In 2013, before becoming the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi echoed that “I am nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am born Hindu. Nothing is wrong.” It was categorised as a bold and controversial self-characterisation by a political leader who was campaigning tirelessly to be the next Prime Minister of the country.
One must wonder that why describing oneself as “patriotic” could be controversial? It is because to be assertive about an unquestioned and unshaken allegiance to the Motherland has been seen with doubt by the Congress-led Nehruvian intelligentsia. Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar have raised doubts about Muslims and Christians’ complete allegiance to the Motherland. Dr Ambedkar suggested that, ““If one converts to Christianity he ceases to be an Indian. The brotherhood in Islam is confined to the Believers; that is, only to Muslims. It cannot promote universal brother-hood. I will not convert to either of these religions.” Dr Ambedkar saw conversion to Islam and to Christianity as a factor contributing to the “denationalisation” of Dalits and Bharat.
Unsurprisingly, the question of patriotism has disturbed the intelligentsia who has always covered up for certain religious communities. The logical extension for this defence of lesser patriotic values has been to ridicule the concept of patriotism itself. Hence, many prominent Left-Liberals like Ramachandra Guha have always quoted Samuel Johnson to suggest that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” However, Johnson never provided any context for his observation and no English imperialist expansion and allegiance to the Britannica was imagined without an English patriotism.
We know that Shankaracharya went on to connect holy spots of Bharat such as the 12 Jyotirlingas, 18 Shakti-peethas and four Vishu-dhaams to create pilgrim routes that defined Bharat as a single land.
In a similar vein, if someone asks that what really constitutes our patriotic legacy? How patriotism is interrelated to the geography and history of this vast land of Bharat. To answer that, the book under review comes into play.
Author Rishi Raj frankly suggests that he doesn’t have “any qualms of being a historian or great intellectual.” As an ordinary man he nursed an aspiration to visit historical places associated with patriots and martyrs connecting them with historical perspective and significance. Thus, the book under review emerges out and reads as a travelogue which is self-exploratory and self-addressing. The exploration envisages a history based on the sacrifices and persistent struggles in the past which were dedicated for achievement of freedom for the people of Bharat.
Anatomy of the Book
The book has total 13 chapters. The patriotic pilgrimage commences with the history of the First War of Independence (1857) and ends with the Operation Vijay (Kargil, 1999) Thus; the narrative of the text unfolds in a chronological order and covers almost the two centuries of the modern Bharat.
Since the book is a patriotic pilgrimage of Bharat, geographical expanse is always a crucial consideration. Author has done justice to this concern. While filling up details on the First War of Independence (1857), regional diversity has been taken care of. There are details regarding Delhi, Meerut, Cellular Jail (Andamans), Barrackpore (Kolkata) Shaniwar Wada (Pune), Kanpur, Bareilly, Satara, Gorakhpur, Kullu, Jagdishpur, Sagar, Faizabad, Raipur, Assam, Sambalpur, etc. Therefore, the regional expanse has been sufficiently detailed.
A chapter on “Hussainiwala” covers the legacy of revolutionary movement. Samadhis of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Batukeshwar Dutt ar Hussainiwala border has been extensively written about. Remarkably, Kala Pani has been discussed quite extensively with interesting anecdotes. The continuation of patriotism during the freedom struggle has been captured well as it was highlighted in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
For the post-independence periods, different wars have been accounted. The author has visited various war memorials registering the details of Kashmir and 1947-48 war between India and Pakistan, Indo-China War (1965), Indo-Pak War (1956 and 1971), Kargil War (1999). A separate chapter on Siachen has also been added. Separate lists of Param Veer Chakra awardees and list of war memorials in the country has also been included. It serves as a ready reference for the readers. The overall coverage on war memorials along with interesting anecdotes which are shared about operations, involved commanders, and martyrdom of soldiers also add up as interesting information.
Problems in defining Patriotism
One of the difficulties of the book is that patriotism has been defined narrowly. It has only been limited to the violence, martyrdom, and bloodshed. When we really restrict the sensibility of patriotism to martyrdom, we miss out on many facets where people have served the Motherland through other peaceful methods.
The analogy which Rishi Raj has used to sketch the contours of his ‘patriotic pilgrimage’ is very similar to how we have been adjudging the contributions made by patriots during the freedom struggle. Congress party- led historians have accentuated the fact that whosoever went to gallows during the freedom struggle must only be adjudged as “patriots”. This argument is exclusionary!
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar once remarked on the prison-going issue suggesting that, “If in the course of our patriotic duty we are called upon to enter the prison or be transported to the Andamans, or even face the gallows, we shall have to willingly do so. But let us not be under the illusion that jail-going is all in all, that it is the only path for achieving freedom. There are, in fact, so many fields of national service awaiting us outside the prison.” (Organiser, March 26, 2018, pp. 46-50)
Therefore, we must be concerned about always expanding the category and process of patriotism. It must come out as an inclusive idea which must take every person in its fold if they are serving the Motherland in their own truthful way.
However, the above difficulty does not take away from the fact that Rishi Raj has produced a brilliant travelogue with nationalistic fervour which has been written in a way to include all the sections of readers. Both young and elderly could find the read both a pleasure and information storehouse. A must read for everyone!
Patriotic Pilgrimage of India, Rishi Raj, Prabhat Prakashan, New Delhi, 2018, p. 184, Rs. 500 (Hard Cover)