Rahul Gandhi’s selective quoting of Savarkar’s prison petition is intellectually disingenuous.

The recent outburst by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the midst of an election rally in Chhattisgarh, allegedly saying that freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had apologised to the British to be released from jail, has led to expected counter-reactions. While Savarkar’s grandnephew Ranjeet Savarkar filed a police complaint in Mumbai, the political class and television channels got a new subject for mudslinging and noisy debates. As a historian, I find it disturbing when national heroes are vilified for petty political ends.

In the five years that Savarkar spent in London as a law student, he galvanised the revolutionary movement that sought total and complete freedom from British rule. From India to Europe, and even America, a network of bravehearts guided by him, made contacts with Irish, French, Italian, Russian and American leaders, revolutionaries and the press to bring British India to the forefront of global discourse. No doubt, the British government categorised him as one of the most dangerous seditionists. Under an unfair Fugitive Offenders Act (FOA) of 1881 that did not apply to him because he was a bonafide student in London and not a fugitive, Savarkar was deported to India and tried with no right to appeal or defence. He was slapped with two life imprisonments, totalling 50 years, to rot in the Cellular Jail of the Andamans along with his elder brother Ganesh Damodar Savarkar. The British documents speak of how petrified they were of his very presence and hence wanted him as far away from the Indian mainland as possible.

In the Cellular Jail, he was meted the worst kind of punishments. Fettered in chains, flogged, condemned to six months of solitary confinement, made to extract oil all day being tied to the mill like a bullock, punished with standing handcuffs for days on end, lack of the most basic human needs such as toilets or water and fed with foul food that had pieces of insects and reptiles – it was truly a devil’s island.


Also read: Rahul Gandhi will benefit from personal jibes just like Narendra Modi once did


By 1913, Savarkar and several other prisoners began hunger strikes and non-cooperation in jail to protest against this inhuman treatment. The rest of India was blissfully unaware of the tortures their compatriots faced in Kaala Pani. Hence, articles were leaked out for publication in Indian newspapers. Savarkar’s clandestine attempts to start bomb manufacturing in Port Blair alarmed the authorities. Finally, in October 1913, Sir Reginald H. Craddock, home member of the government of India, decided to visit the Cellular Jail and interview some of the political prisoners to ascertain their grievances. Savarkar and other political prisoners- Barin Ghose, Nand Gopal, Hrishikesh Kanjilal, and Sudhir Kumar Sarkar were interviewed and allowed to submit petitions. This process was a legitimate tool available for all political prisoners in British India, just like the opportunity of defending oneself in court through the agency of a lawyer was. As a barrister, Savarkar knew the law and wished to utilise all provisions under it to free himself or alleviate his situation in prison. Savarkar often advised other political prisoners too that the primary duty of a revolutionary was to free himself from the British clutches so as to return to the freedom struggle and in service of the motherland.

In his petition dated 14 November 1913 to Craddock, Savarkar argued that while common convicts of rape, murder, theft and other crimes were given promotions on the basis of their good conduct or let out into the settlement for work after 6-18 months, such provisions were not available for him as he was a ‘special class prisoner’. But when he asked for better food or treatment, he was denied those on the basis of being an ‘ordinary convict’. Had he been a political prisoner in an Indian jail, he would have earned remission or could write more than just the single annual letter and meeting with his family that he was allowed. This dichotomy disadvantaged him on both fronts.


By 1909, the Morley-Minto Reforms brought in a slew of greater opportunities for Indians to participate in councils and education. Hence, Savarkar alludes in his petition that the need to pick up the gun no longer remained and he was happy to join mainstream politics and work with the government towards greater constitutional participation for Indians.

“I am not asking for any preferential treatment,” he said, “though I believe as a political prisoner even that could have been expected in any civilised administration in the Independent nations of the world; but only for the concessions and favour that are shown even to the most depraved of convicts and habitual criminals?” It was almost an indirect mockery of British India being uncivilised.


Also read: Veer Savarkar: The man credited with creating Hindutva didn’t want it restricted to Hindus


Ironically those who castigate Savarkar for the petitions are the same human rights activists who advocate the cause of the likes of Kasab, Yakub Memon, and the Naxals and their intellectual fountainheads. The last line of this petition that draws controversy is open to interpretation: “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?” Being a Biblical reference, it can well be said that he was appealing to the religious sentiments of his incarcerators. Selective quoting of just a few lines of this petition, without looking at it completely or in context, is intellectually disingenuous.

Interestingly, on his way back to India, Craddock wrote his report onboard the ship where he said that Savarkar “cannot be said to express any regret or repentance” for whatever he did. “So important a leader is he,” Craddock noted, “that the European section of the Indian anarchists would plot for his escape which would before long be organised. If he were allowed outside the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, his escape would be certain. His friends could easily charter a steamer to lie off one of the islands and a little money distributed locally would do the rest.” The government obviously rejected his petition and nothing changed for Savarkar.


