Petition from V.D. Savarkar to the Government of India, dated October 4, 1917.
His Honour, the Secretary to the Government of India
May it please your Honour!
Some three years ago, in 1914, I had sent a petition on the following points to the Government of India; and Lord Hardinge was pleased to let me know that it was ‘impossible’—not that the Government was unwilling, to give effect to my proposals under the then circumstances.
The war, and all that it means, had definitely and materially changed the political relations of almost all peoples and states. A new spirit has manifested itself in man and whole nations are being roused and animated by new visions and new hopes, which have found responsible and glowing expressions in the utterances of presidents of Republics and Ministers of Empires. Neither India nor the British Empire as a whole could have remained unaffected by this great democratic upheaval in the world. In them too old order of Race-domineerings and race-subjections is giving place to that of co-operation and Commonwealth. The nucleus of an Empire-cabinet; the presence in it of the ministers of the colonies and two representatives, though nominated, of India; the permission to be enrolled as volunteers to the Indian youths; the throwing open of Commissions in the army, the great speech of the Premier in which he declared that the supreme test of the British Statesmanship would depend on the extent to which it succeeds in making the millions of Indians feel—not a sense of dependence—but that of ‘real partnership’; and to crown all the most important, definite and determined declaration by the present Secretary of State, not only as to the goal but even as to its immediate, though partial, realization in Indian administration; all these facts undeniably show that henceforth the Indian government, is not only to be conducted consistently with the interest of the Indian people but that it recognizes the first principle of all progress that the party who decides what the interests are is, in the main, the people themselves. Thus the circumstances, which Lord Hardinge referred to, are or are being changed for the better.
Of interest is the author’s dispassionate statement that the British colonial apparatus regarded his previous appeal for release as impossible, for such was the constraint of circumstances. He proffers no gainsaying comment of his own; an indication, to the editor’s mind, of his adroit manoeuvring to establish himself as worthy of their trust. Concerning the second paragraph, seeing as it is replete with specific and important instances of ostensible willingness of the British to regard Indians increasingly as ‘partners’, the author’s words appear crafted carefully, so as to impress upon the authorities his deep appreciation thereof.
Therefore, I venture to point out that if the policy of Co-operation and Commonwealth, so successful wherever it had been pursued, is to be followed in the Indian administration, then what Durbars and fireworks can so fitly inaugurate it, as the immediate release of the Indian political prisoners? No royal manifestos and elephant processions can so touch and move, not only the imagination, but also the heart of the Indian people, as the release of their kith and kin would do. Confidence can only be evoked by showing confidence. In Canada, revolts and rebellions were the order of the day; a bold statesman like Lord Durham rose and showed confidence—and now the grandsons of the Leaders of those rebellions are fighting in Flanders on the British side. The Boers fought and lost the day; but the English realizing the gravity of the situation and remembering the history of America and Cape Colony, behaved as a wise conqueror should do, and gave them autonomy and the result is that though a Dewett did rebel, yet there only a Dewett to be put down and not a Botha, too! Or can India be suspected of being less confiding and less generous in her response to any magnanimous and sincere dealing of the British people? History shows that the fault of India, if fault it was, had been, not that she was less but that she was too generous and too confiding. The Grant of Home Rule, if wholeheartedly conferred would make our people, and for our own interest, for more closely bound to this Empire, so long as the interest of all of us are served by and through it, than the colonies had ever been.
Herein reflects an important contrast with the previous two petitions; in this paragraph, he adopts a balance between a logical plea, and the mockery of the Empire’s insecurity as would behove a nationalist. For the Empire was wont to adopt the airy profession of noble ideals, while duplicitously meting mistreatment to its subjects. Citing instances of other countries, wherein the British had been more willing to be ‘magnanimous’ in their treatment of revolutionaries, he pointedly poses whether the Empire did not trust Indians as equally deserving of such ‘magnanimity’. The sentence, “History shows that the fault of India, if fault it as, had been, not that she was less but that she was too generous and too confiding” is a subtly insolent jibe at the Empire’s colonial essence, for the very evident yet unsaid implication is that India’s confiding nature had made her susceptible to the wiles of the British.
