Ravindranath Tagore: His Concept of the Nation/State is not what RSS is claiming

The Milli Gazette Online

Published Online: Jul 09, 2015

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-days it is the Sangh-Parivar 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 Aurobindo via Ramkrishna Paramhans including Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Mahatma Gandhi as well. Everyone has fallen under its pail.

And now it is the turn of Rabindranath Tagore.

The present RSS Chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, in a Sangh Camp at Sagar (M.P.) claimed that it was Rabindranath Tagore who conceptualized Hindu Nation 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 Nation. On the other hand it tells how the local people had earlier accommodated Aryans among them who had come here as invaders. The Aryans were followed by Muslims. The locals welcomed them as well. In fact, Rabindra 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 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 taking recourse to means such as advertisement and utilizing other media thereby enhancing the strength and prosperity. This concept of increase in national strength led to mutual hatred, dislike and spread of fear and resultantly vitiating the atmosphere to make the human life insecure. It was like just playing with the human life because this concept of Nationalism, besides dealing with the outside factors has also been manipulated to control internal situation of the Nation. Since it can also be effectively used in controlling the inner development of the nation, there is an increasing danger of the complete control of the State over society. Consequently, the possibilities of the Nation-State encroaching upon the private life of the people acquire fearful dimensions.

Rabindranath has essentially criticized Nationalism on this basis. According to him, Nationalism is such a form of consolidated selfishness which is entirely bereft of humanity and mutual consideration. It is a natural outcome of the efforts on part of the elites of a particular nation to gain control over the destinies of the weak neighbouring states. Thus, the Imperialism/Colonialism which emerges out of it ultimately becomes the destroyer of humanity. Any control over the increasing strengths of such nations becomes impossible beyond certain limits as if there is no end to its rapid growth. When the mutual friction among nations assumes the gigantic form of war everything in its way gets perished. It is not creativity but a mindless and shameful destruction. It is an endless process wherein lies the imminent dangers of the seeds of the destruction of this world.

Indeed an invaluable contribution to the world of Political thought, this is the original thinking of Mr. Rabindranath Tagore. An attempt on part of the RSS Chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat to appropriate Rabindranath by saying that he was actually supportive of the cause Hindu Nationalism is a heinous conspiracy of trying to distort his true legacy.

For Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism cannot be an option for India which is worth trying for and in fact it is good that nationalism is conspicuous by its absence in India. In fact, nationalism of the European fashion cannot stand up in India. Some of the then contemporary thinkers considered that Switzerland (which despite being multi-lingual and multi-ethnic stood up as One Nation) was an ideal for India to follow. However, Rabindranath felt that there are lots of differences between the Two. Caste discrimination is absent among the individuals of Switzerland and they make it a point by keeping good relations with each other by inter-marrying as they all consider themselves of belonging to the same blood. However on the other hand, Indians don’t consider themselves as equals right from the birth. Hence it is essential for any cosmopolitan nation like India to establish a genuine socio-political equality first. Tagore feels that the constant fear of excommunication by the society among the members of each and every caste has crippled their ability to come together and get united. In a country like India, where even inter-dining of the people belonging to different caste-groups is an anathema, the political freedom is bound to be a sort of distant dream. A dictatorial state in which such freedoms of the subjects are held hostage by the powerful few seems like an obvious choice in such societies. In such circumstances, people holding different or opposing views and opinions from that of the ruling elite find it difficult to make their own space. They are faced with a haunting dilemma of whether they should sacrifice their moral duty to criticize the injustices perpetrated by the rulers for the sake of nominal liberties reluctantly bestowed upon them.

Continuing his tirade against sectarian nationalism, Tagore added that this parochialism born out of nationalism is an impediment to human progress 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 noble excuse of nationalism it leads to many crimes. It was not even conceptually acceptable to him that individuals are devoting and sacrificing themselves for the cause of nation. Organization of humans for the purpose of collective national sacrifice was an intolerable idea to him. According to Tagore, the greatest danger from nationalism is that it hampers the spirit of human tolerance and the inherent moral tolerance in human beings would fall a prey to the exigencies of nationalism. Basing one’s political life on such unnatural and inhuman thing would only lead to total destruction of any national society. It is precisely for this reason that Tagore insisted upon rejecting the concept of nation-state not only in the Indian context but at the universal level. He was also a staunch critique of the arguments for political liberty espoused by the Indian National Movement because he was quite sure that it would not lead to any acquisition of strength. He strongly felt that Indians should not approve agitations based on such demands of national political liberty. He also felt that Indians should abandon the narrow idea of nationalism and should make an endeavour for the collective pursuit of internationalism. Though an economically backward country, India has always been at the forefront in upholding human values..Even a simple poor Indian possesses the moral capacity to guide the entire world. Despite its chronic poverty India can ensure human unity through such moral guidance. It has become abundantly clear from the past historical experiences that despite the absence of material prosperity India has endearingly cherished spiritual values in its pursuit for collective emancipation.

