One of the most tragic things about the political discourse on Savarkar is that nobody stands up for this man when he is attacked by people in the left/ congress ecosystem. A few days back, in the Congress plenary, Rahul Gandhi commented that the Savarkar begged for clemency to the British, unlike Gandhiji who spent 15 years in jail.
Gandhiji spent 15 years in jail and died for the nation. But India must never forget that while our leader slept on the floor in jail Savarkar wrote a letter to the British begging for mercy and clemency.: Congress President Rahul Gandhi #CongressPlenary #ChangeIsNow pic.twitter.com/IbZQQzDg1V
— Congress (@INCIndia) March 18, 2018
A brief analysis of Gandhi’s arrests and unconditional releases by British shows that the jail experience of Savarkar and Gandhi cannot be compared. Unlike other British jails where Gandhi spent his time, the Andaman’s cellular jail had the worst conditions. It was reserved for the worst enemies of the empire in India. Gandhi was never sent to cellular jail. And thus, Gandhi and Savarkar can never be compared as far as their jail experience is concerned.
As can be seen, Gandhi was arrested and let off on several occasions and was not put through the kind of torture Savarkar was.
Since most readers do not take the opinion of an Indian admirer of Savarkar seriously, let us see what a neutral observer had to say about his apology to British. Julia Kelley-Swift, a student of history in Wesleyan University chose to study V D Savarkar for her BA thesis. Her study was published in the year 2015. Her thesis is titled: A Misunderstood Legacy: V.D. Savarkar and the Creation of Hindutva [pdf]. In her abstract, she states the motivation to study Savarkar.
In 2014 a Hindu Nationalist political party was elected to head the Indian government for the first time in over two decades. This victory signals a wider resurgence within India of Hindu nationalist ideas – foremost among them, the idea of “Hindutva,” originally set out by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 track, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? As an ideology, Hindutva refers to a conception of Indian national identity that is tied inextricably to the Hindu people. Although Savarkar is clear in his differentiation between Hindutva and religious Hinduism, many critics have argued that the ideology is inherently exclusionary towards India’s religious minorities – primarily Muslims. This thesis is an attempt to shed light on this complex issue, and most importantly on the character of V.D. Savarkar – a man who has been both under-studied and over-simplified in the decades since his death.
In her chapter dedicated to the prison life of Savarkar, she deeply delves into all available sources on his experience in the prison. The student researches several sources on prison life in Andaman and writes (emphasis added) :
By the time Savarkar arrived at the Cellular Jail, all political prisoners were facing a much stricter regimen that was applied to ordinary convicts. The group was divided and the men were not allowed to speak with one another. In addition, even the smallest infraction of prison rules would result in one of the innumerable punishments meted out by the warders. Worst of all, the daily labour allotted to the political prisoners was changed to turning the oil-mill, the most difficult job at Port Blair. This particular work, which is singled out in almost every account by survivors of the Cellular Jail as cruel and unusual, involved being “yoked like animals to the handle that turned the wheel…Twenty turns of the wheel were enough to drain away the strength of the strongest cooly and the worst, brawny badmash. No dacoit past twenty was put on that work. But the poor political prisoner was fit to do it at any age.
After studying the details, she comes to the following conclusion. She writes (emphasis added) :
There is not a great deal of note, for the purpose of my argument, but the issue of Savarkar’s petitions to the government and his eventual release merits some discussion. A number of scholars, most prominently Ashis Nandy, have suggested that Savarkar gave up on his revolutionary aims while in jail and, through a series of petitions for clemency, essentially submitted to the will of the British government. The implication is that Savarkar became something of a teacher’s pet, doing whatever it took to curry favour with his superiors and avoid further punishment.
Although it is true that he submitted a number of petitions, and even repudiated his revolutionary past, I believe it is a mistake to vilify Savarkar for such actions. First, it is worth noting that Savarkar openly acknowledges, within ‘My Transportation for Life’, both the petitions that he sent as well as the discussion that he had with members of a Commission sent by the British Government to investigate conditions at the Cellular Jail.[..]
In addition, it is well worth noting here that it is hardly out of the ordinary for a prisoner, living under harsh conditions, to desire freedom at any cost. Already in this chapter, the immense suffering of Savarkar and his companions has been detailed at length. It is easy for any outsider, especially someone seeking to undermine Savarkar’s position, to disparage him for weakness under duress. However, such flippant criticism fails to acknowledge the incredible strain placed on the political prisoners at Port Blair. As Savarkar notes in one of the final sections of his memoir, by the last years of his sentence, he was struggling with continually disintegrating health, including a yearlong stint in the prison hospital.
If Gandhi comes out a jail due to ill health without any preconditions by British he remains a saint and leader. But if Savarkar writes an apology/petition because of his inability to sustain torture and deteriorating health, he becomes a ‘servant’ of the British. This is a laughable theory.
It shows that the liberals and Congressmen in India lack basic humanity and sympathy for a human being just because he represents another political ideology. I feel deeply ashamed about the lack of intellectual rigour and sensitivity within India while analysing Savarkar. Our country’s failure to stand up for a freedom fighter who suffered immensely for the cause of India is tragic and must be corrected at the earliest.