Tagore & today's nationalism
In this age of forced nationalism when countries and political leaders across the globe are sedulously trying to cultivate moral blindness in regard to the cult of patriotism, Rabindranath Tagore, with his clarity of thought and prudent foresight, believed that a country could not be greater than the ideals of humanity. And with age, his ideas have gained greater relevance. "...the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes, people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, in fact feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out," says Tagore in one of his lectures that was later incorporated in a book titled Nationalism in 1917.
In 2014, when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, he won the elections on the basis of his sweeping promises to modernise the economy, fight corruption, make India clean and green, provide jobs and aggressively assert India's global presence. Five years later, the secular agenda has taken centre stage in a country already rived by dangerous religious divisions. Interestingly, the Hindu sectarianism has never been more profound and enfranchised at every level of the government. Modi's efforts to make India a Hindu state have attained renewed vigour in the past few months which has left India completely fragmented and opinionated. There is widespread violence in the country that is "provoked by the championing of a singular identity of people as members of one religion or another… interested groups led by ambition and outside instigation are today using the communal motive for destructive political ends." And as history has shown us, sane or rational public discourse is not possible in an atmosphere surcharged with religion and nationalism and when millions believe that a man can do no wrong! Today, the man who was hailed as a hero in 2014 is now seen inculcating fear. All of India is a stage for him and he is the only one who plays many parts — from chaiwalla to chowkidar! Tagore wrote about the dark side of nationalism but Modi saw its brighter side and created a potent mixture of nationalism and religion. Here, the relevance of Tagore gains momentum as an entire nation fights to protect its secular identity. Gurudev, post-1917, emerged as the critic of the modern idea of nation or the nation-state. His three novels — Gora, Char Adhyay and Ghare Baire — where he unravels the dangers of hyper-masculine aggressiveness, reflect his 'dis-ease' with nationalism. He asserts that "this nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over human world of the present age, eating into its moral vitality". This expression itself depicts the need for a deeper understanding of today's nationalism that Tagore spoke of more than 100 years ago. It's time we become cautious and rise to the occasion before this savage "nationalism" "tramples under its tread all the sweet flowers of simple faith and the living ideals of man."