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The Cat Among Pigeons!

Opinion by Prashant Sharma from Australia, Published by NRI Herald 15 October 2021

The Cat Among Pigeons!

It seems the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has ‘set cat among pigeons’ by asserting that ‘Veer Savarkar’ wrote the infamous mercy petition to the British on advice from non-other than Mahatma Gandhi.

Union Defence Minister was at the Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi on Tuesday (12 October) for the launch of a new book 'Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition' and said that Mahatma Gandhi had asked Savarkar brothers to file mercy petition. Singh stated that Savarkar was an icon of Indian history and will remain so. He called him a freedom fighter and a staunch nationalist who is on constant target from people following Marxist and Leninist ideology. He further cited that Savarkar’s resolve for freedom was acknowledged by the British themselves, who sentenced his to not one but two life sentences. The defence minister went as far as calling Savarkar as India’s first military strategist in the 20th century.

The revelation didn’t go well with Tukde-Tukde gang and habitual detractors of Savarkar who pounced upon the Defence minister’s comments and took to social media platform Twitter. Official handle of CPI (M), the once kingmaker and now marginalised leftist party with only 3 MPs in the lower house, cited Gandhi’s 11 jail terms with no such mercy petitions, conveniently ignoring that Gandhi was always treated as a political prisoner and was never subject to solitary confinement in Cellular jail where Savarkar spent almost 10 years from July 1911 to May 1921.

One netizen gave a befitting reply to CPI (M) by sharing an article about auctioning of the letter in which Gandhi himself requested to be released from house arrest in 1943.

Asaduddin Owaisi a known detractor of Savarkar and brother of infamous “remove police for 15 minutes” Akbaruddin Owaisi, went as far as, insinuating that BJP may soon declare Savarkar as Father of the Nation instead of Mahatma Gandhi.

Amit Malviya (the national convener of the IT cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party) took the opportunity to showcase Gandhi’s regard for Savarkar and quoted him calling Savarkar as Patriotic, clever and brave.

Rakesh Sinha, a well-known BJP MP went a step ahead and took veiled pot shots at a tall Congress leader by mentioning his affiliation with the last viceroy of India& his family.

The best rebuttal came from Historian Vikram Sampath who is hailed as the most authoritative account of the freedom fighters life and has written a two-part comprehensive biography (Penguin India) of Savarkar. He dismissed the claims made against the Defence ministers by netizens and trolls and called the controversy a ‘needless brouhaha”. He factually rebutted, with snippets from his book, documenting Gandhi’s advice to Savarkar as well as his essay in Young India published on 26th May 1920.

Calling the controversy a "needless brouhaha", Sampath said that he has shared the fact in "countless interviews".

"I had stated already that in 1920 Gandhiji advised Savarkar brothers to file a petition and even made a case for his release through an essay in Young India 26 May 1920 (sic)," the historian said on Twitter.

Sampath has also shared the letter, reproduced in his book, in which Gandhi, responding to a letter from Dr Narayanrao Savarkar seeking advice to secure his elder brother's release, suggests a "brief petition".

"I have your letter. It is difficult to advise you. I suggest, however, your framing a brief petition setting forth the facts of the case bringing out in clear relief the fact that the offence committed by your brother was purely political," Gandhi writes to him in a letter dated 25 January 1920.

The letter is available on page 348 in Volume 19 of the 'Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi' on the website of the Gandhi Ashram.

A petition was filed on 20 March 1920, Sampath writes in his book. Sampath also states that Gandhi had made a case for Savarkar's release in an essay in Young India on 26 May 1920.

"Thanks to the action of the Government of India and..., many of those who were undergoing imprisonment at the time have received the benefit of the Royal clemency. But there are some notable "political offenders” who have not yet been discharged. Among these I count the Savarkar brothers," Gandhi writes in the essay, available on pages 368-371 in Volume 20 of the 'Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi'.

"The public are entitled to know the precise grounds upon which the liberty of the brothers is being restrained in spite of the Royal Proclamation which to them is as good as a royal charter having the force of law," Gandhi says in the essay.

While jury is still out on why and on whose advice Savarkar wrote his mercy petition and was he justified in doing so, we at NRI Herald believe that we need to move on from the controversies of freedom struggle. We need to respect all contributors of our independence movement and pay our tribute equally, while not letting just a handful of names being glorified, as PM Modi has mentioned on various occasions.

Most people who take a position (both for or against) on Savarkar would not last an afternoon in his solitary confinement in most inhumane conditions in which he was kept in the Andaman islands aptly called “Kaalapani”. Before making any assumptions we must read extensively on the subject including books written by Savarkar ‘The Indian War Of Independence, 1857’ which for the very first time asserted that 1857 was not a mutiny as British wanted us to believe, but a collective effort by our countrymen to gain our freedom from them. It’s a point to ponder that while some Icons of Independence struggle enjoy godly status and are beyond any kind of criticism, why is it so easy to target likes of Savarkar who deserve equal respect if not more.

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