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God save us from patriots

Getty images/ istock

Getty images/ istock  


Patriotism cannot be used as a get-out-of-jail card for scoundrels and assassins

No one really argues about Adolf Hitler’s credentials as a patriot. Hitler and the Nazis were willing to kill and be killed in the name of the Fatherland. Neither is there any doubt that Hitler was responsible for the deaths of millions, unspeakable suffering and concentration camps. That just proves categorically that patriotism by itself has nothing to do with virtue. Just because someone is a patriot does not make the person automatically admirable.

If Hitler was a patriot so were the Pol Pots and Stalins and Maos of the world. They had a vision for their country and were okay even with genocide in service of that vision. They all thought they were saving their country. Those on the receiving end of their brutal version of bloody patriotism obviously thought otherwise.

In that sense the brouhaha over Pragya Thakur calling Nathuram Godse a deshbhakt misses the larger point that patriotism cannot ever serve as a get-out-of-jail card for scoundrels, assassins and mass murderers. Patriotism is not a virtue in itself. It cannot be separated from the acts one does in its name.


Col. Reginald Dyer was reviled as the butcher of Amritsar, the man who ordered his troops to fire on unarmed civilians in Jallianwala Bagh. Even Winston Churchill called the massacre a “monstrous event.” But a fund raised upwards of £26,000 was raised for Dyer by his compatriots, who thought of him as a patriot trying to set an example in a Punjab that might have raised a rebellion against the Crown. Rudyard Kipling called him “the man who saved India.” So let’s not delude ourselves that being a patriot is de facto a shining badge of honour.

When Pragya Thakur says, “Nathuram Godse ek deshbhakt the, hain aur rahenge (Nathuram Godse was a patriot, is a patriot and will always be one),” she is ascribing a moral patina to patriotism. Except there is nothing inherently moral about being a patriot. Patriotism is, at any rate, subjective. Kanhaiya Kumar might consider himself a patriot in his own way as do those lawyers who beat him up on the premises of the court. That’s the problem that arises from mistaking patriotism for a character certificate.

Historian Ramachandra Guha noted that when RSS worker and Padma Shri awardee Vishnu Pandya said, “Godse was a patriot, and so was Gandhi”, the Mahatma “is here equated to his murderer, with the murderer’s patriotism mentioned first.” Others (and I have received those WhatsApp forwards) are less equivocal. In their world view, writes Guha, “Gandhi was a traitor and Godse was a deshbhakt, indeed a great deshbhakt because he eliminated a traitor.”

In the end, what do most Indians know about Nathuram Godse? Nothing except that he killed Mahatma Gandhi. This is not a Veer Savarkar by any means. Savarkar’s critics point to the mercy petitions he addressed to the British from the Cellular Jail in the Andamans as evidence of his lack of patriotism. Savarkar’s supporters point to his lifetime’s work as politician, activist and lawyer who thought deeply about the Hindu identity of India as evidence that there is plenty in Savarkar’s legacy that goes beyond those mercy petitions.

But when Godse became a household name in 1948, he was known for just one singular murderous act. No life’s work existed in the public consciousness. Now, his supporters are digging up his writings and even his will to try and ascribe a larger motive to his crime.

Hitler temple?

But this is happening much after the act and thus reeks of an attempt by those who despise Gandhi (but think it impolitic to say so publicly) to somehow rehabilitate his assassin by cloaking him in the aura of patriotism. Godse-worship has truly come out of the closet lately. The Hindu Mahasabha released the Desh Bhakt Nathuram Godse film in 2015. The bhumi puja of the Godse temple didn’t happen till 2014.

One can call Hitler a patriot but one does not build a Hitler temple unless one wants to justify the crimes against humanity he committed in the name of that patriotism. When one builds a Godse temple, one overlooks that his patriotism cannot be scrubbed clean of the stain of the heinous act he committed. Godse’s act was part of his vision of himself as a patriot, not some separate moment of madness.

The admiration for Godse, overt or covert, is the real issue. Whether he is a deshbhakt or not is at best a figleaf behind which to hide that admiration.

God save us all from such patriots.

Sandip Roy, the author of Don’t Let Him Know, like many Bengalis, likes to let everyone know about his opinions whether asked or not.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 10:09:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/god-save-us-from-patriots/article30213725.ece

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