Why Tagore Would Have Been Branded Anti-National Today

20/02/2016 1:37 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Yes, you read it right. Rabindranath Tagore, the poetic force of our national anthem was against the idea of nation and nationalism. To him, it was merely a machine that in the name of freedom enslaved the most honest men into blindly robbing others of their human rights with a comfortable feeling of having done one's duty.

Tagore wrote this at the time when Europe was going through a grave social disorder as the continent was torn apart with blood and the rise of nation states form the breakdown of Austrian Empire. The high fervour of nationalism in the West had created more divisions, and thus, more issues for survival. Humanity was one of the least concerns of the West at that point. It took two world wars for Europe to realise the importance and the need of humanity which was something that India never lacked- the spiritual arms of India always promoted harmony. It is in this context that Tagore rejected nationalism, a western creation that should not be imitated by Asia for we should aim to live above petty divisions.

"India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity."

Tagore is extremely critical of Nationalism for one main reason- it takes away the essence of individuality which in turn is the successful ingredient to Unity. Tagore had envisioned a Federation of Races where there were no "us versus them", where individuals mattered more than institutions. Institutions are machines that produce individuals to act in a uniform way, which is exactly what nationalism creates. The mob mentality to conform to particular set of ideas creates a basis of exclusion of those individuals who want to express their own true ideas.

"The individual thinks, even when he feels; but the same individual, when he feels with the crowd, does not reason at all."

How then can we escape from this collective egotism? Education of the Truth is the answer for Tagore. He accepts that there are hurdles to this path too. He admits that "the high priests of nationalism will avail of themselves of every protest and opportunity to inculcate by means of education the doctrine of national pride in the growing generation". Isn't it striking how something that Tagore ideated ninety four years back is something that we are still struggling to grapple with?

"Nationalism is the training of a whole people for a narrow ideal; and when it gets hold of their minds it is sure to lead them to moral degeneracy and intellectual blindness."

True Freedom comes from within and not from outside as political constitutions claim; it is every individual's faith in freedom and his/her will to maintain it with all their strength. This is why freedom of speech and expression is vital, irrespective of it being national or anti-national. Tagore today would have been branded as an anti-national. But we cannot ignore the ramifications that he has deliberated.

Mutual distrust and fear is created by the psyche of those who want to maintain a dominant power position. What is freedom when we ourselves are not free from our own fears with which we live?

"For the crowd mind is essentially primitive; its forces are elemental. Therefore the Nation is for ever watching to take advantage of this enormous power of darkness."

In this process of killing off the heterogeneity, we claim to master over the weaknesses but we merely ignore them to an extent that they become the source of danger in future. Let us for a moment keep aside this political Barrier God and think with a sense of sympathy and humanity. The Bengali polymath may not have concrete solutions to our problems, but he has certainly provided us an alternative approach to grasp the current realities.

One can read more about Tagore's ideas on anti-nationalism in the essays The Nation, The Spirit of Freedom (Creative Unity, 1922), The Union of Cultures (1921) and Nationalism in India.

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