With the outbreak of the First World War, Savarkar filed another petition in October 1914 offering to “volunteer to do any service in the present War, that the Indian government think fit to demand”. In the same petition, he also requested a general release of “all those prisoners who had been convicted for committing political offences in India”. This was being done in many British colonies.

Interestingly, the Indian National Congress openly supported Britain during this crucial period. When the War broke out, Mahatma Gandhi was in England where he began organising a medical corps similar to the force he had led in aid of the British during the Boer War and even won a gold medal for loyalty. In a circular dated 22 September 1914, he called for recruitment to his Field Ambulance Training Corps. On his return to India in January 1915, Gandhi ji offered unconditional support for British efforts in the War and believed that it was not a good time to embarrass Britain or take advantage of her troubled situation to further the Indian liberation cause.


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“England’s need,” he said, “should not be turned into our opportunity and that it was more becoming and far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted.” Marching from village to village in Gujarat, he recruited volunteers to assist the British in the War. How was this any different from Savarkar’s 1914 petition then?

In his next petition on 5 October 1917 to secretary of state to India Edwin Samuel Montagu, Savarkar referred to the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms that were on the anvil promising limited self-government and a bicameral legislature to Indians. He strongly advocated the grant of home rule to India and her becoming an autonomous partner of the Commonwealth. “When there was no Constitution”, he postulated, “it seemed a mockery to talk of constitutional movements. But now if a Constitution exists, and Home Rule is decidedly such, then so much political, social, economic, and educational work is to be done and could be constitutionally done that the Government, may securely rest satisfied that none of the political prisoners would choose to face untold suffering by resorting to underground methods for sheer amusement.” Invoking international precedents in Russia, France, Ireland, Transvaal and Austria where amnesty was becoming the general principle, he argued his case like a good lawyer.

Most importantly, in this petition he explicitly stated 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.”

Can these be the words of a coward or an opportunist British stooge?


With the end of the War, Emperor George V’s royal proclamation granted a wholesale amnesty to all political prisoners lodged across India and the Andamans. Barin Ghose, Trailokya Nath Chakravarti, Hemachandra Das, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, Parmanand and others in Cellular Jail, were released with a pledge to not participate in politics for a stipulated time. Congress workers who had been arrested after the non-cooperation movement of 1919 were also released on this principle. However, the same benefits were not accrued to Savarkar and his elder brother. Sachindra Nath Sanyal in his memoirs talks about sending an identical petition as Savarkar and being released while the latter was still imprisoned since the government feared that their release would rekindle the fizzled revolutionary movement in Maharashtra that they had spearheaded through their secret organisation – Abhinav Bharat.

Naturally, Savarkar appealed against this injustice through his petition dated 20 March 1920. In none of these petitions does he ever say he was apologetic of his revolutionary past.

It was only when the Cellular Jail was about to be closed that the British decided to deport Savarkar to the Ratnagiri Prison in May 1921. By then Savarkar had managed to accomplish significant prison reforms at Port Blair—from setting up a library, to education for convicts and stopping all forcible conversions. To his horror, he discovered that these benefits that he strove to get in the Andamans were all stripped off him at Ratnagiri and he was back to where he began his prison journey. This broke his will and he wrote unabashedly in his memoirs, My Transportation for Life, that this was the third time (the first two being in Port Blair) that he seriously contemplated suicide as he found his situation hopeless. It was immense resilience and inner strength that he drew to nip those thoughts, unlike several other political prisoners who hanged themselves to the ceilings of their tiny cells or went insane. In such a state of mind, his petition of 19 August 1921 indicates the spirit of a broken and dejected man, considering even political renunciation.


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It was three years later on 6 January 1924 that Savarkar was released from prison but kept under strict surveillance within the frontiers of Ratnagiri district and debarred from political activity. He spent the next 13 years of his life this way. But it did not stop him from beginning a series of social reforms in Ratnagiri to break the caste system. Long before the Harijan movement or B.R. Ambedkar’s clarion call, Savarkar championed inter-caste dining and also built a Patit Pavan temple in Ratnagiri that allowed entry to all castes.


An objective assessment of a much-maligned Vinayak Damodar Savarkar calls for many questions.

Did future events in his long and distinguished political career actually validate the allegation of his willingness to acquiesce to the British? An assessment has seldom been made to find out if his opposition to some of the measures of the mass movement led by Mahatma Gandhi was favourable for the country or harmed the cause of freedom itself. Did the British actually trust his alleged loyalty or even buy his so-called willingness to yield or were they forever suspicious of the dangers he posed to them till the very end? These are the litmus questions by which one must evaluate Savarkar’s long continuum of petitions, and here the scales of history do tilt considerably in his favour.

