Monday, September 10, 2007

Tagore felt mortified by many of the nationalist leaders behaving like terrorists

TAGORE NOVEL FROM 1915: THE HOME AND THE WORLD September 10, 2007 at 5:31 am In Globalization, Literary, Third World, India, Philosophy, Books, History, Asia, Art Blog About
MAIN WEBSITE: WWW.CAMBRIDGEFORECAST.ORG Ghare Baire [The Home and the World] (1915) Author: Tagore, Rabindranath.
Tagore never had a political temperament and found politics wasteful and morally debilitating; it is politics, he said, “which in every country has lowered the standard of morality, [and] given rise to a perpetual contest of lies and deception, cruelties and hypocrisies.” A poet, he sought to keep his mind above politics. However his destiny determined otherwise: “I have been chosen by destiny to ply my boat there where the current is against me”; “Politics is wholly against my nature; and yet, belonging to an unfortunate country, born to an abnormal situation, we find it so difficult to avoid their [sic] outbursts.”
When the swadeshi movement broke out in Bengal, in the wake of its partition in 1905, Tagore soon found himself at its vortex: writing songs, giving speeches, and taking part in mass rallies. He also set up a match factory, a local bank, and a weaving centre as his way of giving leadership to the movement. Ironically, he even set the movement’s theme song, Bande Mataram, or “Hail to thee Mother”, to music himself. The song was composed by another Bengali writer, Bankim Chatterjee, and is used as a potent fetish by the manipulative Sandip in the novel.
Swadeshi literally means “of our own country”. It was a nationalist movement meant to boycott British goods and buy homemade products, so that the British would suffer economically for their dark designs of divide and rule policy, while the local industries grew, with less competition from imported goods. But what was conceived as a non-violent non-cooperation movement soon turned violent and ugly, owing to the heavy handed policies of the government, and wilful meddling by self-seeking and sinister bhadroloks. Tagore felt mortified by many of the nationalist leaders behaving like terrorists and traumatising innocent people for their indifference to the cause, and impassioned youths turning to the cult of the bomb to liberate their homeland from the foreign yoke.
Thus, especially after Khudiram Bose, a radical youth who is still widely regarded as a hero in the annals of Bengal, hurled a bomb in 1908, killing two innocent British civilians, Tagore decided not to participate in the movement any more, nor associate with a nationalist uprising again, in spite of the recurrent charges of pusillanimity and insincerity by his detractors. His response came, instead, in the form of The Home and the World, seven years later...
Post-colonial critics such as Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson and Tom Nairn have pointed out how nationalism cultivates the sentiments of irrationality, prejudice and hatred in people, and Leela Gandhi has spoken of its attendant racism and loathing, and the alacrity with which citizens are willing to both kill and die for it. Frantz Fanon has explained that although the objective of nationalism is to create a horizontal relationship and fraternity within its people, in reality the nation never speaks of the hopes and aspirations of the entire “imagined community”, and hierarchy, factional hegemony, inequality and exploitation remain a daily occurrence in its body. In Sandip’s actions, Tagore has insightfully and shrewdly anticipated all these pitfalls of nationalism pointed out by later literary-cultural critics.
Tagore is not perhaps entirely historically accurate in his portrait of the swaraj. He has not, for example, incorporated in his narrative the extreme policies of brutality adopted by the Raj to crack the movement. Minto’s mischievous manifesto that “the strong hand carries more respect in India than even the recognition of British justice” led to widespread atrocities against the participants of the movement; university students were “harassed, persecuted and oppressed”, while those at lower levels were “flogged, fined and expelled.” Police were advised to beat up marchers with their long, metal-tipped lathis, and leaders who were found guilty were sentenced to “rigorous imprisonment”.
After the Khudiram incident, the British reaction was predictably strident, declaring that “ten of them would be shot for every life sacrificed.” However, although the writer has advertently left out this side of the story, his portrait of Sandip seems typical of the activities of the New Party, the revolutionary wing of Congress, under the leadership of Bipin Chandra Pal, who led a group of radical youths and edited a popular journal called Bande Mataram, and of Aurobindo Ghosh’s younger brother, Barindra Kumar, who was the leader of a group of young terrorists who were inspired by Russian anarchist activities and apotheosised violence.
Tagore was so deeply frustrated by swadeshi turning into a terrorist movement that he would spurn even Gandhi’s swaraj in later years. He was not to participate in a nationalist movement again because he came to believe that radical nationalism, like religious orthodoxy, breeds divisiveness and blind fanaticism: “Formalism in religion is like nationalism in politics: it breeds sectarian arrogance, mutual misunderstanding and a spirit of persecution”, he wrote in a letter to his friend C.F. Andrews. In another letter, he explained how nationalism, a cult of devil worship, was inherently destructive to the spirit of global unity and the creative bond of wholeness:

The nations love their own countries; and that national love has only given rise to hatred and suspicion of one another…. When we hear “Bande Mataram” from the house-tops, we shout to our neighbours: ‘You are not our brothers’…. Whatever may be its use for the present, it is like the house being set on fire simply for roasting the pig! Love of self, whether national or individual, can have no other destination except suicide.

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