Savarkar’s Petitions — 4

Full text of petition from V.D. Savarkar to the Government of India, dated March 20, 1920.

In view of the recent statement of the Hon. 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 given 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.

- 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 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 lose 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 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.). 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.

In December 1919, with the victory of Britain in World War I, and perhaps in view of cooperation by India, King George V issued a Royal Proclamation, the chief purpose of which was to ratify the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms introduced by then Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, and the Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford. The reforms purposed to introduce gradually self-governing institutions in India. The reforms were delineated in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and these formed the basis of the Government of India Act of 1919. The sixth clause of the Royal Proclamation expressed the Emperor’s desire that the Royal clemency be exercised with regard to political prisoners in India. The clause read: “It is My earnest desire at this time that, so far as possible, any trace of bitterness between My people and those who are responsible for My government should be obliterated. Let those who, in their eagerness for political progress, have broken the law in the past respect it in the future. Let it become possible for those who are charged with the maintenance of peaceful and orderly government to forget the extravagances which they have had to curb. A new era is opening. Let it begin with a common determination among My people and My officers to work together for a common purpose. I therefore direct My Viceroy to exercise, in My name and on My behalf, My Royal clemency to political offenders, in the fullest measure which in his judgment is compatible with the public safety. I desire him to extend it, on this condition, to persons who, for offences against the State or under any special or emergency legislation, are suffering imprisonment or restrictions upon their liberty. I trust that this leniency will be justified by the future conduct of those whom it benefits, and that all My subjects will so demean themselves as to render it unnecessary to enforce the laws for such offences hereafter.”

Many a political prisoner had, accordingly, profited from the clemency, and Dr. Sampath mentions that they had to pledge their abstinence from politics and revolutionary activity for a stipulated number of years, and the contravention of which would invite further transportation to the Cellular Jail where the remainder of the sentence was to be served. The author of the petition, and his elder brother who was also imprisoned with him, were excluded from this clemency that the Royal Proclamation had desired to be granted, and it is to that clemency that the author has referred. It shall reflect from the succeeding sections of the petition, that it varies radically from the previous petitions, insomuch as it is of a perfectly legal character in terms of the nature of its arguments, save only the mawkish penultimate paragraph.

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 [Aurobindo] 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 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. If Barin and other 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 on 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.

This portion of the petition demonstrates that revolutionaries who had direct association with such acts as assassination, were also released in accordance with the sixth clause of the Royal Proclamation, and the author regards it right, but mentions that since he was himself not guilty of any such severe act, he, too, was deserving of that liberty.

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 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 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. 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.

This portion is purposed to prove to the British authorities that his safety would be ‘compatible with public safety’, which was the condition mentioned in the Royal Proclamation, for being entitled to clemency. He records his disapproval of the notion of anarchy. He demonstrates the consistency of his thought, as he mentions how it was not merely to secure release that he pledges allegiance to a constitutional line of work, but how he had pledged it even prior to the Royal Proclamation, by means of his Petitions in 1911, 1914 and 1917. Worthy of note are his elucidation of the chief reason behind his willing allegiance in 1914, to which allusions had been made in the second post commenting on his petitions, namely that which addressed his petition from 1914. In that post the editor had written, “The text, to the editor’s mind, conveys the author’s tactful manoeuvring with the British, in view of his recognition of the threat that the Triple Alliance might pose to India, if not directly, by means of the internal schismogenetic passions it might excite”, and had directed readers to the author’s own book My Transportation for Life; specifically, the content from pages 223 to 247, and pages 263 to 275.

The author now makes express mention of his concerns, as reflects from the sentence, “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.” This was in context of the odious mingling of religion in politics by vice of the Khilafat movement, which was an agitation commenced by leading members of India’s Muslim community in consequence of their perception of an affront to the Islamic world, that was the British act of deposing the vanquished Ottoman sultan, who also happened to be the caliph of the Muslim world. The movement had no bearing on Indian nationalism, and nonetheless M.K. Gandhi, who by now had command of the Indian National Congress, that was the vehicle of non-violent mass nationalism, pledged the support of the Congress to the cause of the Khilafat. In consequence, Gandhi was prepared to invite the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India so as to overthrow the British, for he wrote, “I would, in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan, if he waged a war against the British Government. That is to say, I would openly tell my countrymen that it would be a crime to help a government which had lost the confidence of the nation to remain in power.” (refer 04 May 1921 issue of Gandhi’s journal Young India). Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, jurist and social activist, was the only one who, in his comprehensive study of the Pakistan question in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India, called it a pernicious political stunt; that it would evict the British Raj and transform it into a Muslim Raj. The author of the petitions, too, perceived the threat thereof to India, and albeit it was not specifically so great a threat as of the invasion by the Amir that prompted his 1914 petition, the pages from My Transportation for Life that have been recommended in the foregoing paragraph, make evident that he had perceived the beginnings of an extraterritorial religious fascination that kindled a faction of Muslims in India, by no means insignificant. Either the author’s prescience, or ready access to news, confirmed his fears that the Amir’s invasion was being entertained by that faction of Muslims, and that the ever equivocal Congress might well consent.

The author also assures the Government of his willingness to not dabble in active politics, for as Dr. Sampath demonstrates in his biography of the author, he took frequently to ill health, which frequency would last until his death in 1966. He then takes recourse to the logical argument, namely, that should the Proclamation indeed seek to allay feelings of ‘bitterness’, it would ill be achieved by refusals of the exercise of clemency with regard to political prisoners.

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.

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 Maharashtra 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.

The author again demonstrates his good record in prison. From his words of gratitude for the ‘partial granting’ of his petitions of 1914 and 1917 (the author seems to have mistakenly written ‘1918’), emerge, to the editor’s mind, the desire to belabour that he was not pleading for himself alone.

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 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.

The overly elegiac and mawkish tone of this paragraph notwithstanding, the author has not written anything too surprising, given his academic brilliance, that had he not been imprisoned, might have promised a blissful future as a barrister-at-law, given his qualification from the prestigious Gray’s Inn.

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,
SIR,
Your most obedient servant,
(Sd.) V.D. Savarkar,
Convict no. 32778

The concluding portion bespeaks a further attempt to appear credible in the judgment of colonial authorities. For he does not insist on the grant of every word of his petition, but states his willingness to abide by the Chief Commissioner’s own recommendations besides those recorded in the petition, should it be necessitated, for the grant of clemency.

Here endeth the post, and hereby endeth the series of posts assessing the petitions written and sent by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

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Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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Samved Iyer

Samved Iyer

Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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