Tagore and his contemporary politics
- Tagore and his contemporary politics
How do we see Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Tagore as politicians or did they ever engaged, took side or participated in any politics in its real term? Well, their political lives though were not that luminous, the answer is yes and they surely did not come off with flying colors as they did in their other fields with international prides and fames.Mohammad Gani
For example, Einstein’s life was “divided between politics and equations” and most of us knew his politics of nuclear bomb as well as his famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt. Einstein’s political activities started during First World War when he was a professor in Berlin and was sickened by what he saw as waste of human lives, became involved in anti-war demonstration. His post war efforts to prevent nuclear war are also well known. His advocacy of civil disobedience and post war international reconciliation efforts did not make him any popular and actually his politics later were making it difficult for him to visit/enter US, even to give lectures.
His second great cause was Zionism. Though he was Jewish by decent, Einstein rejected the biblical idea of God. However, a growing awareness of anti-Semitism during and after the First World War made him an outspoken supporter of Jewish Community. His “mind’s free speech” on his theories also came under attack; an anti-Einstein organization was even set to repudiate and assault him. At one point, a man was convicted of inciting others to murder Einstein that ended up with $6 (six dollars) fine! In 1933, Hitler came to power and Einstein was in America and decided not to return to Germany. His efforts towards peace achieved little except only few friends. However he was duly recognized in 1952 for his support for Jewish cause and was offered Presidency of Israel. He declined it, perhaps; equations were more important to him, knowing very well that “Politics is for the present but an equation is something for eternity”.
Background: The Indian Independence Movement was a series of revolutions empowered by the people of India put forth to battle the British Empire to a complete political independence. It began with many organizations like the “Sepoy Mutiny or Rebellion” of 1857, reaching its climax with Indian National Congress, All India Muslim League, Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement (1942-1945) and Subash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army invasion of British India during World War II and culminating eventually in full freedom on August14/15, 1947.
Kabi Guru Rabindranath Tagore was not deeply or visibly involved in any Party politics but never detached himself from maneuvering actively with current political events either. His political views marked complexities to characterize when he joined “Swadeshi Movement” in 1906 with the Indian National Congress, a Hindu-dominated political organization supported by the Calcutta elite against Lord Curzon. He strongly voiced against the partition of United Bengal and fiercely and forcefully opposed the division of Bengal in his essay published in “Bangadarshan”. All India Muslim League supported Lord Curzon for historical reason and voiced against “Swadeshi Movement”.
Tagore was uniquely complex in his attitude towards nationalism. He inaugurated the meeting of the Congress party that took place in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1896 by singing “Bande Mataram” to his own tune. He composed his celebrated piece “Shivaji’s Utsav” at that time and was inspired by the Shivaji Festival introduced by Maharashtra’s Balgangadhar Tilak. In his many articles like “Sadhana”, “Bangadarshan”, and “Bharati”, he passed many intransigent opinions and views on many contemporary political situations. In 1925 he stated that British imperialism was not a primary evil but only a political symptom of our social disease. He urged Indians to accept that “there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education”. Such views inevitably enraged many, placing his life in danger.
During his stay in a San Francisco hotel in late 1916, Tagore narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by Indian expatriates; the plot failed only because the would-be assassins fell into an argument. Yet Tagore wrote songs lionizing the Indian Independence Movement and renounced his knighthood in protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in13 April 1919. Tagore was also the key in resolving a Gandhi-B.R.Ambedkar dispute involving separate electorates for untouchables. Though Tagore wrote for the movement of self-rule, he never supported extreme nationalism or terrorist activities and had disputed admirations for Netaji Subash Chandra Bose as a leader of Indian Independence.
Gandhi and Tagore severely clashed over their totally different attitudes toward political philosophy, culture and science. In January 1934, Bihar was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people. Gandhi was then deeply involved in the fight against “untouchability”; and extracted a positive lesson from that tragic event. He argued, “A man like me cannot but believe this earthquake is a divine chastisement sent by God for our sins; in particular the sins of untouchability. For me there is a vital connection between the Bihar calamity and the untouchability campaign”. Tagore equally abhorred untouchability and had joined Gandhi in the movements against it, but fulminated against Gandhi’s interpretation of this event that had caused suffering and death to so many innocent people including children and babies. He also hated the epistemology implicit in seeing an earthquake as caused by ethical failure. He wrote “It is all the more unfortunate because this kind of unscientific view of natural phenomena is too readily accepted by a large section of our countrymen”.
Tagore was predictably hostile to communal sectarianism, such as a Hindu orthodoxy that was antagonistic to Islamic, Christian, or Sikh perspectives. Even nationalism seemed to be a suspect to him because of his attitude toward traditional Indian culture over broad cultural diversity. He wanted Indians to learn what is going on elsewhere, how others lived, what they valued, and so on, while remaining interested and involved in their own culture and heritage. Unlike Gandhi who promoted traditional Indian culture, Tagore was not dismissive to Western civilization. It could be found in his advice to Indian students abroad and in his letters wrote to his son-in-law (1907) Nagendranath Gangulee who had come to USA to study agriculture.
Rabindranath rebelled against the “strongly nationalist form” that the independence movement often took. This approach made him to refrain from taking particular active part in any contemporary politics. He wanted to assert that India’s right to be independent without denying the importance of what India could learn freely and profitably from abroad would not compromise traditional Indian culture.
Tagore’s criticism of patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. In 1908, he expressed his position clearly in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, the wife of a great Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose, “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live”. His novel “Ghare Baire” (The Home and the World) has much to say about this theme. In this novel, Nikhil, who is keen on social reform including women’s liberation, but cool toward nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failure to be enthusiastic about anti-British agitations, which she sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. Bimala becomes fascinated with Nikhil’s nationalist friend Sandip, who speaks brilliantly and acts with patriotic militancy and she falls in love with him……….
Tagore also was not invariably well-informed about international politics. He allowed himself to be entertained by Mussolini in a short visit to Italy in May-June 1926. It was arranged by Carlo Formichi, a Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Rome. During that visit Tagore wished to meet Benedetto Croce, an Italian Philosopher/ politician, but Prof. Formichi called it “Impossible”! Mussolini told Tagore that Croce was “not in Rome”. As Tagore continued insisting and said, “I would go wherever he is”. Mussolini then said to him that Croce’s whereabouts were unknown!!
Warnings from Romain Rolland, a French writer and Nobel Prize in literature in 1915 and other friends should have ended Tagore’s brief involvement with Mussolini more quickly than it did. But only after he received graphic accounts of the brutality of Italian fascism from two exiles, Gaetano Salvemini and Gaetano Salvadori and learned more of what was happening in Italy. Tagore did publicly denounce the regime and published a letter to the “Manchester Guardian” in August 1926. The following month “Popolo d’Italia” a magazine edited by Mussolini’s brother, replied: “Who cares? Italy laughs at Tagore anyway and also at those who brought this unctuous and insupportable fellow in our midst.”
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