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Rohit Dhankar

Whether Godse was a patriot or not is a question of heated and acrimonious debate today. The debate runs solely on the emotional reactions and aggressive brandishing pre-determined positions. For those who consider themselves liberal intellectuals, even raising the question as to whether Godse can be seen as a patriot is a mortal sin. For the nincompoops masquerading as ‘nationalists’ and ever ready to brand all sane India antinational, Godse is a bigger patriot than Gandhi.

Is it possible to think a little more coolly in such a volatile atmosphere? Let us first ask: who is a patriot?

The Oxford Dictionary of Current English informs us that a patriot is a “person devoted to and ready to defend his or her country”. Marriam-Webster dictionary defines a patriot as “one who loves and supports his or her country”. Cambridge dictionary defines a patriot as “a person who loves their country and, if necessary, will fight for it”. Encyclopaedia of social sciences tells us that “patriots are citizens joined by a love of country and a readiness to sacrifice, perhaps even die, for their country”.

What is common here is: 1. Some devotion and/or love for one’s country, and 2. Commitment to defend and/or support and/or fight for that country.

A patriot is also defined as one who exhibits or has “patriotism” in his feelings and character. Therefore, it will be useful to look at some definitions of patriotism as well.

As per Cambridge Dictionary patriotism is “the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it”. For encyclopedia Britannica patriotism is the “feeling of attachment and commitment to a country, nation, or political community”.

To my mind, a very clear and comprehensive definition of patriotism is given in the entry on “Patriotism” in Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, with reference to Stephen Nathanson who “defines patriotism as involving:

  1. Special affection for one’s own country
  2. A sense of personal identification with the country
  3. Special concern for the well-being of the country
  4. Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good.”

It seems to me that we can create a definition of a patriot on the basis of this characterisation of ‘patriotism’, which is likely to be clearer and more comprehensive. Such a definition would be: ‘A patriot is a person who has

  1. Special affection for one’s own country
  2. A sense of personal identification with the country
  3. Special concern for the well-being of the country
  4. Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good.’

To examine whether a particular person satisfies the fourfold criteria of being a patriot or not, we have to make sense of the term “country” which occurs in all these criteria and is the central concept in defining patriotism and a patriot. Let’s take country to mean a “a politically organized body of people under a single government and living in a defined geographical territory”. This definition makes it clear that country is made-up of people; no people no country. Today a patriot has also to fulfil another condition: that of democracy and therefore considering all as enjoying equal citizenship rights. Two hundred years ago, we did not have an idea of democracy, and therefore, it was possible for someone to fulfil the above four criteria in a manner where equality of rights did not figure. But during freedom movement and imagining the presentday India ‘concern for well-being of country’ has to include all its people, without discrimination.

This analysis demands that “special affection”, “personal identification”, “concern for wellbeing” and “willingness to sacrifice” are all directed to the good of the “all people of the country”. That leads us into a very serious analysis of multiple imaginations of the nation and country.

Do we accept existence of multiple political ideologies in a country? If yes, anyone who imagines the country as per his ideology should be considered a patriot. Say Mr. Gender-Equality imagines country as free from patriarchy and equality of sexes. He also thinks that the ‘good’ of patriarchs is in accepting the ideology of gender-equality, and they need to be changed to this idea. Say there is also Miss. Manu and she thinks that good of women is in being in protection and being directed by the men. Can they both be patriots?

Now imagine three people, very concerned about the country: Mr. Sanatan, Mr. Shariya and Mr. Iishprem.

Mr. Sanatan thinks that all should respect Vedic culture, and still better, become Hindus. And that will be good for the country as well as for those who do not respect Vedic culture and are not Hindus. He does not mind equal rights to all but actually works only for those who consider themselves Vedic and Hindus, and on converting everyone to Hinduism. He also sees Hinduism under attack and wants to organise them to defend themselves against Islam and Christianity.

Mr. Shariya thinks that good of all lies in becoming Muslims. He also does not mind equal rights to all but focusses only on Muslims’ welfare, and converting everyone to Islam. He also sees Islam under attack and wants to organise them to defend themselves against Hinduism and Christianity.

Mr. Iishprem too thinks that good of all and of the country is in becoming Christians. He too grants equal rights to all but works only for Christians and converting all to Christianity. He also sees Christianity under attack and wants to organise them to defend themselves against Hinduism and Islam.

Can these three gentlemen be patriots? If you think yes, then if Godse granted equal citizenship rights to all, he was a patriot. But did he? If you say no, then he was not a patriot but then many Indians today will be excluded from being patriots. But, what was Godse’s position on equal rights to all? If he thought of special status to Hindus and limiting citizenship rights of Muslims, he was not a patriot. This also will exclude many who seek special rights for themselves from the register of patriots.

India is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multireligious country. It is bound to have multiple imaginations of the nation, of ‘good of the nation’ and of ‘good of its people’. This country and the imagination we all have of it is also not shaped by any one particular person, only one section of population or only one ideology. Many people have contributed to that imagination, many sections of the population have contributed.

We, of course, have our own imagination of the country and its good. But we will have to extend that right to others as well. Being exclusive: only our imagination is correct and all others are not patriots is ‘patriotic bigotry’.

I would consider all three gentlemen described above as patriots if they fulfil the above mentioned four conditions. Though, I would also consider them all to be misguided. And would want them to ‘convert’ to my ides where religion is irrelevant to the wellbeing of the nation and all its people. And that none of their religions should be given any quarter in the public space. But even if I am not able to convert them, I will still consider them patriots.

Dayanand severely criticised ritualistic Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and all other sects; often with faulty logic and offensive language. He worked for reform of Hinduism and to organise Hindus. But he also wanted India for Indians and did spread nationalistic ideas. I think he was a patriot, as I am not aware that he objected to equal citizenship rights to anyone.

Savarkar did not grant equal rights to all. Therefore, he was a patriot to ‘imagined Hindu Rashtra’ but not to democratic India where all are equal.

Also, one may commit a crime, a murder, a theft and still be a patriot. Such a person may not be a good patriot to be emulated, may not even be a good human being. But if fulfils the above mentioned four conditions can be a patriot.

Godse, then, was a seriously wrong and misguided murderer. He murdered the greatest apostle of peace and harmony in the world at that time, but if you go by Godse’s available court statement, he was also motivated by patriotic feeling. But he also was a patriot to ‘imagined Hindu Rashtra’ and not to a democratic India.

By this criterion anyone who wants a Hindu-rashtra or Islamic State is not a patriot as far as democratic India is concerned. And if you can peep into the depths of hearts of Indians, you will find many who are not patriots in this light. Fortunately, they are not the majority even now.

And now a politically incorrect statement, which will send all liberals through the roof: India would not have been a secular country after partition if it were not a Hindu majority country. The majority of Indians of all religions are still secular as far as the state policies go. And I would like to believe that they will hold their own even in the current muddles political ‘samudra-manthan’ and will emerge with pure nectar of secularism and democratic values from this poisonous debate.

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8th Oct. 2019