IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE
FROM OUR BRAVE FREEDOM FIGHTERS TO MODERN INDIA’S ARCHITECTS, PATRIOTISM HAS BEEN ABOUT LOVE—SIMPLE LOVE—OF INDIA AND OF INDIANS’ ‘TRYST WITH DESTINY’
LOVE? SORRY, india today’s editorial gaze will say. Very sorry, but no. Not love, please. Any word but love. It is too romantic, too evangelical, lifted from a godman’s sack of stock words. After love will come devotion, then harmony, then peace, and… None of those marzipans, thank you. This is about India’s Independence Day, its historical magnetism, its political message. And we are not children.
Fair enough. Love is the kind of word that floats in and out of assembly meetings in schools, pulpits, satsangs. It belongs to the ‘sacred’ columns of the newspaper-on-Sunday, family magazines. It is weak, pale, anaemic as a description of our bonding with India that is Bharat and also Hind, on Pandrah Agast. Magical, that date is, marking our ‘stepping out from bondage, stepping into freedom’. Something unfurling about that date, something swirling, freeing, liberating, as with the tricolour that swings out of its tightened knot at the tug of the lanyard.
As a definition of patriotism, love does not work. It has too much of the roseate heart in it.
And yet, speaking for myself, I will say, emphatically, that I believe patriotism is about love.
It is about love of our country that Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote, in a moment of rapture, in terms of our land
being awash with clean and cleansing waters, bearing fruit aplenty—sujalam, suphalam. It is for our country, dearly beloved to us, that Rabindranath Tagore incanted jaya he, jaya he, jaya he and which Iqbal, immortally, hailed as Sare jahan se achha, in whose lap play a thousand rivers, as did Dwijendralal Roy in his Dhano dhanya pushpa bhara, ‘with wealth and seed and blossom filled…’. These are celebratory songs, though not without a hidden pang of anxiety about that plenitude, that blessing coming under a cloud.
Nothing but love, pure and simple, unalloyed and unquenchable, informs every word of another composition, the fifth in that patriotic sequence, which joins the other great four in the nation’s repertory of patriotism—Kavi Pradeep’s 1962 outpouring Ae mere watan ke logon… It is soaked in love that has had a twist, a throb of adversity, through the fiery ordeal of a reversal in war.
Tipu Sultan, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, Jagannatha Gajapati Narayana Deo II, the ruler of Paralakhemundi in today’s Odisha, Rani Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga and Veerapandiya Kattabomman of Panchalankurichi in Tamil Nadu,
loved their land, saw themselves as its hand. They loved their freedom, which they saw as a slice of the freedom of India.
Like these braveheart freedom fighters of the 18th and 19th centuries before them, the autumnal Dadabhai Naoroji, who wrote with measured pain about Poverty and Un-British Rule in India; the defiant Aurobindo Ghose, who made Bande Mataram newspaper the nation’s masthead beyond the song; the cerebral Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who worked till his body collapsed for India’s right to self-rule; and the impassioned Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who said, in a brilliant mix of Sanskrit and Urdu, that Swaraj was his janmasiddha haq—his birthright; the intrepid Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, Tilak’s associates in the triumvirate of ‘Lal Bal Pal’, did what they did because they loved India. Plain and simple. Each of them loved fighting for her freedom. And were ready to die fighting that fight.
“If I should die
By our Mother, let me die, Fighting for my land…”
And then, with those friends, stopping near an armed sentry, to hurl those lines with the greatest gusto at the man, snapping tiny fingers at him and yelling and dancing in “cannibalistic exultation, with the poor fellow looking on helplessly…”.
E.M.S. Namboodiripad, joining much older people at the incredible age of 25, founded the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 and the peasant movement called Tebhaga Andolan of 1946-47 Bengal, commemorated in sketches by the remarkable Somnath Hore, one of them of a woman and child, Mother India at her most real. It was about a passionate commitment to India’s greatness in justice. As was the dedication of a young man who would enter patriotism’s pages, as from a corner, a shy smile lighting his face as he famously escaped from prison in the pitch of night, to be hailed in time with ‘andhere mein ek prakash, Jayaprakash, Jayaprakash’.
