Ravindranath Tagore: His Concept of the Nation/State

Dr. Suresh Khairnar

The   mythological tale of the demon Bhasmasur is well-known. On whosever’s head he would put his palm on was burnt to ashes. It appears that now-a-day it is the Sangh Parivar which is bent upon converting itself  into Bhasmasur. It has started putting its hand on the heads of many of our national leaders—right from Swami Vivekanand  to Yogi Arvind to Ramkrishna Paramhans, to SardarVallabhai Patel and  Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone has fallen under its pail.

And now it is the turn of Ravindrnath Tagore.

The present Supremo of RSS Mohan Bhagwat , at a Sangh Camp at Sagar (M.P.) claimed that it was Ravindranath Tagore who conceptualized Hindu Rashtra first in his book ‘Swadeshi Samaj’. (Marathi Daily Loksatta, Nagpur  Dt.20-1-2015) . The first thing to note is that this work  entitled ‘Swadeshi Samaj’ is not a book, it is just an essay of about 30 pages written immediately after partition/bifurcation of Bengal (1905) and deals with the scarcity of water in the area. It does not contain any formal justification of Hindu Rashtra. On the other hand it tells how the local people had earlier accommodated Aryans among them who had come here as invaders. The Aryas were followed by Muslims. The locals welcomed them also. In fact, Ravindra Babu  elaborates  this peculiarity of the region in this essay.  The important thing to note in this context is that Tagore  had always criticized the concept of nation-state. He always insisted that it was an entirely foreign —’European concept’.

In his book ‘Nationalism in India’ (1917) he had unambiguously stated that that  the political and economic basis of  Nationalism was entirely a mechanical endeavour to ensure  increase in production and achieving prosperity by lessening the human burden The concept of  Nationalism initially arises out of the desire to ensure  national progress by recourse to  advertisement   and other media thus enhancing  the strength  and prosperity.  This  concept of  increase in strength  has led to mutual hatred, dislike and  spreading  of fear  and the resultantly vitiating the atmosphere making the human life insecure . It was just   playing  with life because this concept of  Nationalism, besides dealing with outside factors is also utilised to control internal situation of nation. because  it  can also be used in controlling the inner development of the nation.    Under it there is an increased control over  the society. Consequently,   the nation covering the private life   assumes a fearful, controlling   atmosphere.

Ravindranath has criticized  Nationalism  on  this basis. He considers   nationalism as such a form of   consolidated selfishness entirely bereft of humanity and mutual consideration. It is a natural outcome of the efforts to obtain control over the weak, neighboringstates  The imperialism which comes out of it ultimately becomes the destroyer of humanity. No control is possible over the increase in strength of the nations. There is no end to its   growth. The seeds of the destruction of humanity lie in  it.  When the mutual friction of nations assumes the form of  war everything before it gets destroyed. It is not a way  to create but to destroy.

 There is no end to it. The seeds of destruction of the world are imminent in it. When the mutual friction of nations assumes worldwide dimensions everything that comes in its way it gets destroyed. This certainly is not the way to creation  but rather towards destruction.

This is the original thinking  of Ravindranath Tagore and it is indeed  an in-valuable  contribution.  And  RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat, by saying that he is supportive of Hindu Nationalism.  By saying that these are supportive of Hindu Nationalsim is trying to destroy his legacy.

Nationalism cannot be an option for India. Ravindranath says that indeed nationalism is conspicuous by its absence in India.  In fact, nationalism of the European   fashion cannot stand up in India. For those who adhere to tradition in social functions were to talk about nationalism wherefrom it is going to come? Some thinkers of the time considered that Switzerland (which despite being multi-lingual and multi-ethnic stood up as One Nation) was an ideal for India to follow. However, Ravindranath Tagore felt that there are many  a difference between the  two. There are no caste difference among individuals there and they maintain good relations with each other and also inter-marry for they consider all of them to be of the same blood. However, among Indians the birthrights are not equal.  To establish  political equality of  the Swiss type that is essential for any nation. Tagore feels that the fear of excommunication by the society has made the Indians very fearful. India,  Where   even eating together is an anathema the political freedom is bound to be considered as subject to the control of some.   A dictatorial society is bound to come up there. In this people holding opposing views and opinions are bound to find it difficult to live. Should they sacrifice their moral freedom for such nominal  liberties.