The author is an writer/historian and Senior Research Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and has an upcoming biography of Savarkar.

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  1. Funny guy cannot be historian. It is sweet to RSS. Requesting mercy is usual one for human beings for survival. Giving justification is unwarranted and idiotic. During British East India Company, it was Anglo Brahmin Colonisation. Brahimins were real rulers and thugs to slave non-brahmins. Only after queen Victoria took over it, brahmins revolted against them for helping non-brahmins. This is what non-copperation moment.

  2. what a foolish analysis of a coward , this is how Hindutva create hero out of traitor , as per author Bhaghat shing would be consider fool for not giving mercy petition and sacrifice his life

    • Dear Danish Bhagat Singh was a great son of our motherland ….We are nothing to be able to take any doubt on that..but But the situations in which Bhagat Singh and Veer Savarkar were,are totally different……Bhagat Singh Ji had planned That he will through a bomb and will surrender….he had knew that he will be hanged,he was also wishing for the same bcz it was going to be a reason to unite indian youth….bcz he was going to be punished within India…..but in case of Veer Savarkar, British kept him smartly outside India in solitary imprisonment in newly built cellular jail(kala Pani) of andaman so that we Indians will not come to know anything about his views…..let him die out there without hanging him so that his life will be wasted…..and that’s why he was struggling to get outside from the jail….do you think British were so fool that that they had vacated a complete one floor of cellular jail just to not let anybody meet Savarkar and if you say that he was afraid of death ….then for your kind information he died on himself according to yoga formulations without eating anything when he felt that it is time to leave this world…..and one more thing…..The person who cares for his life so much never writes his literature on the walls of jail….I mean he will always worry for his life how can he write such a big epic…..I suggest you to read his letters , you will come to know how micro and vast thinking he had…..if you will read his kaala Pani book you will definitely come to know everything….

  3. Great Article which highlight Veer Savarkar’s struggle for Indians. There is no doubt he was a great revolutionary which British Empire feared. His ideas and effort to end caste based discrimination was also exemplary.
    Jai Hind
    Vande Mataram🙏

  4. Veer Savarkar was one of the great revolutionary whom British feared. His contribution to freedom struggle will always be remembered and his ideas and effort to end caste based discrimination was exemplary and everyone of us should strive to emmulate that.
    Jai Hind
    Vande Mataram

  5. Frankly, one way or another, it doesn’t really matter to most of us. Things that seem terribly important to one school of thought simply do not have the resonance to become a national obsession. To the extent that what are little more than academic distractions are setting the national agenda for governance, it is hurting all of us. If a question of history arises, I would trust Ramchandra Guha.

  6. Sawarkar was is & will be a great son of this land . His sacrifices can not be denied . We all should visit Celluler jail as a holy temple. I have been there & found myself in tears after seeing the tortures faced by Savarkar & other patriots.

  7. Savarkar was a nationalist and not a traitor .One can hate RSS or BJP .But that not by dragging Vir Savarkar to this shame .He and all others fighters suffered heavily .They wanted complete freedom and immediately .Why Gandhi or Nehru was not given such bad treatment ,because they were ready to wait and continued the dialogue .If the militants had their ways ,we would have got freedom much before .The war delayed it .
    Those times the political dicvision as we see now was missing .All were together to fight for freedom .RSS as political force came muscular after .
    So it will be grave injustice to a man who sacrificed everything for this nation ,to be called a traitor by no less than a person from family who enjoyed ruling this country 3 suceesive generations ,

  8. This article says, writing a mercy petition was a legal option available to all prisoners. Fair. But if Savarkar was truly a Veer, he would have not chosen this option. There were many other prisoners jailed in the same prison…they did not cowardly chose to write the mercy petition like Savarkar did. Even Bhagat Singh had the same option, right?

    Secondly, did Savarkar continue to fight against British after his release from the prison? Answer is no.

    So seriously what were you thinking when writing this ridiculous article, which IMO, is the worst defense peice I’ve ever read.

  9. I am surprised to read this piece of lies. May I ask why did Sawarkar opposed quite India movement. When Gandhiji appealed all Govt. Officers to quite their jobs and join freedom movement, Sawarkar organised recruitment camps and hundreds of hindutva workers participated in these camps.
    Sawarkar had explicitly given assurance in his mercy petition that he would not support freedom movement and that he would remain loyal to British rule.
    He wrote seven mercy petitions but in non of these petition did he mention the plight of other prisoners nor did he ask to release other prisoners along with him.

