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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 3, New Delhi, January 2, 2021

On Ravindranath Tagore’s Concept of The Nation/State

Saturday 2 January 2021, by Suresh Khairnar


by Dr. Suresh Khairnar

The mythological tale of the demon Bhasmasur is well-known. On whomsoever’s head he would put his palm on was burnt to ashes. It appears that now-a-day it is the SanghParivar 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 RamkrishnaParamhans, to Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone has fallen under its pail. For the past few years, Rabindranath Tagore has also joined the list of luminaries whose legacy the RSS has been attempting to appropriate.

The Indian Prime Minister officially transforms into a ‘Chancellor’ as their ceremonial head when it comes to central universities in the country. Perhaps under the enchantment with the epithet long-fantasized by the Hindutva right-wing, or under the spell of his newfound long whiskers, or maybe due to more mundane exigencies of the upcoming elections in Bengal, Narendra Modi made exhortations about Tagore’s virtues of nationalism at Viswa Bharati university at Shanti Niketan. The irony could perhaps not have been starker as the PM was speaking on the occasion of the centennial celebrations of the University, whose name and founding principles reflect Gurudev’s ardent pursuit of cosmopolitan humanism and an active disavowal of nationalism. In his purported praise for Tagore’s contributions, the PM effectively perverted everything that the great author of Gitanjali stood for. In his globally acclaimed novels like Ghare-Bahire and Gora, Tagore forwarded a pithy critique of nationalism even at height of the World Wars. Tagore’s allegiance to humanism, unfettered by nationalism became the major point of disagreement with Gandhi, despite their deep admiration for each other.

Earlier, the current 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, neighboring states 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 invaluable 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 detroy 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 where from 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. Past history 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 Bhosla Military School near Nasik. There after 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 Patel and sometimes Ravindranath Tagore quote sometimes twising and turning them for propaganda purposes. Rabindranath Tagore 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 Western 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 Nationality 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 members 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 severely 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.

(Dr. Suresh Khairnar is a renowned Gandhian & Socialist. He has devoted his life to the cause of religious harmony)


1. Kaltak Baputhe who will now bilge Dr.GopalGandhi, Permanent Black

2. Tagore Selected Essays Rupa Pblications New Delhi

3. Swadeshi Samaj: RavindranathTagore (Marathi Translation)

4. Ravindra Rachanavali, VishwaBharatiPubication, Shanti Niketan

5. Gandhi Nehru and Tagore (Prakash Narayan Natani Pointer Publishers, Pointer Publishers, Jaipur

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