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Monday, December 5, 2011

Nationalism of Tagore

Nationalism of Tagore
By Hiranmay Karlekar

The Pioneer

Saturday, June 18, 2011
Gurudev saw the nation as an instrument not of power but the
realisation of the inner potential of humanity in peace, harmony and

Not surprisingly, Rabindranath Tagore’s views on nationalism have
been, or will be, discussed at a number of seminars, held or planned,

during the events commemorating his 150th birth anniversary. The

subject has stirred much debate in India and abroad, the focal point

normally being his slim volume, Nationalism, first published in 1917.

Based on the lectures delivered during his tour of Japan from mid-May

to early-September 1916, and of the United States of America from

September 1916 to January 1917, these are often interpreted to

signify his rejection of nationalism per se. Such views are gross

These lectures were delivered when World War I was raging in Europe,
turning the continent into a massive killing field and sparking off

conflicts in West Asia and some other parts. As EP Thompson points

out in his introduction to Nationalism, Tagore felt that the "World

War was the fulfilment of the necessary logic of aggressive Western

materialism, of science divorced from spirituality, by which the

modern nation would drag the greater part of the world ‘down (he

quotes the poet) into the bottom of destruction’."
It is hardly surprising that the horrors of the World War revolted
Tagore who had also directly experienced Western colonialism. The war

had begun nearly three years after the Delhi Durbar of 1911 in which

King George V announced, among other things, the annulment of the

partition of Bengal effected by the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon, in

1905. Though Tagore did not endorse many aspects of the agitation --

as vividly brought out in his novel Ghare Baire (Home and Abroad) --

he was shocked by the arrogance of the British in ordering the

partition of Bengal and the savage repression unleashed on those

protesting against the move.
The horrors of the war and experience of colonialism were major
factors influencing his view of Western political civilisation of

which nationalism was both an expression and an aspect. His

indictment of it was searing, "The political civilisation which has

sprung up from the soil of Europe and is overrunning the world like

some prolific weed, is based on exclusiveness. It is always watchful

to keep the aliens at bay or to exterminate them. It is carnivorous

and cannibalistic in its tendencies, it feeds upon the resources of

other peoples and tries to swallow their whole future. It is always

afraid of other races achieving eminence, naming it as a peril, and

tries to thwart all symptoms of greatness outside its own boundaries,

forcing down races of men who are weaker, to be eternally fixed in

their weakness."
Tagore then goes on to add, "Before this political civilisation came
to power and opened its hungry jaws wide enough to gulp down great

continents of the Earth, we had wars, pillages, change of monarchies

and consequent miseries, but never such a sight of fearful and

hopeless voracity, such wholesale feeding of nation upon nation, such

huge machines for turning great portions of the Earth into mince

meat, never such terrible jealousies with their ugly teeth and claws

ready for tearing open each others’ vitals."
The trouble, according to Tagore, lies in the domination of society
by its "political side". The former is "a spontaneous self-expression

of man as a social being. It is a natural regulation of human

relationships, so that men can develop ideals of life in cooperation

with one another". The political side has its special purpose: Self-

preservation, "merely the side of power, not of human ideals". In

"the early days", it had a separate place in society "restricted to

professionals". But when power begins to grow "with the help of

science and the perfecting of organisation" and brings "in harvests

of wealth", then "it crosses its boundaries with amazing rapidity."

It acquires a momentum that cannot be halted. "Trading upon the greed

and fear of men, it occupies more and more space in society, and at

last becomes its ruling force."
Tagore’s criticism of nationalism, therefore, is essentially of the
form it had acquired in the West where it had come to be identified

not only with untrammelled acquisition of political and economic

power but also imperialism as its corollary. While he did not support

his position with historical analysis, historians would recognise

what he was talking about. Nationalism is identified with organised

nation states -- competing and fighting with one another for power

and resources -- which emerged in Europe on the debris of feudalism

and were headed by strong kings commanding large armies and economic

resources. The establishment of colonies and empires, which was

accelerated by the growth of overseas trade and the era of

geographical discoveries, represented one aspect of it: Colonial wars

-- the most devastating of which until the time of Tagore’s lectures

was World War I -- was another.
He was careful to make clear that his was not an unqualified and
total condemnation of the West for whose cultural and spiritual

heritage he expressed deep admiration. He followed up a devastating

criticism of the British Empire in India with the observation, "As

far as Government by Nation goes there are reasons to believe that it

is one of the best." He also pointed out that the West was necessary

for the East and the two were complementary to each other because

their different outlooks on life had given them different aspects of

truth. He added, "And when in India we become able to assimilate in

our life what is permanent in Western civilisation, we shall be in a

position to bring about a reconciliation of these two great worlds."
To Tagore, there was a need for a renaissance of spirituality
worldwide and of dialogues in a spirit of mutual give and take among

the peoples and cultures of the world. Nationalism was only an

expression of his views on a complex subject. His deep love for his

country is expressed in his songs that inspired the agitation against

the partition of Bengal, the freedom movement, celebrated its

spiritual and physical beauty, his renunciation of knighthood in the

aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his deeply insightful

writings on Indian society. To him the nation was to be an instrument

not of power but the realisation of the inner potential of humanity

in peace, harmony and friendship. His appeal transcends boundaries.

Not surprisingly, he is the author of the national anthems of both

India and Bangladesh.
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Be Proud Not Apolegetic of Nationalism
By Wg cdr (Retd) LN Rao on 6/18/2011 12:03:59 PM
With all due respects to Tagore the Great who lived in different
times, nationalism is the thing an Army (including the British)

fights for. As long as Nation States exist it will be so. There is

nothing to be apologetic about it, no matter what Tagore thought.

Mahatma is the proof of it. Spirituality is on a different plane that

has no National boundaries.
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