Tagore’s vastness is Rigveda rāṣṭrá

Idea,country,humanity& life with extensive meaning.Yes, Kanchanji,left-libs will get no clue on Tagore’s idea of Vedic rāṣṭrá. ahaM rAShTrI saMgamanI vasUnAM (RV 10.125.3) Trans. I am the mover of wealth, I am rāṣṭrá

rāṣṭrī says vAgdevi.rv101251



Sunday, 03 December 2016 | Kanchan Gupta |

Tagore’s idea of India was coloured by the horrors of the Great War, resulting from Europe’s ruinous experiment with creating nations. It was also in conflict with the views of the other Tagore who militated against the partition of Bengal

Much has been written and said over the unedifying events at Delhi’s island of Left-liberal activism, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Intellectuals, the ‘useful idiots and silly enthusiasts’ (we can debate who said that, Stalin or Lenin, later), nursing an increasing sense of deprivation and denial ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed Lutyens’s Delhi in the summer of 2014, have used the occasion to claw their way back into relevance.

The Commentariat, India’s thought mafia by another name, having run out of steam on the spurious debate over intolerance, needed to manufacture a new controversy to keep their loyalty points rolling in. This proved an excellent opportunity for them. Then there are politicians, rejected by the people along with their dated ideology, who have no compunction to fish in the troubled waters of student politics. We need not elaborate on that.

In the cacophony of raucous voices emanating from the many Towers of Babel that our news telly studios are now reduced to, we have heard the mention of two words —nation and nationalism. There were voices that rejected all constructs of nation and nationhood, and hence repudiated all notions of nationalism. If India is not a nation, then how can Indians subscribe to the idea of nationalism, leave alone attach a certain sacredness to it?

There were voices that did not question India’s identity as a nation, but nonetheless rejected nationalism, unmindful of the fact that the foundational structure of the construct of nationalism is the nation. A variant of these voices questioned the authority of any individual or organisation, or even the state for that matter, to determine the contours of what defines nationalism.

Then there were voices not only reaffirming the identity of India as a nation, reiterating the received wisdom, often told in simple and perhaps simplistic terms, that defines popular notions of Indian nationhood. Nationalism, they argued, is a constant with set nationalist values. Whether one is a nationalist or an anti-nationalist is determined on the basis of that matrix of nationalist values.

In the cacophonous din we heard the mention of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, how he rejected the commonly perceived ideas of nation and nationalism. Stray sentences, out of context and irrelevant in today’s India, if not world, were used as slogans and counter-slogans. An eminent historian, once chided, rather rudely, by me for pretending that the cliched phrase ‘idea of India’ was of recent vintage and coined by Sunil Khilnani, used the JNU brouhaha to set the record straight, slyly and with the unwholesome purpose of using Tagore to further his dubious politics.

So let’s begin with what Tagore said, or, rather, wrote in a letter to a friend: “The idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts.” This and Tagore’s ambivalent, some would say dim, views on nationalism have a context that is never mentioned by those quoting him, largely because their knowledge of Gurudev is derived from Google Guru.

Tagore’s “idea of India”, mentioned for the first time in 1921, was largely coloured by the horrors of the Great War, resulting from Europe’s catastrophic experiment with creating nations and national identities based on race, religion and language. Like others who drew sustenance from the Bengal Renaissance and the Great Awakening, Tagore had a Eurocentric worldview. But that worldview was also in conflict with the views of the other Tagore, the one who militated against Curzon’s partition of Bengal.

The many soul-stirring songs that Tagore penned and composed to bolster the resistance to Bengal’s partition, announced in 1905, were collectively an ode to the land, the soil, of Bengal. There was no Indian nation state at that time. The intensity of attachment was to your cultural identity which, in turn, was rooted in your people, your language and your land — in this case, Bengalis, Bengali and Bengal. One of the songs is now the National Anthem of Bangladesh. Tagore used the rakhi as a political tool to unify people against the partition of Bengal at a time when Bengal was unlikely to have known of a north Indian, Hindi heartland custom, Rakshabandhan.

The partition of Bengal was rolled back in 1911. Five years later, in The Home and The World, we find Tagore questioning the swadeshi movement and the politics of rejection not untinged by violence. 1916 onward Tagore increasingly sought to untangle the complex layers of nation, national identity and nationalism through rejection and repudiation. The European experience over-ruled the lived India experience.

Cynics say Tagore was carried away by the adulation showered on him by European liberals, that he was overwhelmed by the praise for him in fashionable salons. The ‘Light of Asia’ would not want to be limited to India. It was ‘Visva Kavi’ Rabindranath Tagore who was honoured with the Nobel Prize and founded Visva-Bharati. It took a popular and populist leader of the unwashed masses, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to call Tagore what he was to Indians (as opposed to the world): Gurudev.

Tagore responded in full measure. He was the first to call Gandhi a Mahatma and that became the honorific for him, replacing his first and second name. Gandhi would often seek to engage Tagore in nationalist politics; Tagore would refuse to be drawn in. The twain never met. Yet, it was Tagore, despite his disdain for Gandhi’s charkha and little patience for the Mahatma’s anti-modernism, who set up Sriniketan to conserve and celebrate ideas and identities rooted in the Indian nation.

There are no constants in life. The idea of a nation, one land with one people, that motivated the revolutionaries of India’s struggle for freedom was vastly different from the idea of nation which the Congress finally accepted — a divided land with a divided people. By then Tagore was dead for six years. The legitimisation of an India split three ways, its people uprooted and forced into rootlessness, validated the sub-nationalism that surfaced in the following years and decades.

From Tamil separatism in the south to ethnic secessionism in the North-East, from States adopting domicile laws defining the ‘separateness of one’s own people from others’ to the rabid nativism of Assam’s ‘Ali-Kuli-Bangali’ agitation that morphed into ‘Bongal kheda’, from the Shiv Sena’s ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’ slogan to the chasing out of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, their ancestral land, by Islamists, India has seen its national identity under stress since independence.

Sub-nationalism was never addressed and fitted into the mosaic of India’s national identity. It was papered over. The paper is now brittle. Unity in diversity, truth be told, is so much bunk and no more. It is an elusive unity, the diversity is real. The silken thread Nehru spoke of is long frayed.

Let me conclude with what Tagore wrote in Sadhana — The Realisation of Life in 1915: “To the man who lives for an idea, for his country, for the good of humanity, life has an extensive meaning.” Perhaps that offers a more resilient idea of nationalism. Idea, country and humanity are interconnected, interlinked. Together they define nation, nationhood, nationality and nationalism. This definition is not restrictive or reductionist. It has, as Tagore said, an extensive meaning. The small minds of our Left-liberals are incapable of imaging what that extensive meaning is.

(The writer is a current affairs analyst based in NCR)



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