wins my hearty adherence. For verily I hate no race or creed or people simply because they are not Indians!" 
Savarkar pleaded to renounce his revolutionary past in order to secure personal freedom
He went on to promise that:
"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... of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release - any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the State would be gladly accepted by me and my brother…
“The brilliant prospects 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.
(National Archives, Delhi; also reproduced by AG Noorani, ‘Savarkar’s Mercy Petition’, “Frontline”, March 12-15, 2005.)

Nothing wrong in writing mercy petitions

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 in the Cellular Jail who, too, wrote petitions to the British Government.
Apart from Savarkar, Hrishi Kesh Kanjilal, Barindra Kumar Ghose and Nand Gopal also wrote petitions. However, there were only two – Savarkar and Barindra Ghose (Aurobindo Ghose’s brother) – who pleaded to renounce their revolutionary past in order to secure personal freedom.
Tilak, who was serving a six-year term (1908-1914) at Mandalay Jail (then in Burma), also wrote two mercy petitions (February 12, 1912 and August 5, 1912), but instead of seeking forgiveness for his seditious acts, he simply made the following identical request:
"That as a matter of grace the petitioner now seeks to obtain His Majesty's merciful consideration of his case. He has undergone 2/3rds, or four out of six years' term of his sentence, is now 56 years old, and is suffering for a long time from chronic diabetes; while his family affairs have been brought to a sad crisis by a heavy bereavement which he has recently suffered...The petitioner, therefore, humbly and loyally prays that His Majesty may be graciously pleased to grant…the unexpired portion of the petitioner's sentence may be remitted by pardon or a remission…" (India Office Library, London.)
The total surrender to the British masters bore results. His two lifetime sentences of 50 years at the Cellular Jail were reduced to less than 13 years; he spent less than 10 years in the Cellular Jail. Moreover, despite ban on his political activities, he was allowed to organize Hindu Mahasabha in order to break the united freedom struggle. He was the only beneficiary of such large-heartedness of the British masters in the history of the Cellular Jail!
Should India allow such a “veer” to be honoured with Bharat Ratna?
---
*Well-known political scientist, formerly with the Delhi University. Some of Prof Islam's writings in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and video interviews/debates can be read HERE http://du-in.academia.edu/ShamsulIslam.Twitter: @shamsforjustice, blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/, contact: notoinjustice@gmail.com

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