Secondly, I for one, and I can say the same thing of the majority of those whom I know, cannot have the slightest animosity towards an Empire simply because it is so. No; believing me in as I do that the Ideal of all political science and political art is, or should be, the Human State; embracing all nations, based on perfect equality of opportunities to progress and on liberty that respects itself in others—I can have nothing but sympathy with an Empire that binding a vast portion of mankind together takes us nearer to such an Ideal as that. If India is allowed to become an autonomous partner in this commonwealth and if in the immediate future, at least a majority is secured in the Viceregal Council for Indians, then there would be so much to do to purge and cleanse our society that all our energies could be required to consolidate what we have already secured. It was no fanatical; much less an ‘anarchical’ opposition to any Empire as such but a sense—sincere and killing sense of despair to effect any substantial advance in the land when all paths to progress were barred by the ‘Trespassers would be prosecuted’—that drove us to face the dangerous by-ways of political life. When there was no Constitution, it seemed a mockery to talk of constitutional movements. But now if such a constitution exists, and Home Rule is decidedly such, then so much political, social, economical and educational work is to be done and could constitutionally be done that the Government, may securely rest satisfied that none of the present political prisoners would choose to face untold suffering by resorting to underground methods for sheer amusement! So not only the release of political prisoners would evoke confidence in India by proving to them the sincerity of the British Government in inaugurating this change in the administration and the status of India in the Empire, but in addition to this immediate good, it is not likely to do any harm in future, too.
The previous post presented the fact that, beyond the conception of Hindutva, the author was of a firmly universalist persuasion. He belabours that notion which had been already expressed in the petition he had sent in 1914, and presents a logical and believable conviction why he should not, in the future, take recourse to ‘underground methods’ and ‘dangerous by-ways’.
Thirdly, just as the only release of prisoners would not remove the roots of discontent in Indian unless it was accompanied with far reaching reforms in the state, so also no installments of those Reforms would, taken by themselves, be able to satisfy and win the heart of the people unless it was accompanied by the release of their prisoners. How can there be peace and mutual confidence and love in the land in which thousands of families are literally torn to pieces and every second home has either a brother or a son or a husband or a lover or a friend snatched away from its bosom and kept pining in the prisoner? It is against human nature, for blood is thicker than water.
Fourthly, all over the world the prisons have been thrown open to those who had been pent up for the sake of political principles. Not to mention Russia, France, Ireland and Transvaal. Even Austria could not refuse amnesty to her political prisoners even while the war is still hanging heavy over her. Nor could it be said that the prisoners thus released were convicted of ‘general participation only’ for in the case of suffragists, almost all of them had been convicted of ‘individual acts’, to quote Mr. Bonar Law, including arson, and yet were released immediately after the war broke out. It could not be that a step, which had been thought beneficial in all the nations of the world should prove disastrous only in India.
Fifthly, as long as some of those whose names are rightly or wrongly, but undoubtedly revered by thousands of souls are still kept in the Jail; and are looked upon as foes to the present order of things, so long the tradition of opposing authority would continue to produce its own devotees and even blind followers. But if these people go back and if even a few of them, conscientiously convinced that the good of their country was no longer in danger in co-operation with the British people, preached so and set an example to that effect, then the men who look up to them as models would also be convinced that a new day had risen and so a new start is to be made by a new path in fresh air and sunshine, leaving the gloomy adventures to the night that is past.
Sixthly, the majority of Indian prisoners are convicted in conspiracy cases, in which one has to suffer for the deeds of others in addition to one’s own, and secondly some of them have already put in 10 years or 9 or 8 and few have put in less than two years of hard, trying and dismal servitude. Many of them deserve to be, and under Indian jail systems would have already been released, on the ground of time and health alone.
These four paragraphs reveal, each in itself, a near identical substance, but the manner of conveying differs, and the argument seems incrementally to build. It may be summed up as ‘Peace and mutual confidence through release of all prisoners → Done all over the world and cannot prove disastrous in India alone → Genuineness of British intent would doubtless secure Indian cooperation → The present condition of prisoners is inhuman.”
For all these reasons I have ventured to put forth this petition setting forth in a frank way my own belief and expectations and I trust and hope that this would be brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for India when he visits our shores.
In conclusion, I beg to add, in all sincerity, that if the Government thinks that it is only to effect my own release that I pen this; or if my name constitutes the chief obstacle in the granting of such an amnesty then let the Government omit my name in their amnesty and release all the rest; that would give me as great a satisfaction as my own release would do. If the Government does ever take view of the question then the amnesty should be so complete as to include those also who are exiles from India ans [sic] who as long as they are proclaimed strangers in their own land are likely to be bitterly antagonistic to that Government in India but many of whom would, if allowed to come back, work for the Motherland on the open and constitutional lines, when this new and real constitution is introduced there.
Hoping that your Honour would not grudge the satisfaction of having put my case before the Secretary of State to me, was though unknown is yet in stress, a prisoner yet for the sake of a people.
Your most obedient
Prisoner No. 32778
The concluding portion of this petition is substantially similar to that of the previous, except insomuch as the author pleads on behalf not only of other prisoners across India, but exiles also. He belabours again his willingness to stay imprisoned to impress upon the authorities the sincerity of his intent. His mention, however, of the possibility that his release might be the ‘chief obstacle’ in the grant of amnesty to others, conveys to the editor’s mind the apprehension of the British, that his release might rekindle a revolutionary movement that had nigh ebbed with his imprisonment in 1910.
Here endeth the post.
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