Each time it is recited, Tagore’s opening words in ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…’ raise goose-bumps. But nowhere nearly as much as his Bengali original does: Chitto jaetha bhaya-shunno… followed by uchcho jetha shir…
The voiding of fear of the Raj was part of the love for India. It held India’s and Indians’ heads
high. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were fearless because of their love of India, of India’s self-respect, her dignity. When young Vinayak Damodar Savarkar slipped away from his boat off Marseille to escape arrest for patriotic—read ‘seditious’—activities; when Matangini Hazra fell, shot, not letting fall from her hand the tricolour of freedom she was holding, they were powered by the same emotion. And we have Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the very personification of that patriotism of love. Sugata Bose tells in his biography of Netaji how the young Subhas asked his mother: “…will not any son of Mother India, in total disregard of his selfish interest, dedicate his whole life to the cause of the Mother?”
W hen the 24-year-old barrister, clutching his first-class ticket, was thrown out of the train in Pietermaritzburg station, a sense of his Indian-ness rose like a volcano in Mohandas’s being. As the train, which had ejected its lawful occupant, hissed out of that South African station, it did not realise that it had just begun another quick-moving train, a railgaadi that, in Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s pulsating song, was going to chhuk-chhuk-chhuk-chhuk a historic chain of movement after movement—in Passive Resistance, Non-Cooperation, Civil Disobedience and, finally, Quit India, to be led by Mahatma Gandhi for Swaraj, and not just for that of India but for colonised people across Asia and Africa.
In that progression of the struggle grew a crucial, defining nuance: the disobedience was to be civil, civilised and civilising. It was to be completely, even self-denyingly, non-violent. And why so? For if it did not, it would corrode itself, invite counter-violence, end in the destruction of its body, mind and soul. Today, we may well ask: Is our patriotism about love, simple love, of India and of Indians’ ‘tryst with destiny’? Without doubt, it is. One glimpse of the pride with which India saw Chandrayaan-2 launched on July 22 will tell us that is exactly so. As will the landing around the moon’s ‘south pole’ on September 7.
But is that love of India about a love that is whole, healing and hateless?
Now we can talk, a relieved india today may say to me. You are late to come to this question, but, yes, now we are on track.
Love with hate. Those two are today two sides of the same country. Two fervours in one vein, two emotions in one heart—a most unnatural and unhealthy state for a Republic to be in. This is, of course, so not just in India, but in many countries. For the terrorist, love of ‘the cause’, hatred for ‘the cause’s enemy’ and vengeance are a creed. The men who flew their planes into New York on 9/11 and who sneaked death into Mumbai on 26/11 loved hate. As did, we may be sure, the young man who blew himself up with 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama.
Their types, medieval in brutality and modern in technology, exist the world over. They can be expected to strike repeatedly,
at targets as ‘hard’ as state arsenals and as soft as social carnivals. Nation-states have to fight them with the speed of light. With nationsociety’s—our—understanding and backing of the nation-state.
But suspicion, strife and hate within us have morphed the legacy of our independence struggle into something altogether different. It has given hate-lovers and love-haters a new vocation in life today, an ideological, intellectual, political, cultural force. It types history, paints geography, sculpts politics. It seeks and makes heroes, it needs and finds villains. And it is celebrating a new heroism— from forest cell-hole, mosque and temple alike.
Who is loved today, passionately, in the name of patriotism?
The man who vows revenge.
Who is hated today, passionately, in the name of patriotism?
The person who speaks for humanity. Who gains by this?
The terrorist, the house-divider, the nationsplitter, the power-hungry.
The Republic, as Ambedkar envisioned it.
In his Kalinga Edict II, Asoka says: sa me paja—all people are my children.
Saffron and green were not divided but held together by the white in our tiranga, with the blue of Asoka’s wheel of dhamma at its centre. Every time Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled that flag on the Red Fort, he looked at its quickening flutter with rapture and—love. Jai Hind!
TODAY, LOVE AND HATE ARE TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COUNTRY. TWO FERVOURS IN ONE VEIN, TWO EMOTIONS IN ONE HEART—A MOST UNNATURAL AND UNHEALTHY STATE FOR A REPUBLIC TO BE IN