Continuing his tirade against sectarian nationalism he adds this parochialism born out of nationalism is an impediment to human freedom and stands in the way of  natural freedom and spiritual  development. He considers nationalism as an impetus to warmongering and anti-social since under the spacious excuse of nationalism it leads to many crimes. Individuals devoting themselves to the nation was never acceptable to him.Sacrificing humans and organization of humans for the purpose was intolerable to him. In their thinking the  gretest  danger from nationalism is that it the spirit of human tolerance and the inherent moral tolerance would fall a prey at the altar of nationalism.   Basing the political life on such unnatural and inhuman think would only lead to total destruction. It is precisely for this reason that Tagore insisted upon rejecting the concept of nation not only in the Indian context but at the world level. He was also a critique of the political liberty of the National Movement of India because he was sure that  it would not lead to any accession of strength  He felt that  Indian should abandon  the approval of such agitations as he felt that it would not lead  to accession of strength. He felt that Indian should abandon the narrow idea of nationalism and should go in for an internalism.  May be India was economically backward. It should never fall behind in human values.Even a   poor India can guide the world and guide the world.  May be India is backward on economic front but it should never fall back in Human Values. Despite its poverty India can guide the world and ensure human unity. India should never fall back in Human Values Even a poor India can guide the world and ensure a United World.   Pasthistory has shown that India has, without worrying about material abundance has successfully propagated spiritual values in the past.

Society vs State:

Tagore critiques Nationalism because he gives priority to Society over State and values it more and considers it important for human development. He considers Fascism as  a symbol of Nationalist Lunacy. Prior to the rise of Fascism ,Nationalism was related to economic expansionism   and colonialism. As the borders of the countries were extended   after WWI it was  praised by the States. Benito Mussoulini  said that  that it is not the   Nation which  gives rise to state, it is the country which  gives rise to nations. This concept of  Nationalism which became a helpful concept towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth century was basically a cultural concept.  Before this idea became popular  Western Countries held a wide world-view.  On account of this Nationalism there remained dormant. But the regional propaganda slowly convered the situation. Mechanisation created an atmosphere. Old  values tended to undergo   slow change. Traditional values tended to be abandoned.. The threads of human unity  tended  to disperse away from each other. The rise of  Hindu Nationalism and the RSS have to be viewed  and undersood in this context.

After the Second Round Table Conference (1931) Dharmaveer Dr Munjea  senior  leader of Hindu Mahasabha  went to Italy. He visited a number of places there He also studied many schools and colleges of the Fascists and closely studied their working. The pages of his diary (13 pages ) which are available in the Nehru Memorial  tell that during  15th March to 24th March he supervised the Military College of The Fascist Academy of  Physical Education .He studied it to help the work of RSS which was founded in 1925 in Nagpur. Before leaving Italy he met Benito Musolini and praised the programmes being conducted there. This was with a view or adopting them for the    RSS   Training School referred to above. He met Dr.Hegdewar and gave a shape  to the courses there. The result is the present day RSS’. After that  the courses are conducted at Nagpur and the BhoslaMilitarySchool near Nasik. Thereafter the RSS is conducting its courses in different organisatios and a acquainting people with them.

Ravindranath  criticized  precisely this final form of Nationalism which exposed  its inhumanness, sickness and  aloofness. He considers Nationalism as the final form of consolidated, collective form of power  exposing the  exploitative  side of the State. According to him in the West  compact ,pressed bundles of commerce and politics were prepared. In season and out  of season the RSS keeps pleading for this idea. It is within this policy that  its leaders, from time to time quote national leaders, sometimes Vallabhai Patek and sometimes Ravindranath  Tagore quote sometimes twising and turning them for propaganda purposes. RavindranathTagore  had advised India to keep away from  the poison of Western Nationalism. He felt that it  was essential for international cooperation that  India should remain away from the poison of Westerm Nationalism. He felt that Westernism was such a barrage which would stop  them from going towards as would stop it from  prevent them flowing into countries which are not Nations proper. He consider India as such a country since  India was a multi-racial country. He considered India as a State without Nainality for India was a country of different races and India had to maintain this  co-ordination.  The European countries had no problems of coordination of races. Consequently they we re getting drunk with the Nationalistic wine and thus endangering their spiritual   and psychological unity.According to them  the   Western Nations     have either shut their doors for foreigners or made them their slave. This was the only solution fo the problem of their subjects. Obviously this could not be a solution for India.

