If is often said that Tagore was anti-Gandhi and non-patriotic. Who hasn’t received spam mails on the Jana Gana Mana controversy? Well, if Tagore was non-patriotic, he would have never returned his knighthood. Let’s understand how and where, Tagore differed from Gandhi.
A good friend of Mr. M. K. Gandhi, Tagore preferred staying out of politics. He was against nationalism and miltiarism as a matter of principle, and instead promoted spiritual values and the creation of a new world culture founded in multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. He served as a spiritual and creative beacon to his countrymen, and indeed, the whole world.
The foundation of Tagore’s world-view was education. He firmly believed that independence from the British, in itself, would be meaningless and will merely lead to replacing a foreign oppressor with home-grown ones as long as Indians stayed mired in superstition, ritualism and were closed to new ideas. He strongly opposed Gandhi’s philosophy of “Education can wait, Swaraj cannot”.
Although an admirer of Gandhi as a person, he also publicly opposed Gandhi’s use of religion and his invocation of India’s past glories as a means to bring masses together. Having seen how nationalism, as defined by pride and cultural chauvinism, had led to suffering in the first half of the twentieth century both in Asia and in Europe, mostly from the nationalist movements in Japan and Germany.
Tagore’s criticism of Gandhian struggle was not just motivated by ideology but also on practical lines. In Bengal, the cloth trade had a strong Muslim presence and when Congress leaders asked people to burn clothes produced by British mills, many of the Muslim merchants refused just on economic grounds. These Muslims were later tagged as anti-nationals. Tagore had foreseen problems like these. Tagore was of the opinion that unless Indian industry had products that could compete in the market on their quality alone, it was unreasonable to ask people who had invested in the cloth trade to reject British-made goods just out of patriotism.
Tagore was a strong supporter of the Swadeshi movement in a different way. He, in-fact worked hard in promoting local industry and local education as an alternative to the British way. He became one of pioneers behind the National Council of Education, responsible for the foundation of Jadavpur University as an alternative to the Calcutta University based on the British way of education.
Tagore and Gandhi were both great thinkers of their times. They have both played their roles in framing modern India. Let’s not paint them in black and white to draw random conclusions.