Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nationalism - III

Here are some more passages from Tagore's Nationalism (you can read it online here):
In political civilization, the state is an abstraction and relationship of men utilitarian. Because it has no root in sentiments, it is so dangerously easy to handle. Half a century has been enough for you [Europe] to master this machine ; and there are men among you, whose fondness for it exceeds their love for the living ideals, which were born with the birth of your nation and nursed in your centuries. It is like a child who, in the excitement of his play, imagines he likes his playthings better than his mother. 
Have you never felt shame, when you see the trade advertisements, not only plastering the whole town with lies and exaggerations, but invading the green fields, where the peasants do their honest labour, and the hill-tops, which greet the first pure light of the morning ? It is so easy to dull our sense of honour and delicacy of mind with constant abrasion, while falsehoods stalk abroad with proud steps in the name of trade, politics and patriotism, that any protest against their perpetual intrusion into our lives is considered to be sentimentalism, unworthy of true manliness. 
And it has come to pass that the children of those heroes who would keep their word at the point of death, who would disdain to cheat men for vulgar profit, who even in their fight would much rather court defeat than be dishonourable, have become energetic in dealing with falsehoods and do not feel humiliated by gaining advantage from them. And this has been effected by the charm of the word 'modern.' But if undiluted utility be modern, beauty is of all ages ; if mean selfishness be modern, the human ideals are no new inventions. [He said this a century ago. What would he have said now?! - Suresh]

It is the continual and stupendous dead pressure of this unhuman upon the living human under which the modern world is groaning. Not merely the subject races, but you [Europeans] who live under the delusion that you are free, are every day sacrificing your freedom and humanity to this fetich of nationalism, living in the dense poisonous atmosphere of world-wide suspicion and greed and panic. 
I have seen in Japan the voluntary submission of the whole people to the trimming of their minds and clipping of their freedom by their government, which through various educational agencies regulates their thoughts, manufactures their feelings, becomes suspiciously watchful when they show signs of inclining toward the spiritual, leading them through a narrow path not toward what is true but what is necessary for the complete welding of them into one uniform mass according to its own recipe. The people accept this all-pervading mental slavery with cheerfulness and pride because of their nervous desire to turn themselves into a machine of power, called the Nation, and emulate other machines in their collective worldliness. the newly converted fanatic of nationalism answers that "so long as nations are rampant in this world we have not the option freely to develop our higher humanity. We must utilize every faculty that we possess to resist the evil by assuming it ourselves in the fullest degree. For the only brotherhood possible in the modern world is the brotherhood of hooliganism." 

But it is no consolation to us to know that the weakening of humanity from which the present age is suffering is not limited to the subject races, and that its ravages are even more radical because insidious and voluntary in peoples who are hypnotized into believing that they are free. 
...the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole 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. 

During the Swadeshi movement in Bengal, some students came to seek Tagore permission to boycott classes. He refused to give his consent making them angry and doubt his patriotism. He said that he is never tempted by 'the anarchy of mere emptineess' even when it is temporary. He said that tempting young people away from their careers before it had begun was a loss which could never be repaired and he could not take such a decision lightly.Ramachandra Guha writes in the introduction to the Penguin edition of Nationalism:
He had been accused of being anti-western by some, of being a colonial agent by others, seen as too much of a patriot by the foreigner and as not patriotic enough by the Indian. He had, we might say, been comprehensively misunderstood by the ignorant.
Tagore's idea of nationalism was looked on with hostility by middle class people who, in the European mould, wanted a more aggressive nationalism. Thus the national anthem has been dogged by controversy about its origin, fueled by people who had to say something because they couldn't directly question his patriotic credentials. The song was not parochial enough for them. Ashis Nandy writes in his essay The Illegitimacy of Nationalism
...he was bitter about the controversy..., for he knew that it was a no-win situation. He could never satisfy his detractors, as their accusations did not stem from genuine suspicions about the origins of the song but were partly a product of middle-class dissatisfaction with the 'insufficient nationalism' the song expressed,and partly a response to what seemed to them to be Tagore's own 'peculiar'versionof patriotism. To the chagrin of Tagore's critics, his version of patriotism rejected the violence propagated by terrorists and revolutionaries, it rejected the concept of a single-ethnic Hindu rashtra as anti-Indian, and even anti-Hindu, and it dismissed the idea of the nation-state as being the main actor in Indian political life.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nationalism - II

