Gandhi and Tagore

Gandhi called Rabindranath Tagore ‘Gurudev’. There was much in common between the two and much of a difference, too. They held each other in mutual respect, in spite of differences in viewpoint. Both looked upon humanity with love and held a Vision of a better world, but their approaches differed: Gandhi was an activist, Tagore, the imaginative poet, a visionary.

Gandhi and Tagore had widely different childhoods, family background, and educational experience. They had different views on politics and international conditions and yet shared a spiritual approach to problems. Gandhi looked upon God as truth, and Tagore saw godhead in love. They had their own stands of evaluation of individuals, or common people and events.

When Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement, Tagore disagreed with him. To disbelieve the ability of the Mahatma was out of question. What the poet was chary of was the psychosis of the crowd. The poet was distinctly hesitant about the outcome if the right to noncooperate was given to a crowd without any leash to check its self-willed march. The poet sought to divest the movement of its earthly trappings and lift it to a higher plane— to that of spiritual import. According to the poet, ” ‘No’ in its passive moral form is asceticism and in its active moral form is violence.” Tagore’s principal objection was that violence was inherent in the concept of non-cooperation and hence the movement was negative in character.

Tagore’s attitude was similar in the case of burning of foreign cloth. But Gandhi could not accept this interpretation of the poet. Rebutting the view, Gandhi made a significant remark: “In burning my foreign clothes, I burn my shame”. In other words, the very idea of foreign domination over the country was being obliterated when foreign cloth was being consigned to the flames. If for Gandhl it symbolised breaking off the alien shackles, for Tagore it implied mindless destruction.

On the question of the Bihar earthquake the views of Gandhi and Tagore were diametrically opposite: here Tagore’s rationalism was matched against Gandhi’s blind faith: the former’s scientific temper of mind against Gandhi’s superstition. A similar controversy was raised regarding the cult
of charkha propounded by Gandhi. Tagore’s main argument against it was that the charkha retarded the development of a fierce mind and hampered initiative. It tended, for
Tagore, to shape everyone alike, engendered in them a love of mechanical habits instead of fostering creative abilities and ended by making everyone a prey to drudgery, a servant of joyless work. It was a denial of the vitality of science as a panacea for the evils of poverty and destitution.

To quote Tagore, “…that the all-embracing poverty which has overwhelmed our country cannot be removed by working with our hards to the neglect of science. Nothing
can be more dignified drudgery then that man’s ‘knowing’ should stop dead or his ‘doing’ go on for ever.” He believed, when science can be fruitfully applied on a nationwide scale towards the removal of all wants, to forgo the benefits of science and to remain fixed to the charkha is tantamount
to betraying a medieval and obscurantist attitude to life.

It is not necessary to point to particular areas of agreement to stress the similarity of outlook between Tagore and Gandhi. To the Indian mind, the ideological affinity between the two is in their deep religiosity, moral sense and faith in India’s spiritual values. God, Truth or whatever we call it was the prime source of inspiration to both.

As far as their attitude to and love of the village is concerned, both were on the same grounds. However, their sensibilities were different. The intuitive sense of the poet is wholly his; it is not possible to share it with someone else. The predominantly action-based life of Gandhi has little in it of poetic imagination; but that deficiency of his mental make-up is more than compensated for by his love for man ad its focal point. Of course the poet’s love of the village sought manifestation in practical work too.

It is not easy to reconcile every view of a poet– a dreamer and an idealist in the main – with that of a man of action; but in the poet’s case this reconciliation became an actuality. Sucj synthesis is rate but it is nevertheless true.