Rabindranath  Tagore  had listed three main objections against Nationalism.

1 The invading attitude  of the Nation State

2 Commercial competetion

3  Racism ( Prajatiwad)

Tagore  used  to severally criticize Fascism. Comparing Fascism  and Communism he considered the condition under Fascism worst for everything under it was under control.  To this day the RSS has been doing this from the beginning.After the BJP came to power at the Centre in May 2014 the RSS became more  enthusiastic. Consquently from different melodies  LoveJehad, Ramjade—Haramjade to ‘GharWapasi’ are being sung. Right from Mother Teresa , the saint of the poor man to attacks on churches, riots and quoting different leaders of the people for  the propogation of Hindutwa , that too in a twisted form are getting popular. And has is in fact become the rule. The attempt to project RavindranathTagore  as an advocate of Hindu Rashtra, is in line with this thinking only, which is effectively vulgarisation of his legacy.

What Vinoba Bhave thought about the RSS?

Earlier also the RSS had attempted though unsuccessfully  to similarly misrepresent Vivekanand. Swamijee was a World Class  thinker. However, the Sangh  packed him up within the image of a Hindu Sadhu and reduced his contributions. To have recourse to falsehood , represent things in a twisted form is a part of Sangh strategy.  It  is not I alone say so. Even VinobaBhave did it. After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi a discussion meeting was held in Sewagram from  11th to 15th March 1948 .In it Vinobaji,clarifying his position, said that  told in unambiguous terms that  he hailed from the same province where RSS was born. I have renounced my caste but cannot forget that  I hail  from the same caste to which Nathuram who  killed Gandhi belonged. I have abandoned my caste but cannot forget that  I hailed from the same caste to which NahuramGodse belonged and which has been founded by Dr.Hegdewar who is a Brahmin. What is more the one who became SarSanghChalak after him Golwalkar is also a Maharashtrian Brahmin. Most of its Pracharaks wherever they are working—Punjab,Madras,Bengal or North India  mostly happen to be Maharashtrian Brahmins.  This organization has spread far and wide with dexterity . Its roots are indeed very deep. The organisaion is run precisely on Fascist lines. Maharashtrianintellect  has mainly assisted in it.  Maharashtrians , especially the  Brahmins among them ,have invariably tended to be its office-bearers and leaders. Its membes do not  take others into  confidence.

Truth was the Rule of Gandhiji. With these people Untruth appears to be the guiding rule with  these people. Untruth (falsehood) appears to be  part of their technique and their philosophy

I came across one article  by  their Supremo Golwalkar in a religious paper wherein he says that Arjun is the ideal of Hinduism . He did love and respected his teachers and other near and dear ones, but during the course of his duty he did not hesitate in killing them albeit with a respectful salute. The one who could come down to such killing is a ‘sthithpradna’ (steady intellect). Not that  the  devotion of these people is in any way lesser than  mine and must be reading the Geeta daily equally devotionally.

The upshot of  their Geeta is that ‘the one who could kill  his seniors  and near and dear ones with equinamity is a ‘stithpradna’ (steady intellect) Poor Geeta! It is used in all ways. This means that it is not just the group   of trouble-makers. It is also an organisation of philosophers  It has its own philosophy and its own technique.

To interpret the  society of the country right from The Geeta to GurudevRavindramath Tagore, to draw meaning from it in our own way and to propagate it is a part of this technique. The RSS has gradually developed it since 1925.On being awarded the Nobel Prize in  1913 Tagore got an opportunity to travel the  world over. In a visit to Japan during this tour  he had severeally criticised nationalism. Japan had been suffering from the fever of  Nationalism at this juncture.Consequently Tagore had to return to India without delivering his speech. Mr Mohan    Bhagwat is interpreting such a Tagore as a suppoter of the concept of a Hindu Rashtra.  Vinobajee had correctly commented that this was an organisation of philosophers and it has a technique of its own. They are experts in twisting and presenting in a twisted form everything from Geeta, Vivekanand,  Gandhi and Nehru and upto Patel. Tagore is just a latest link.