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Seeking India’s spiritual destiny

Tagore’s support for Subhas during this critical phase of national politics strengthened his zeal for gaining freedom for the country.

Argha Kr Banerjee | New Delhi |

When in August 1939, the Congress Working Committee disqualified Subhas Chandra Bose as president of the Congress in Bengal, banning him for three years, Rabindranath Tagore yet again sent an urgent telegram to Gandhi: “Owing gravely critical situation all over India and especially in Bengal would urge Congress Working Committee immediately remove ban against Subhash and invite his cordial cooperation in supreme interest national unity.” Gandhi’s response to telegram yet again asserted that the interdict on Bose could not be lifted stressing, “My personal opinion is you should advise Subhas Babu to discipline if ban is to be removed.”

Writing to C.F. Andrews on 15 January 1940, Gandhi was even more unequivocal about Bose: ‘If you think it proper tell Gurudev that I have never ceased to think of his wire and anxiety about Bengal. I feel that Subhas is behaving like a spoilt child of the family. The only way to make up with him is to open his eyes. And then his politics show sharp differences. They seem to be unbridgeable. I am quite clear that the matter is too complicated for Gurudev to handle. Let him trust that no one in the committee has anything personal against Subhas. For me, he is my son.”

As the difficulties created by Gandhi’s camp proved to be insurmountable, Bose had no other alternative but to resign as President of the Congress. This historic decision was welcomed by Tagore in a telegram: “The dignity and forbearance which you have shown in the midst of a most aggravating situation has won my admiration and confidence in your leadership. The same decorum has still to be maintained by Bengal for the sake of her own selfrespect and thereby to help to turn your apparent defeat in a permanent victory.”

Tagore’s support for Subhas during this critical phase of national politics strengthened his zeal for gaining freedom for the country. As Arabinda Poddar observes in Tagore: The Political Personality: “Indeed, about Rabindranath’s affection and reverence for Subhas in this phase there cannot be any doubt whatever. He even had to intervene in the latter’s support when Gandhite leaders of Bengal, like Satish Das Gupta and others, indulged in misinterpreting one of his statements to antagonize the people against Subhas. In a press statement the poet asserted that his general statement indicting Bengal’s political leaders for ugly recriminations and intrigues was not directed at Subhas, but at those who preferred quarrelling to doing something positive, and at the same time hoped that Subhas’s patriotic efforts would someday be crowned with success.”

Notwithstanding Tagore’s support for Bose during times of political stress, Bose seemed immensely grateful to the bard for his inspiring spiritual resilience. Bose’s spiritual sensibility, as revealed in his speeches, remained engrained in the philosophies of Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Rammohan Roy and Sri Aurobindo, among others. Speaking in Chinsurah in 1929, he mentioned: “The ideal that used to enthuse the student community of Bengal, say, fifteen years ago, was the ideal of Swami Vivekananda… When a new era was ushered in our country before the age of Vivekananda, Raja Rammohan Roy was our guide.” Drawing parallels between the spiritual and the political worlds, he asserted: “The unity which Ramakrishna and Vivekananda established between ‘the one’ and ‘the many’ in the spiritual world, Deshbandhu achieved or at least tried to achieve in the life of the nation and in the political sphere.”

In speech after speech Subhas tried to sensitize the masses towards a spiritual destiny. Political success for him was an extension of a larger spiritual enlightenment. It is this deep sense of spirituality that drew Subhas to Tagore. Addressing Tagore in Santiniketan in 1939, Subhash underlined the need for right interpretation of notion of ‘sacrifice’ especially in taking on the privations and adversities of the ongoing freedom struggle against the British rule: “We are apt to interpret sacrifice wrongly. It looks as if there is in it pain and suffering. In genuine sacrifice there is no pain. Man cannot sacrifice when he has the feeling of pain. The immense happiness in sacrifice has manifested in a big way in your life. Let that happiness inspire and encourage us in our earnest prayer.”

In actualization of the cause, Subhas was deeply inspired by Tagore’s philosophy and spirituality: “You have shown to the nation – why only the nation, the whole humanity — the road to an ideal, you have not merely indicated the path, you have been to trying to guide people along that road. Thus your efforts were not limited to letters and literature, your Sadhana was not limited to worship of the Divine, you have striven to transform your inner ideal into external reality. We only wish to submit to you in all humility – that that ideal is also our life’s ideal because it is our national ideal. Whether or not we are able to attain that ideal in our lifetime we have accepted it inside us, in our external existence and we are trying to follow that ideal and shall continue to do so in the future.”


(The writer is Dean of Arts, St Xavier’s College (Autonomous) Kolkata)