The needless brouhaha about Rajnath Singh’s statement on Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar for his mercy petition has finally settled.
In the annals of the Indian freedom struggle, Savarkar still remains a polarised and badly misunderstood leader. He remains a political orphan, with political parties and historians appropriating bits and pieces of him to either eulogise him or demonise him without understanding what he really stood for.
His deeds have been cherry-picked both by his detractors and worshippers, the former harping on his mercy petitions, political pensions, Gandhi assassination, his misdirected two-nation theory, advocating rape etc. while the latter prefer to remember him only for his astonishing escape bid at Marseilles harbour, the harrowing punishments he had to face in the Cellular Jail, his heroics, his writings, his militaristic approaches etc.
The primary reason for him being a misunderstood leader is that most of his own writing is in his native Marathi. The few who have dipped into the Savarkar literature have restricted themselves to Essentials of Hindutva, arguably one of his weakest works, though also the most influential. Savarkar was a prolific author who authored 38 books and two novels which displayed his insight on all aspects of his political philosophy. Very few have been translated. The family is reluctant to give the rights and for this reason, much of his works remain out of reach.
The well documented and chronicled history of the Indian freedom struggle clearly shows that whatever malicious campaign that the Congress or the leftists have perpetrated over the years, Savarkar’s clemency pleas were purely prudent strategic efforts. He had been subjected to the most inhuman tortures, which included solitary confinement, standing handcuff, chain gauge, cross-bar fetters, apart from most straining labour like oil-milling.
As a visionary leader and a great strategist, Savarkar realised that languishing in jail would not have served any purpose for his freedom struggle. Little do the breeds of anti-Savarkar propagandists know that Savarkar, in his petition for amnesty, had sought release not only of himself but all the political prisoners jailed at Andaman. The Congress machinery should realise that Vithalbhai Patel, the elder brother of Sardar Vallavbhai Patel, had moved a resolution in the Central Legislative Assembly on February 24, 1920 seeking the release of Savarkar brothers. Bal Gangadhar Tilak too had written the British Home Secretary, seeking his release. Even Rev. C. F. Andrews had demanded the release of Savarkar brothers. In March 1921, K.V. Rangaswamy Ayengar, a prominent Congress leader and Member of the Council of State had moved a resolution seeking release their release. In the 38th Session of the Indian National Congress held at Kakinada in 1923, a resolution demanding the release of Savarkar was passed.
The controversial quip of Rajnath Singh about Gandhi’s effort has been documented in the essay he wrote in Young India on May 26, 1920 that Savarkar brothers must be released. Gandhi wrote that both the Savarkar brothers, as political prisoners, should get clemency under the Royal Proclamation of December 1919, under which sentences of political prisoners were waived.
In his essay, he quoted a part of the Royal Proclamation: “Both these brothers have declared their political opinions and both have stated that they do not entertain any revolutionary ideas and that if they were set free they would like to work under the Reforms Act, for they consider that the Reforms enable one to work there under so as to achieve political responsibility for India. They both state unequivocally that they do not desire independence from the British connection. On the contrary, they feel that India’s destiny can be best worked out in association with the British.”
In December 1919, Dr Narayan D. Savarkar, the third brother who was not in jail, had written to Gandhi about the government’s denial to release his brothers under the 1919 Royal Proclamation. He had asked for Gandhi’s advice as to how to proceed for the clemency of his brothers.
In 1921 Savarkar was moved to the mainland and kept at the Alipore Jail at Kolkata and later shifted to Ratnagiri jail for three years. However his petitions paid dividends, the colonial authorities probably had a better understanding of his personality than his Indian admirers and detractors. When released in 1924, “at forty-one, he looked sixty and resembled a lean and hungry hawk, with bitter mouth and eyes that looked hooded.”
One must remember that Galileo Galilei too preferred not to be burnt on stake and had begged pardon from the Court of Inquisition, so that he could live to advance his ideas for the posterity. Another little facet, which the BJP should remember is the alleged matter of the charge levelled against Atal Behari Vajpayee for his confessional statement before the British authorities which had led to Liladhar Vajpayee being sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment.
While Vajpayee was not directly responsible for the imprisonment, he admitted that he did not actively participate in the Quit India Movement and had been arrested merely due to the fact that he and his brother were present among a crowd, which had burned down a police station. Vajpayee clarified that his confessional statement was recorded in Urdu, a language he could not read, and it was not read out to him later. However, he did confirm in an interview with Frontline editor N. Ram that he had indeed signed the statement. Liladhar Bajpai though later contended that the confessional statement signed by Vajpayee was a major factor in his being sentenced since the Vajpayee brothers were, unlike the rest of the village, educated and hence considered more dependable in their testimony by the police and the court.
In March 2015, I had gone along with Himani Savarkar, the daughter-in-law of Veer Savarkar, to meet the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh. We had discussed the matter of the translation of Savarkar’s works into Hindi and other regional languages. The family was willing to hand over the rights if the work was taken up by the government. Unfortunately, she died a few months later and the matter still rests. Like Gandhi, Nehru and Subash Bose, Savarkar’s writings too should be popularised, only then will his real relevance and political philosophy emerge.