The Juxtaposition of Society v/s. the State:- Tagore criticizes Nationalism as an ideology also because he tends to give priority to the Society over that of the State, values it more and especially considers it more important for human development. For him, Fascism is a symbol of Nationalist Lunacy. Prior to the rise of Fascism and Nazism as a political ideology, Nationalism was mostly linked to the economic expansionism of western European counties which were involved in the colonization of Asian, African and Latin American continents..The ruthless extension of their national borders on part of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany provoked Second World War. Benito Mussolini, supreme leader of the fascist Italy has categorically said that it is not the Nation which gives birth to the State, on the contrary it is the strong State which provides foundation for Nation..This peculiar concept of Nationalism which became increasingly popular in the early decades of the Twentieth century was basically loaded with strong cultural undercurrents. Before the phase of its explicit popularization, this peculiar kind of Nationalism has always been there lying dormant in the Western countries. Mechanisation of the means of production gradually paved the way for an atmosphere where old customs, values and traditions tended to undergo the process of slow change. All these things contributed in the constant erosion of the universal humanitarian values. The rise of Hindu Nationalism and the RSS have to be viewed and understood in this particular context.

After the Second Round Table Conference of 1931, Dr. Munje, the senior leader of Hindu Mahasabha went on the tour of Italy. Along with the visit to many important places of historical importance, he also observed the functioning of many schools and colleges which are run in accordance with the fascist ideology. Those 13 pages of his diary which are available in the Nehru Memorial Museum of New Delhi contains telling evidence about his supervision during 15th to 24tth of March at the Military College of The Fascist Academy of Physical Education .His study was informed by the purpose of the establishment of RSS, the Hindu militant organization in 1925 at Nagpur. Before leaving Italy, Dr. Munje willingly met Mussolini and heaped praise on the programmes being conducted over there. He made it a point to adopt them for the purpose of military training of the RSS cadres. By meeting Dr.Hegdewar, first RSS chief he gave a shape to these courses. Present-day RSS is the culmination of all these events and processes. The courses of military training are usually conducted at Nagpur, the RSS headquarters and the Bhosla Military School near Nasik. Thereafter the RSS started to conduct these courses at small scale in their daily Shakhas as well.

Rabindranath criticized precisely this final form of Nationalism which is more dominated by its inhuman aspects. He considers Nationalism as the collective form of power which consolidates and exposes the exploitative side of the State. The RSS has continued pleading for this idea in all the political seasons. As part of its broader policy to promote this particular fascist version of nationalism, the leaders of RSS as well as its political wing BJP deliberately quote national leaders having certain historical contributions from time to time, distorting their legacies for their own propaganda purposes. RabindranathTagore had in fact advised India to keep away from the poisonous doctrine of Western Nationalism which is a pre-condition for India to play an important role in the sphere of international co-operation. According to him, a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial country like India is a State without any particular homogeneous Nationality and hence should maintain this broader social co-ordination among different set of people which already exists. Since the European countries are characterized by the one race and one language as the basis of their national identity, the opium of aggressive and fascist nationalism is engendering their spiritual and psychological unity. According to Rabindranath, these Western Nations have either shut their doors on foreigners or made them their slave through the colonization of other non-western continents. Obviously this could not be a solution for the heterogynous country like India.

