Tagore and Gandhi, while taking each other very seriously, nevertheless had a long and inconclusive debate about nationalism and the struggle for freedom.
What could Tagore say to Gandhi in heaven as they both pondered their own ideas with historical hindsight on Independence day?
“I said that!
“I warned you against domestic tyrants. Your independence is not the freedom I envisioned. You insist that independence is above all about regaining state power from foreign tyrants. My concept of freedom, kept in Gitanjali 35today has a broader scope and higher relevance:
“Where there is a mind that is fearless and holds its head high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world is not divided by narrow domestic walls;
Where words emanate from the depths of truth;
Where tireless striving reaches out towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason does not stray into the dreary desert sands of dead habit;
Where the mind guided by You into thought and action is ever-expanding In that paradise of freedom, Father, let my country wake up.”
Gandhi may have retorted Tagore:
“I am not only fighting for state power, even though it is an essential part of the struggle for freedom. I am pursuing Ram Rajya which is not very different from your concept of freedom. May I add that it is far from the Hindu Rashtra of Savarkar and the Hindu Right which seeks to exclude certain citizens from its ambitions. Ram Rajya, like your concept of freedom in Gitanjali, is an inclusive and just society, not belligerent. I dedicate August 15, 1947 to contemplation and soul-searching, not to celebrate the removal of foreign tyranny. It is only a prerequisite, not a sufficient condition for freedom. Freedom struggle continued after Independence, but I was not allowed to pursue it.”
To which Tagore could have answered:
“How can you hope to achieve Ram Rajya if, after taking state power from foreign tyrants, it is handed over to domestic bigots? What kind of person – with notable exceptions like Nehru – runs independent India, and that includes our current leader? Now the country will need to fight for freedom again, this time from domestic tyrants.”
In response, Gandhi may have turned to Dr. BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, and reminded Tagore that these two have a responsibility to realize their vision of an independent India. Ambedkar drafted India’s constitution, the institutional framework within which the new republic operated, and Nehru was its first leader in more than a decade and a half. As a last resort, he left behind a powerful political tool that could be used against minor domestic tyrants. The nonviolent Satyagraha was strong enough to drive the world’s most powerful empire out of India.
“The constitution I drafted,” Ambedkar might have said, “sets a reasonable framework for a just and inclusive society that both of you, as well as Nehru and I, aspire to. It puts all religions in one place, guarantees basic rights for all citizens, with special protections in place for those who are ostracized by society for long periods of time and personally I have defended their rights and given directives to the state to ensure social justice. I have done my best to balance the power between the executive, the parliament and the judiciary in order to stop the tyrants in the country.”
Nehru may have said on his own behalf the following:
“I have certainly been given a constitution that has all the features Ambedkar spoke of, but what can I do if my colleagues are not fully committed to secularist values, individual freedom, rationalism, social justice or even individual rights. Probability? I have personally defended the cause of the peasantry against the oppressive zamindars in the struggle for freedom, but I have received little support for effectively implementing the abolition of zamindari, nor Hindu Code Bill. The Constitution gives the Prime Minister and the central executive branch full powers, but I want to operate democratically and not become the brown tyrant that Tagore warned us about. I regret that it was my daughter, who should have known better, that was the first executive to abuse the powers vested in the central government to undermine democracy. It is here credits that she made a quick comeback, but she still shows the stereotype that later tyrants built upon. My grandson Rajiv, although carrying my vision of a modern India, did not have the moral courage to overcome the dark clouds of religious bigotry that enveloped the country. Republic.”
After listening to Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru, this is what Tagore might have concluded:
“My initial argument was that the leadership of the Congress party, with notable exceptions like Gandhi and Nehru, was not ready to assume the role of a free India. I have no brief information on the British Raj, but the transfer of power is only the beginning, not the end, of the liberal project. Gandhi and I agreed on this. I fear that this project may be canceled as soon as India gains its independence from foreign domination. Mahatma would certainly have gone ahead with the project if he had been physically fit to do so, but perhaps Nehru, who had the same desire, could have secured his freedom much better had he been less focus on the ‘commanding heights’ of both physicality and softness. infrastructure (education), and devote more of its attention and resources to the superior advantage of the society where the roots of freedom are nurtured.
“Ambedkar drafted a good constitution, but perhaps he was too focused on social justice and too little on freedom, probably out of fear that the new Republic would fall prey to political tendencies. The direction of division has a long history in India. India remains a ‘forming nation’, newly formed from a number of ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse countries with centuries of independent political history, with all the empires India is both very distant and relatively short-lived. To strengthen the Center, the constitution has granted it far-reaching powers, including the appointment of important constitutional positions with all-India powers expected to preserve the integrity of the constitution. and keep its key organs in the arms of the executive branch.
“This was ultimately self-defeating, as this structure went against Indian history which has been characterized by considerable regional autonomy due to its diversity. Whenever pan-Indian empires tried to centralize, like the later Tughlaqs or Aurangzeb, these empires quickly collapsed. Essentially, the British ruled through three separate Presidents rather than from Delhi or London, while more than a hundred subordinate states had their own rulers and governments. There are inadequate safeguards to stop autocrats and resolute demagogues. On the contrary, the focus of the establishment The father of the US constitution, on which Ambedkar also relied, defended freedom from demagogues who could use the will of the people to undermine democracy, based on experience and related debates. important in ancient Greco-Roman polity and philosophy. As a result, American institutions have so far survived well in the face of demagogues and autocrats, while in India they have collapsed rapidly. Since the leaders of the new Republic are not yet prepared or mature enough to exercise power, the protections for democracy should have been stronger.”
When we fought for independence, I was full of hope. If I had to rewrite Gitanjali 35 with the benefit of hindsight, it might read as follows:
Where the mind is filled with fear
and the head wobbles;
Where knowledge is controlled,
Where the world breaks
and divided by narrow house walls;
Where do words come from?
depth of falsehood;
Where tired hands stretch out
their arms in hope of descending;
Where the stream of reason is clear
lost in a dream
sand desert of obstinacy and dead habits;
Where the mind is led backwards
into thoughts and actions increasingly diminishing –
From there Slough of Despond My father,
shake my country wake up.
Alok Sheel is a former civil servant and writer.