'NCERT textbooks should have a balanced history of India for students'
Historian Vikram Sampath spoke to Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, during the webcast as part of the Visionary Talk series
Giving his views on the controversy erupted over defense minister, Rajnath Singh’s comment that Mahatma Gandhi had asked Savarkar to file a mercy petition, author and historian, Vikram Sampath has said when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was lodged in Nabha jail, after two weeks his father Pandit Motilal Nehru had petitioned to the Viceroy that his son would never enter Nabha again and he (Jawaharlal Nehru) had signed a bond.
Sampath said Gandhiji himself asked Savarkar to write a petition because it was a common legal tool available to political prisoners and Gandhiji himself being a lawyer himself knew of this provision of law.
“During the freedom struggle, petitioning was a normal process and petition meant a clemency petition. The construction of the statement by Rajnath Singh left it open to speculation that all the other petitions were also filed at Gandhiji’s behest which was not the case. From 1911, every time the government gave an opportunity to political prisoners to file a petition …being a lawyer, he (Gandhi) knew that there is an option to file a writ petition just like the provision of bail these days. Gandhiji had filed about 8 petitions but this particular petition, the defense minister missed mentioning the year.’’
Sampath was in a conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, during the webcast as part of the Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform.
The author said that in Volume 1 of his book “Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883-1924” and interviews he has said that in 1920 during the royal proclamation of Emperor George V to release political prisoners across the world, only Savarkar brothers, Vinayak and Babarao were not released by the British. The younger brother, Narayan Rao then approached Mahatma Gandhi, who in a letter dated January 25, 1920, told Narayan Rao advised that his brothers should petition again and that he will also write to get the two brothers released.
Later in May 1920, Gandhiji in a detailed article in Young India, a weekly paper/ journal wrote building a strong case for the release of two brothers followed by another article in 1921, not only praising the bravery of Savarkar but also how the country could utilize his efforts rather than keeping him in Andaman jail.
The author iterated that the petition was not something shameful, embarrassing, or a symbol of cowardice as it is made out to be. “..people have been hairsplitting and saying that Gandhi said to file a petition and not a mercy petition… there is nothing specifically called a mercy petition .. a petition meant a clemency petition. People are clutching at straws and attempting to discredit a man who sacrificed a lot for this nation, which is very unfortunate” he said.
Sampath also gave the examples of CPI founder Shripad Dange and revolutionaries like Barin Ghosh, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, and several others who had filed similar petitions from the cellular jail. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya had filed a petition on behalf of Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan in the Kakori case.
He added that such letters between colonial governments and revolutionaries in the freedom struggle were very common and the language had to be very pleading. He also said that Savarkar makes a mention of his petitions in his autobiography in Marathi called ‘Mazi Janmthep’ Sarvarkar and talks very openly on his petitions in another book called ‘Echoes from Andaman.’
In his own book, Sampath said he has made mention of all these 8 petitions for readers to make out that it was never an apology for what he (Gandhi) did ..he was asking for clarification of rights either as a political prisoner or as a common convict and concessions accordingly. He was also acting as a spokesperson for other political prisoners as he was a barrister.
While responding to a question if it was appropriate for a Union Minister to make such a statement, Sampath said Singh could have made the context clearer and crisper by what he was trying to say. He reiterated that these are not mercy petitions but petitions called ‘Yachika’ in Hindi.
“This is the flavor of the season… everyone is talking about Savarkar. Among the many elephants, this is one more elephant. Unfortunately, in today's polarized environment everything becomes politics and everything has to be brought to a low level of street fight which unfortunately is encouraged by the media .. the divide and politicians keep giving these fodders. It is the historians who have to defend what politicians will say.. not to defend them but to defend history” said the historian.
Further, Sampath who is an engineer and mathematician also emphasized that NCERT textbooks must have a balance of the history of India for students of History to grow up and have pride for the nation.
He said a false understanding that if we tell the truth especially of darker period of Indian history, of Islamic conquest, mass carnages, genocides of Hindus, plunder of temples, burning of our universities and obliteration of our civilizations is somehow going to upset contemporary social cohesion.. is wrong.
“To think that young Muslims have to be identified only with these divisive figures, is not only to undermine their intellect but also make them responsible….when you do that and play games with history it has a very perverted way of coming back to haunt you”.
“Social conflicts, tensions, renaming of roads, buildings are manifestations that we have not made peace with the past. We need to come out of the wounds of the past and tell the truth as it is. Do not lay the albatross of that on any particular group because they are not responsible for it. On the contrary, it does not mean to whitewash and distort history just to make it palatable to someone today.”
On being asked how course correction can happen, Sampath said in the age of social media it is difficult for people to get away with the false narrative they spout. Social media is not the only way to debunk history. “More and more young people need to come forward and take part in a ‘National Project of Reconstruction of History of India’ seen through the eyes of India and Indians and not through the eyes of invaders, as an apology for invaders. The government should instruct the NCERT to change books that are an abomination and passionate private individuals interested in the discipline to start writing more research-based, fact-based and documentation-based counters rather than throwing falsehoods because books will last beyond our lifetime. This is our civilizational responsibility towards reclaiming our past with honesty and pride for the country.”
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