Savarkar's Mercy Petition – A.G. Noorani
THOUGH every record leap to light, he never shall be shamed, goes an old saying. In V.D. Savarkar's case, every record disclosed exposes his deceit, venom and addiction to murder. He died in 1966. The next year, Gopal Godse, brother of Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram, and his co-conspirator, revealed in his book Gandhi Hatya Ani Mee ("Gandhi's murder and I") the close relationship between Savarkar and Nathuram which both were at pains to conceal at the Gandhi murder trial. Savarkar was acquitted by the Sessions Judge, though the approver Badge's evidence was found to be completely reliable, only because the law required independent corroboration. That came in 1970 in the report of Gandhi's assassination by Justice J. L. Kapur, a former Judge of the Supreme Court. He found a "conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group". Savarkar's bodyguard, Appa Ramachandra Kasar, and his secretary, Gajanan Vishnu Damle, did not testify in court. They spilled the beans before Justice Kapur only after Savarkar's death. He had, besides, a mass of other evidence which was not available to the court.
In 1975, the Ministry of Education of the Government of India published a book based on archival material. Entitled Penal Settlements in Andamans, it was written by R.C. Majumdar, a historian notorious for his communal bias. He stretched everything he could in Savarkar's favour; but he could not suppress the documents. They exposed Savarkar completely. It was the first revelation of the many abject apologies and undertakings to the government of the day which the Sangh Parivar's icon had made throughout his career. In him it discovered an icon who reflected its values eloquently.
After his conviction for the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik district, who was "sympathetic towards Indian aspirations", Savarkar was brought to the Andamans in 1911. This was the only murder he had conspired to commit for which he was punished. He got away with the other three Curzon-Wylie of the India Office in 1909; attempted murder of the Acting Governor of Bombay, Ernest Hotson, in 1931 (he was saved by his bullet-proof vest); and Gandhi's on January 30, 1948. In each case, the trigger was pulled by someone else; the assassin was prodded by Savarkar.
Here is a list of the apologies and undertakings which Savarkar offered from 1911 to 1950, a heroic record of four decades for which his portrait was put up in Parliament House by his political heirs to face that of the man he had conspired to kill – Gandhi.
1. Savarkar was lodged in the Cellular Jail on July 4, 1911. Within six months, he submitted a petition for mercy.
2. In October 1913, the Home Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, Sir Reginald Craddock, visited the Jail and met Savarkar among others. His note of November 23, 1913, recorded Savarkar's pleas for mercy. Savarkar had submitted his second mercy petition on November 14, 1913: "I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like… . Where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?", the `revolutionary' and `nationalist' wrote (emphasis added, throughout). Craddock accurately recorded "Savarkar's petition is one for mercy". That formulation was repeated in the petitions that followed.
3. On March 22, 1920, a Savarkar supporter, G.S. Khoparde, tabled questions in the Imperial Legislative Council, one of which read: "Is it not a fact that Mr. Savarkar and his brother had once in 1915 and at another time in 1918 submitted petitions to Government stating that they would, during the continuance of war, serve the Empire by enlisting in the Army, if released, and would, after the passing of the Reforms Bill, try to make the Act a success and would stand by law and order?" The Home Member Sir William Vincent replied: "Two petitions were received from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar – one in 1914 and another in 1917, through the Superintendent, Port Blair. In the former he offered his services to Government during the war in any capacity and prayed that a general amnesty be granted to all political prisoners. The second petition was confined to the latter proposal." Thus there was one in 1917 besides that of 1913 which is perhaps the one Vincent referred to as one of 1914; perhaps not because Savarkar referred to two others of 1914 and 1918.
