No two persons could probably differ so much as Gandhi and Tagore. The surprising thing is that both of these men with so much in common and drawing inspiration from the same wells of wisdom and thought and culture, should differ from each other so greatly. Discuss (250 words)
Gandhi and Tagore started writing to each other back in 1915, until Tagore’s death in 1941. They were in constant correspondence, sending letters and telegrams to each other, in which they’d express agreements as well as disagreements—often undercutting each other. One was a political leader, the other was a poet. The best part to note, however, is the quality of debate between these two great minds almost a century ago, confronting questions of India’s future and the freedom movement.
Instances of contradictory views between Gandhi and Tagore
There is a popular perception that Tagore and Gandhi were great friends who seldom disagreed on issues concerning India. Tagore, who admired Gandhi as a political leader, was critical of some of Gandhi’s strategies.
- In the aftermath of the 1934 earthquake in Bihar, for instance, Gandhi stated that the prevalence of untouchability caused the calamity—it was divine intervention. Tagore, in response, penned a scathing letter to Gandhi, in which he expressed his “painful surprise” at Gandhi’s “unscientific view of things”.
- In the fourth Congress session in Calcutta
- Gandhi asked Tagore if it was possible to hold the session in Hindi or Urdu. Tagore said that it wasn’t possible, adding that English was the only language of communication that was possible for people who were coming from different states, including Madras.
- There was a discussion on burning the foreign cloth. Tagore was, of course, furious and argued that people would be naked and would have nothing to hide their skin with. Gandhi in response said that the Indian people should wear clothes that were theirs—which belonged to (the land). So he wanted to empower the Indian people to make their own cloth and be self-reliant.
- Mahatma Gandhi in his book “Hind-Swaraj” criticized both the moderate and extremist nationalists of the Indian National Congress as he believed that both their methods were insufficient to give a unique identity to a uniquely Indian-form of nationalism.
- Tagore believed that nationalism was just another term for the appropriation of wealth and territory of other countries and that it would violate the basic ideals of humanity.
- Mahatma Gandhi advocated that the role of a ‘lingua franca’ (common language between speakers whose native languages are different.) will play a crucial role in fostering nationalism in a country that has different languages and dialect groups.
- Whereas, Rabindranath Tagore believed that contemporary nationalism will eventually take a violent form and thus it was necessary to arrive at an alternative.
Even though they differed, Tagore had strikingly issued a statement in defence of Gandhi, from Santiniketan, on February 6, 1934, well before his statement was published in the Harijan. He forcefully argued that “To malign a life so truly dedicated as his because of occasional differences of opinion seems to be carrying public ingratitude to the point of meanness. I have often disagreed with him in public and even quite recently have criticised his belief that the recent earthquake devastation in Bihar is a divine chastisement, for the sin of untouchability but I have enough regard for the sincerity of his religious convictions and his abiding love for the poor as to hold his differences of opinion with me with respect.”