• How and Why Savarkar filed Mercy Petition to the British

    Shamsul Islam

    October 22, 2019

    BJP; the political appendage of the RSS on October 15, 2019 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 with Maharashtra.

    This promise made by the Maharashtra state BJP is shocking for two major reasons. Firstly, Savarkar cannot be honoured as a national hero given the legacy he finally leaves behind. He did start as a fighter for an all inclusive India but ended 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.  

    Bharat Ratna to Savarkar amounts to denigration of Indian Matryrs of the Freedom Struggle

    (1) This  'Veer' (brave) icon wrote not one or two mercy petitions but six mercy petitions (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."


    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!"

    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. 

     
    Nothing Wrong in a 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, these were only 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 simply made the following identical request: 

    "That as a matter of grace the petitioner now seeks to obtain HisMajesty'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…"

     
    The total surrender to the British masters bore results. The two life time sentences of 50 years at the Cellular Jail accorded to asavarkar, were reduced to less than 13 years. He  spent less than 10 years at the Cellular Jail. Moreover, despite a ban on his political activities he was allowed to organize the Hindu Mahasabha, developments which succeeded in fracturing the more inclusive freedom struggle. He was the only beneficiary of such large-heartedness of the British masters in the history of the Cellular Jail! 


    First published in Sabrang India.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.