4. The document published here for the first time, dated March 30, 1920, supplied an omission in the writer's book. It is craven. He begged for "a last chance to submit his case before it is too late". Vincent disclosed that Savarkar had recovered from dysentery five months earlier. His life was not in danger. He demeaned himself by citing cases of fellow prisoners, Aurobindo Ghosh's brother Barin and others. "They had even in Port Blair been suspected of a serious plot." He was the loyalist. "So far from believing in the militant school of the type, I do not contribute even to the peaceful and philosophical anarchism of a Kuropatkin [sic.] or a Tolstoy. 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. Since that the Reforms and then the Proclamation have only confirmed me in my views and recently I have publicly avowed my faith in and readiness to stand by the side of orderly and constitutional development."
He added for good measure: "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 a mutual help. Such an Empire as is foreshadowed in the Proclamation wins my hearty adherence." So much for his nationalism.
Savarkar concluded: "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… .This or any pledge, e.g., 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."
5. The pattern of demeaning apologies and abject undertakings is reflected in all undertakings that followed including the one he gave in 1924 which was published in Frontline (April 7, 1995).
6. On February 22, 1948, to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, in order to avert prosecution for Gandhi's murder: "I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the Government may require."
7. On July 13, 1950, to Chief Justice M.C. Chagla and Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar of the Bombay High Court: "… would not take any part whatever in political activity and would remain in my house in Bombay" for a year. He resigned as president of the Hindu Mahasabha.
Marzia Casolari reproduced minutes of a meeting between Savarkar and the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, on October 9, 1939, when the `nationalist' said "our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together"; against Gandhi and the Congress, no doubt (vide her article "Hindutva's Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s", Economic and Political Weekly, January 22, 2000).
Disclosures haunt his heirs also. A.B. Vajpayee's speech on December 5, 1992, on the eve of the demolition of the Babri Masjid was published in Outlook (February 28, 2005). Maloy Krishna Dhar's book Open Secrets, published almost simultaneously, exposes L.K. Advani's complicity (pages 442-443).
When every record leaps to light, they shall ever be shamed.
PROCEEDINGS OF THE
HOME DEPARTMENT, AUGUST 1920.
Imperial Legislative Council.
Rejection of petition to release Savarkar.
QUESTION AND ANSWER IN THE IMPERIAL LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL REGARDING THE RELEASE OF THE SAVARKAR BROTHERS.
REJECTION OF A PETITION SUBMITTED BY V.D. SAVARKAR PRAYING FOR THE RELEASE UNDER THE AMNESTY OF HIMSELF AND HIS BROTHER.
CELLULAR JAIL, PORT BLAIR,
The 30th March 1920.
The CHIEF COMMISSIONER OF ANDAMANS
In view of the recent statement of the Hon'ble Member for the Home Department to the Government of India, to the effect that "the Government was willing to consider the papers of any individual, and give them their best consideration if they were brought before them"; and that "as soon as it appeared to the Government that an individual could be released without danger to the State, the Government would extend the Royal clemency to that person," the undersigned most humbly begs that he should be given a last chance to submit his case, before it is too late. You, Sir, at any rate, would not grudge me this last favour of forwarding this petition to His Excellency the Viceroy of India, especially and if only to give me the satisfaction of being heard, whatever the Government decisions may be.
I. The Royal proclamation most magnanimously states that Royal clemency should be extended to all those who were found guilty of breaking the law "Through their eagerness for Political progress." The cases of me and my brother are pre-eminently of this type. Neither I nor any of my family members had anything to complain against the Government for any personal wrong due to us nor for any personal favour denied. I had a brilliant career open to me and nothing to gain and everything to loose individually by treading such dangerous paths. Suffice it to say, that no less a personage than one of the Hon'ble Members for the Home Department had said, in 1913, to me personally, "… … Such education so much reading,… … .. you could have held the highest posts under our Government." If in spite of this testimony any doubts as to my motive does lurk in any one, then to him I beg to point out, that there had been no prosecution against any member of my family till this year 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 organised 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 etc.). But does anyone else take the same view of our cases? 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.