Tagore was wary of patriotic fire escalating to xenophobia and the pursuit of material gain depriving people of their humanity thereby converting them into machines. He was of the view that hatred of the foreigner could easily be converted into hatred of Indians who were different from themselves. He illustrated his fears in a novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) which Satyajit Ray made into a movie. (You can watch the movie with English sub-titles in Youtube.)

During WWI he went to US and Japan where he warned  his audiences against harbouring the thought that love of one's nation meant celebrating its military strength. These lectures were published in a slim book called Nationalism which is not as well known as his stories and poems. reflecting the appeal of nationalistic sentiment among the middle class. Penguin has issued an edition with an introduction by Ramachandra Guha in which he writes:
No one could accuse Tagore of not loving his country. That is what lends a special force to his criticism of nationalism. As he saw it, the staggering heterogeneity of India was the product of its hospitality, in the past, to cultures and ideas from outside. He wished that the openness be retained and even enhanced in the present. Unlike other patriots, Tagore refused to privilege a particular aspect of India - Hindu, North Indian, upper caste, etc. - and make this the essence of the nation, and then demand that other aspects conform or subordinate themselves to it. For Tagore, as the historian Tanika Sarkar has pointed out, India 'was and must remain a land without a centre'. 
In the book, he doesn't mince words in criticising the nationalistic fervour that the European colonisers try to stoke in their people which was 'based on exclusiveness'. It destroys the whole futures of other people and 'tries to thwart all symptoms of greatness outside its own boundaries'. He calls this rapacious civilisation a 'prolific weed' that sets great store by ' the costly ceremonials of its worship, calling this patriotism'.

He acknowledges where Europe is great, her art and literature, her science and technology etc. He says that 'Europe is supremely good in her beneficence where her face is turned to all humanity; and Europe is supremely evil in her malefic aspect where her face is turned only upon her own interest'. He emphasises that true modernising does not lie in mimicry of Europeans but in 'freedom of mind, not slavery of taste'. He frowns on the mentality of 'survival of the fittest' or 'might is right'. (Unfortunately that is the meaning that most people have which, as I have written earlier, is a misunderstanding.) Then he writes this ringing  passage:
But now, where the spirit of the Western nationalism prevails, the whole people is being taught from boy- hood to foster hatreds and ambitions by all kinds of means, by the manufacture of half-truths and untruths in history, by persistent misrepresentation of other races and the culture of unfavourable sentiments towards them, by setting up memorials of events, very often false, which for the sake of humanity should be speedily forgotten, thus continually brewing evil menace towards neighbours and nations other than their own. This is poisoning the very fountainhead of humanity. It is discrediting the ideals, which were born of the lives of men, who were our greatest and best. It is holding up gigantic selfishness as the one universal religion for all nations of the world. We can take anything else from the hands of science, but not this elixir of moral death. Never think for a moment, that the hurts you inflict upon other races will not infect you, and the enmities you sow around your homes will be a wall of protection to you for all time to come. To imbue the minds of a whole people with an abnormal vanity of its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations by exhibiting trophies won from war, and using these in schools in order to breed in children's minds contempt for others, is imitating the West where she has a festering sore, whose swelling is a swelling of disease eating into its vitality. 
In Mahabharata, there are some aggressive, war-mongering views, for eg. Duryodana quotes Brihaspati as saying that no device could be considered wrong which had as its object the destruction of formidable enemies. Opposing views are also expressed eg. Balarama says that a fit envoy would be one who is not a war-monger but is dead set, in spite of every difficulty, on achieving a peaceful settlement. I would have loved to read about Tagore's views on these statements but unfortunately, I am not aware of whether he has written about them.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Nationalism - I