  10. It is strange that any discussion or writing about Veer Savarkar tends to be one-sided. This article shows the positive side. The great man had the other side as well. Don’t we all? I am not seeing a balanced view. Actually, Savakar, Hedgewar, Godse, Bose, the many Sanghi ideologue etc., had a few things in common. 1. Theu had no faith in ahimsa. 2. They didn’t believe in the concept of reconciliation, be it wrt Hindu-Muslim amity; gradual and negotiated transition to self-governance 3. Patriotism was inevitably a component of nzyionslidm to them. 4. Lastly, their concerns were not influenced by economic factors. This alt-view is the current guiding philosophy of many now.

  11. The author says that he feels disturbed as a historian when national heroes are vilified for petty political reasons then his blood must be boiling whenever Mr Modi sings songs in praise of Nehru and other historical figures.

  12. Congress talks of dissent and all inclusion but can not give due respect to political opposition leaders who have done service to the country. So in that sense congress is very fanatic. One should not have black or white thinking when it comes to history. One may differ in views about Savarkar’s actions but portraying him as a villain is too much. So currently congress says it is all inclusive but it unnecessarily abuses Savarkar or Golwalkar or Hedgewar. At the same time, BJP creates tallest statue of congress leader Sardar Patel ( who had banned RSS) and Mohan Bhagwat accepts contribution of congress openly. If you look at this contrast, you can ask the question-who really is more inclusive?Congress or the BJP?

  13. Vande Mataram
    Veer Savarkar was a great freedom fighter and his legacy will live for ever. The Government should recognize his sacrifices and make sure his legacy is not forgotten or maligned by some frustrated anti nationals.

  14. All the days, congress written the Indian History. In my childhood, we read about Ghajani& Ghouri but today you will not find in History books. Even we use to have Ramayana, MahaBharata lessons in our books. Nehru Congress implemented five year plans to remove these in a phased manner. Why I mentioned all the above is,the remarks passed by Rahul against savarkars integraty is to be condemned.
    Rahul is 46 years aged and unmarried but not matured mentally.
    Once upon a time, we use to hear the jokes on Sardarjis.
    Now even congress cadre is cutting jokes against heir boss.
    It is most unfortunate to congress to elect him as their leader, It’s proved beyond doubt that others in the congress are more inferred than this president.
    Otherwise any other would have been selected.
    Poor congress , it may not raise again to a ruling stage.

    • Two things.
      1) if you actually attended a normal school instead of RSS run Hindutva Madressa…you would have come across history spanning from Indus valley civilization to Mauryas to Gupta’s to Turks to Mughals to Independence history, like I had.

      2) If Rahul is useless and if his own party members are making fun of him then you should be happy, considering you aren’t a Congress supporter. Why are you in so much of pain?

  15. People hate Savarkar because of 2 reasons 1) he was brahmin 2) he was champion of Hindutva cause. They refuse to acknowledge that he was a great visionary. He asked hindus to join military so that they can save hindus when country becomes independent. And as far as non participation in quit india movement is concerned, even Ambedkar opposed this movement. But he became hero and Savarkar is vilified

  16. Kind of hardship a learned barrister and son of soil Savarkar got being a political prisoner for the same crimeNehru did, if even 10% of the hardship would have gotten to Nehru or Gandhi they would have written letter and converted the very next day, Savarkar endured it for 11 years. Its change of tactics. Savarkar remained a national movement hero after his release. In 1946 he asked Indian soldiers in British army to revolt as British dominion is about to go and if they fire at Indians it will be considered murders and this scared theBbritish if such revolt happen again as mentioned by Claimant Aitlee. British were not worried about Nehru as he is anyway British stooge and chamcha so given all amenities during token arrest and prison compared to what Savarkar gone through and yet this Pappu and other shameless Congressi tarnishing a national hero for few votes …

  17. Those who are point blank trying to castrate contribution and sacrifices made by Savarkar are low piece of life as they are ignorant of the cause for which he gave his entire life. Now about petitions so what the fuss, should he been rotten in Kala Pani and die. On the other hand people have selective amsenisa as one man’s terrorist is another’s martyr. Savarkar had a terrible life and I am certain he might have mistaken on some aspects but does it give us carde blanche authority to demonize him and forget his contributions and had we been in his shoes at that point in time we could have done what’s best at that point in time and it needs no scrutiny because its not always about scrutiny and criticism and lastly who is without the sin cast the first stone and see are we without the seen for which I am certain we are not.

  18. Dissapointed in Couptaji. How can you platform views that intimidate the sanctity of this echo chamber? Why! Couptaji, WHY!!!

    mudi shud rejine

  19. Very insightful article. Many savarkar byters may not like the argument you made. But the truth will prevail that savarkar certainly wrote so called mercy petitions with a stratagic approach, which British recognized, but Nehru bhakt are reluctant to accept the fact.

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