II. Nor can this second case of abetting murder throw me beyond the reach of the Royal clemency. For (a) 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. (b) Secondly, the Government too has already interpreted it in the same spirit and has released Barin and Hesu and others. 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 in the first "Bande Mataram" newspaper case. And yet Barin was not looked upon, and rightly so, as a non-political murderer. 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 Kennedys 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. If Barin and others were not separately charged for specific abetting, it was only because they had already been sentenced to capital punishment in the Conspiracy case; and I was specifically charged because I was not, and again for the international facilities to have me extradited in case France got me back. Therefore I humbly submit that the Government be pleased to extend the clemency to me as they had done it to Barin and Hem whose complicity in abetting the murders of officers, etc., was confessed and much deeper. For surely a section does not matter more than the crime it contemplates. In the case of my brother this question does not arise as his case has nothing to do with any murders, etc.
III. Thus interpreting the proclamation as the Government had already done in the cases of Barin, Hem, etc. I and my brother are fully entitled to the Royal clemency "in the fullest measure." But is it compatible with public safety? I submit it is entirely so. For (a) I most emphatically declare that we are not amongst "the microlestes of anarchism" referred to by the Home Secretary. So far from believing in the militant school of the type that I do not contribute even to the peaceful and philosophical anarchism of a Kuropatkin or a Tolstoy. 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. Since that the Reforms and then the Proclamation have only confirmed me in my views and recently I have publicly avowed my faith in and readiness to stand by the side of orderly and constitutional development. 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. 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!
(b) 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.
(c) This or any pledge, e.g., 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. Ultimately, I submit, that the overwhelming majority of the very people who constitute the State which is to be kept safe from us have from Mr. Surendranath, the venerable and veteran moderate leader, to the man in the street, the press and the platform, the Hindus and the Muhammadans – from the Punjab to Madras – been clearly persistently asking for our immediate and complete release, declaring it was compatible with their safety. Nay more, declaring it was a factor in removing the very `sense of bitterness' which the Proclamation aims to allay.
IV. Therefore the very object of the Proclamation would not be fulfilled and the sense of bitterness removed, I warn the public mind, until we two and those who yet remain have been made to share the magnanimous clemency.
V. Moreover, all the objects of a sentence have been satisfied in our case. For (a) we have put in 10 to 11 years in jail, while Mr. Sanyal, who too was a lifer, was released in 4 years and the riot case lifers within a year; (b) we have done hard work, mills, oil mills and everything else that was given to us in India and here; (c) our prison behaviour is in no way more objectionable than of those already released; they had, even in Port Blair, been suspected of a serious plot and locked up in jail again. We two, on the contrary, have to this day been under extra rigorous discipline and restrain and yet during the last six years or so there is not a single case even on ordinary disciplinary grounds against us.
VI. 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. Especially so as the political situation in Maharastra has singularly been free from any outrageous disturbances for so many years in the past. Here, however, I beg to submit that our release should not be made conditional on the behaviour of those released or of anybody else; for it would be preposterous to deny us the clemency and punish us for the fault of someone else.
VII. On all these grounds, I believe that the Government, hearing my readiness to enter into any sensible pledge and the fact that the Reforms, present and promised, joined to common danger from the north of Turko-Afghan fanatics have made me a sincere advocate of loyal co-operation in the interests of both our nations, would release me and win my personal gratitude. 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.
Hoping that the Chief Commissioner, remembering the personal regard I ever had shown to him throughout his term and how often I had to face keen disappointment throughout that time, will not grudge me this last favour of allowing this most harmless vent to my despair and will be pleased to forward this petition – may I hope with his own recommendations? – to His Excellency the Viceroy of India.
I beg to remain,
Your most obedient servant,
(Sd.) V.D. Savarkar,
Convict no. 32778.
© National Archives of India
The writer is grateful to the National Archives of India for furnishing him, at his request, with a copy of this revealing document. It fills an omission in his book Savarkar and Hindutva (Left-Word, 2002).
(First Published in FRONTLINE)