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Tagore did not like the kind of Nationalism which was in theory and praxis in Europe during the years between two great world wars. He made a small rural place called Santiniketan which had no electricity, no drainage, no pipeline, no pavements, no three storied buildings but with landscapes with lush green.  Creative and academic people from India and abroad were drawn to this small rural place because it spoke of serenity and of nationalism beyond borders. This is where he fought with Gandhi whom he projected as Mahatma.

The death of his son, the death of his dear daughter, the death of his wife and a series of deaths in the family could not weaken his will to uphold the idea of his kind of nationalism, the one which was rejected in practice but was appreciated theoretically by luminaries of the country, yet of no use for last one hundred years.

His kind of nationalism? Or the kind of nationalism we could practise for the good of mankind? In a celebrated song he wrote: “Come out of self and stand outside, it is only then you can get the knock of the universe”. He wanted the self to melt outside the self and be one with the world. Santiniketan is that small village throbbing with the idea of a place where knowledge is free.

Published in 1917, Nationalism as an essay completes its hundred years of  legacy and controversy. Only a month ago, the essay endured another potential threat but it again survived and strengthened itself as did it before. Hundred years ago, Tagore warned us to not adopt wholesale the Western construct of Nationalism, he said alarmingly, “It is like dressing our skeleton with another man’s skin, giving rise to eternal feuds between the skin and the bones at every movement.” ( Nationalism p. 4) . At the same time he could not agree with the Swadeshis who burnt up whatever they found to be foreign as reflected in Ghare Baire)

But now we have been challenged by a larger force of Hindutwa—an apostle of Hind Nationalism which is knocking on every Indian home. The documentary on Amartya Sen , another Nobel Laureate from Bengal, has been asked to beep out 4 words—cow, Gujrat, Hindu , Hindutwa. Are these words sacred terms or associated with atrocities? Why are they so furiously fortified now by the country`s gorakshaks (cow-protectors)?  Tagore spoke about diversity and one Indian mind in spite of multiple fragments in Indian psyche. Is his idea of Nationalism going to be rejected or repelled?

Tagore was critical of Japan’s growth into an imperialist aggression, and appalled by the Europe of 1914-18, and he could not afford to be blind to the emergence of nationalist terrorism in Bengal as reflected in his novel Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) in 1934. The British Government in India looked upon him with a suspicion which is still there even after 70 years of independence. The Director of the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India writes in 1925: “It is, of course, well known that in 1920-21, he resigned his Knighthood, becoming to all intents and purposes a non-co-operator”, political activities of his associates like C.F. Andrews and W.W. Pearson, the visit of teachers and scholars from Central European countries allied to the Axis Powers, the employment of former nationalists and terrorists at Santiniketan, etc. Did Tagore know of this police report on his activities?  Is it not sounding , not exactly in the same words, like an aborted statement recently made by the RSS to withdraw Tagore`s `Nationalism` from NCERT`s syllabus?  Thus, Tagore was, as it were, Tagore is, as it is, caught in the cross-fire between good and evil,  patriotism and prejudice and between friends and foes.


DISCLAIMER : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the GLF Circle.

Subodh Sarkar

Associate Professor of English-City College, Calcutta University. Currently Visiting Professor of English University Of Iowa Iowa City US.

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