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The great Indian Debate on Nationalism: Gandhi v Tagore

The difference of idea of a nation and nationalism between Tagore and Gandhi. While Gandhi wanted �Purna Swarajya�, Tagore wanted the country to be free from the yoke of British imperialism yet Tagore developed his own ideology of ultimate freedom and degree of nationalism. He stressed the expression of genuine principles and unity in diversity yet claimed the societal structure of India to remain as it is. By not putting the country before humanity, he argued about the consequences of doing so. Tagore pointed towards the war and limited rights of the citizens are due to the extreme patriotic epidemic and identified India by her diversity.

Both Gandhi and Tagore, had distinct and futuristic perspectives about the evaluation of nationalism. While Tagore considered imperialism as an external expression of nationalism; Gandhi, on the other hand, gave the idea of nationalism as to be based on self-sufficiency at all levels of society. The Great Indian debate: Gandhi v Tagore shows the different forms of nationalism and nation. Where two great nationalists debated indirectly and gave us the idea of being diverse and united in and as a nation, at the same time warned us about the Oppressive Nationalism.

Gandhi and Tagore: nationalism
Mahatma Gandhi advocated that the role of a �lingua franca� would play a crucial role in fostering nationalism in a country that has different languages and dialect groups. In his book Hind Swaraj, Gandhi talked about the problem a nation could face in relevance to religion and language. At that time many people believed India will no longer be "one" nation after the end of British rule. This was mostly because of multi-religious groups that live in India. That didn't stop Gandhi from believing that this will be a window for India to be an example to the world. According to Tagore, we are taught from our childhood that our nation is our god and it is more important than humanity. Tagore was against British rule but was also against hardcore nationalism. According to him, the very idea of nationalism is the promotion of unity among the brothers. It means the complete absence of hate between different communities. Nationalism in his words didn't mean to invade the weaker ones and annihilation of minorities. The identity of the nation is our diversity.

Nationalism in 1920

In 1920, during the non-cooperation movement, Gandhi asked Indians not to buy British goods and products and only consume Indian products. Then Tagore became the voice of labourers and peasants. He argued that many Indians couldn't afford this curb. Indian cloth was expensive while the foreign cloth was comparatively cheaper. In his essay, �Shodupaye� he mentioned the struggle traders were facing. How they were getting noticed to shun foreign commodities and many even encountered violence afterward. According to Tagore, the greatest curse upon India was not foreign cloth but the fight within it. According to him, we are only free when our minds are completely free. Until you are not free to think for yourself, you are not absolutely free.

Compulsory nationalism
In a letter addressed to his friend A.M. Bose in 1908, Tagore wrote that he will never let patriotism to come before humanity. In his book Nationalism, he even said that "Nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age." He warned us about Repressive Nationalism and Compulsory Nationalism which ends in war, conflict, and retraction of citizen's rights. Tagore also argued that when love for one's country becomes a "sacred obligation" then disaster is the only remaining outcome that is inevitable. According to him, we are taught from our childhood that our nation is our god and it is more important than humanity.

The above discussion indicates the horrors of the aggressive and compulsory turn nationalism has taken in India. Gandhi and Tagore had foreseen this in the twentieth century itself. In fact, there is a very thin line that creates the difference between love for the nation and jingoism. Nationalism generates compassion whereas jingoism can lead to hatred towards other nations or even for specific communities residing within the same nation. This hostility can be specific sections within the same country or other national groups. Where love for the nation will be a law people will be forced to follow and not a feeling.

Works Cited:
  1. Correspondent, S. (2016, December 02). 'Tagore's and Gandhi's idea of nationalism was inclusive'. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from
  2. Admin. (2020, September 09). Differences Between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore on Nationalism: Gandhi vs Tagore on Nationalism. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from
  3. 2, N. (2018, October 02). Greatest Indian Debate: Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore on Nationalism. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from
  4. Nation and Nationalism: Revisiting Gandhi and Tagore. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Indrajeet K Singh
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