Many nationalist leaders in India thought that promoting nationalistic sentiments like in the Nation-states of Europe were essential to pull India into the contemporary world. They began to equate expression of skepticism about nationalism as compromising with western imperialism. But that did not stop some influential figures in the movement from expressing doubts about nationalism as they began realising that colonialism's record of violence was because of decay of their moral values brought about by their nationalistic sentiments.

Jiddu Krishnamurti said, 'Obviously what causes war is the desire for power, position, prestige, money; also the disease called nationalism, the worship of a flag; and the disease of organized religion, the worship of a dogma.'A leading figure in the national movement who had reservations about the European model of nationalism was Rabindranath Tagore. He was a patriot but not a nationalist as shown by his decision to return his knighthood after the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre.To most Indians the two concepts are the same. In Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell writes:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By "patriotism" I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Tagore was a widely travelled man having visited US, UK, Japan, China, etc and thus had an understanding of many cultures. From his observations he arrived at a nuanced understand of India's place in the world. He was not happy about the xenophobic and inward looking tendencies in some parts of the Indian national movement. An example of such militant nationalism was Tilak's statement that 'love of nation is one's fist duty' or that India was 'God's chosen nation'. He felt that both India and the West could learn from each other and that 'it is our vanity which makes us think that it is a battle between contending rights'.

Many people may be surprised that Tagore, who was anti-imperialist throughout his life and whose songs and poems inspired many during the Indian national movement, was negative about nationalism. Gandhi differed in some aspects from Tagore in this respect, but his version of nationalism was more inclusive than what is popular today. Both recognised a link between morality and politics which was fading away from the conventional idea of nationalism. Gandhi's views were modified by debates with Tagore who made no bones about his view that nationalism results in 'inhuman cruelty' that 'struts with barefaced pride'.

Initially Tagore was more open to the idea of nationalism as defined by the west and like many Indians of the time felt that Indian society had degenerated. But slowly he began to be disillusioned and began to discover 'how easily those who accepted the highest truths of civilisation disowned them with impunity whenever questions of national self-interest were involved'. Ashis Nandy quotes Tagore in his essay The Illegitimacy of Nationalism:
There came a time when perforce I had to snatch myself away from mere appreciation of literature ... I began to appreciate that perhaps in no other modern state was there such a hopeless dearth of the most elementary needs of existence. And yet it was this country whose resources had fed for so long the wealth  and magnificence of the British people.While I was lost in the contemplation of the world of civilization. I could never have remotely imagined that the great ideals of humanity wold end in such  ruthless travesty. But today a glaring example of it stares me in the face in the utter and contemptuous indifference of a so-called civilised race to the well-being of scores of Indian people.
The brutality that even  unwilling imperialists feel compelled to commit because of their feeling of being trapped in their cloak of authority is shown in George Orwell's essay, Shooting an Elephant. Tagore concluded that such callousness was due to nationalistic feelings of the colonialists because of which only self-interest rules which gradually made him disenchanted with the western idea of nationalism. Thus the only person who has written two national anthems (for India and Bangladesh, the latter being the only Muslim nation in the world to have a national anthem written by a non-Muslim) came to regard nationalism as a bhougaliik apadevata or a geographical demon. In Imperialists, Nationalists, Democrats, Sarvepalli Gopal writes:
Living in a world 'wild with the delirium of hatred', Tagore felt that the chief lesson to be learnt was how to be rid of 'arrogant nationalism'. As it had developed in the West, a nation was 'an organized gregariousness of gluttony', with selfishness a necessity and therefore a virtue.  He loved India and was eager to see her free; but he did not wish her to develop as a nation on the European model, and said there was no word for nation in his language.