Rabindranath Tagore had raised three main objections against Nationalism:

1. The inevitable invading attitude which the concept of Nation-State promotes

2. Providing impetus to commercial competition among nations for capturing markets and thereby justifying colonialism.

3. Strengthening racism.

Comparing Fascism and Communism Tagore considered conditions under Fascism as worst than anything else because everything is under the rigid control of the state which acts favourably towards rich and crush the just demands of the poor. Ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre in May 2014, the RSS has become more energetic and enthusiastic as far as promoting its agenda is concerned. Consequently, the Hindutva song has been sung on the melodies of Love Jihad, Ramjade—Haramjade categorization and ‘Ghar Wapasi’ campaigns. The attempts to project RabindranathTagore as an advocate of Hindu Nation is in complete tandem with this line of thinking only, which is in effect nothing but the gross vulgarisation of his noble legacy.

Vinoba Bhave’s opinion about the RSS:

The RSS has also been engaged in a largely unsuccessful attempt to misinterpret World Class thinker such as Swami Vivekananda. By packaging him in the image of a Hindu Saint, RSS actually reduced the magnanimity of his contributions to the society. It has been a longstanding strategy of the RSS to portray the real nature of things in a twisted form by taking recourse to a falsehood time and again. And one can surely find the echo my arguments in Vinoba Bhave’s remarks as well. After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi a meeting was held at Sevagram in Wardha district from 11th to 15th March 1948. While clarifying his position in unambiguous terms, Vinoba stated that he has renounced his own caste but at the same time cannot forget that he hails from the same Brahmin community to which Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Gandhi belonged to. He further stated that the founder of the RSS, Dr. K. B. Hedgewar was also a Brahmin. Again, the man who became SarSanghChalak after Dr. Hedgewar was M.S. Golwalkar alias Guruji, also a Maharashtrian Brahmin. Most of its Pracharaks i.e. propagators happen to be Maharashtrian Brahmins wherever they are working across the country or even abroad. Certainly it cannot be denied that this organization has spread far and wide with a deft and dexterity. Indeed it has been able to entrench its roots very deep into the Indian society. The organization basically runs precisely on Fascist lines. Its rank and file has mainly been assisted by an intelligentsia based in Maharashtra. Most of its office-bearers and leaders are invariably tended to be the Maharashtra Brahmins. Usually its members do not take others into confidence and maintain a level of secrecy. For Mahatma Gandhi, the Truth was God and vice-a-versa. With these RSS people, Untruth appears to be their guiding principle and falsehood appears to be an essential part of their technique as well as philosophy.

Once, I came across an article written by their second chief M.S. Golwalkar in a religious paper wherein he emphasized that Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata is the true idol of Hinduism. Though he did cherish love and respect towards his teachers and other near and dear ones it did not come into his way to perform his duty as a warrior. As a consequence, he did not hesitate to kill these close ones albeit with a respectful salute in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Those who are able to think on these lines and perform their duties accordingly are revered as the ‘Sthitpradnya’ ( a person with a steadfast intellect), according to Bhagvad-Geeta.

The RSS has narrowly interpreted Geeta as per its own convenience and argued that the person with a steadfast intellect (sthitpradnya) is the one who could dutifully kill his own seniors and relatives with an eye of equanimity. Poor Geeta! It has been put to the all sorts of uses. This means that the RSS is not just an organization of trouble-makers or nuisance creators. It surely does have its own philosophy and technique.

To interpret the texts like Geeta and the secular intellectuals like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in order to draw convenient meanings from them suitable to their political propaganda is a core part of this technique. It is in this manner that the RSS has gradually evolved since its establishment in 1925. After being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913, Tagore got an opportunity to travel across the world. In such a visit to the Japan during this particular tour that he had severally criticised the idea of Nationalism. The occasion could never have been more auspicious since Japan was also suffering in the hands of authoritarian government which had a fever of Nationalism at the time..Consequently, Tagore had to take a return ticket to India without delivering his scheduled speech. It is no less than surprising that Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the present chief of RSS is commenting that such a liberal Tagore was in fact a supporter of the concept of a Hindu Nationalism. They are experts in twisting and turning everything from Geeta, Vivekanand, Gandhi to Patel as well. Tagore is just a latest link in the long chain of entities.


1. Kal tak Bapu the, who will now oblige?: Dr.Gopal K. Gandhi, Permanent Black.

2. Tagore: Selected Essays, Rupa Publications, New Delhi.

3. Swadeshi Samaj: RavindranathTagore(Marathi Translation)

4. Rabindra Rachanavali, Vishwa Bharati Publication, Shanti Niketan.

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


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