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A Rethink on Nationalism - Tagore's Perspective

November 23, 2017
12 months

What necessitates a rethink on nationalism?

  • A series of events, in recent years, in India have come to speak for the whatnots of nationalism.
  • They include:
  1. Compelling universities to install statues of leaders in the campuses.
  2. Directing Central Universities to ‘proudly’ fly the national flag at gigantic heights.
  3. Making universities adorn the walls of the corridors with portraits of martyr soldiers in the name of ‘Wall of Heroes’ campaign.
  4. Marching with long stretches of the Indian flag for miles in the name of ‘tiranga rallies’.
  5. Parking retired army battle tank in the university campus.

Can such actions kindle meaningful nationalism?

  • From an individualistic perspective, patriotism and nationalism are not most often real emotions, sentiments or feelings.
  • They are, in essence, political constructs and political concepts, and their effects are made real only through political action.
  • Thus, these ideas are to be constantly redefined, debated and reinterpreted as a political community for it to take effect at individual level.
  • It is thus highly uncertain in a knowledgeful society to instil patriotism by a mere show of ‘nationalist’ objects and symbols.

What are Tagore's views on nationalism?

  • The great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore had many anxieties and worries about the very idea of nationalism itself.
  • He has put forward several stunning and soul-searching reflections through his lectures rendered in India and abroad in this regard.
  • Tagore ridiculed the idea of taking pride of and basing nationalism on the weaknesses and inefficiencies of a neighbouring country.
  • He called such actions as 'patriotic arrogance' and as ' organized selfishness'.
  • Tagore, instead, wished the young minds to aspire for the ‘higher ideals of humanity’.
  • For Tagore, true nationalism rests on engaging more with India's own deep and troubled history of “social adjustment” and taking pride in it.
  • It calls for realizing and cherishing the civilizational possibilities and potentials.

How important is freedom of expression in this regard?

  • For realising Tagore's idea of nationalism by celebrating the self-worth of the nation, it is highly essential to make space for critical reflection on the past.
  • This is because nationalism and patriotism are not frozen or dead concepts but ideas that require constant nourishment.
  • In this context, the universities of India should be enabled to function as platforms for exchanging and sharing of ideas and thoughts.
  • They should be given the freedom to examine and deepen the content of nationalism and patriotism in a meaningful way.
  • Logically, freedom of thought and speech and space for political activism within campuses are vital to engage the young minds in this process.
  • All India needs at this juncture are good winning arguments and lots of people to talk, agree and disagree, to make democracy and nationalism more meaningful.


Source: Indian Express

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