October , 2019
The mutual respect between Mahatma and Tagore is a lesson for today’s India
13:34 pm

Ellora De

Mahatma Gandhi was a nation builder and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was an international poet. The intellectual exchanges of these two leaders are assets of our country. There were strong differences in opinions between Tagore and Gandhiji, but still they possessed deep respect for each other. It was Tagore who popularised the term ‘Mahatma.’

Tagore in his essay ‘SatyerAhvan’ or the ‘The Call of Truth’ (written in 1921) wrote, “For long, our political leaders didn’t look beyond the English-educated group, as if their country was a nebula made out of the vapour of the English language, in which vague figures of Burke, Gladstone, Mazzini, Garibaldi and others floated across the eyes. No one noticed a real sacrifice or a real love for the countrymen here. At this juncture, Mahatma Gandhi came and stood before millions of the poor in India, in their own dress, and addressed them in their own language. Here was something true and real, there was nothing bookish about it.”

It is well documented that Gandhiji supported Tagore financially for his educational project in Shantiniketan. For Gandhiji, nationalism was everything. But Tagore believed in internationalism rather than nationalism. Tagore was a poet, Mahatma was a leader. Professor Pabitra Sarkar, Former Vice Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University told BE, “Tagore believed in empowering Indians througheducation and other rights, and the question of political emancipation might come after that.”

Professor Sarkar added, “There are differences in opinion between these two great men. The first instance  was when Tagore sent his letter on May 30, 1919 to Lord Chelmsford, the then Governor General of India, protesting  the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919, the act was criticised by Mahatma Gandhi. Again, when Gandhiji addressed all Indians to use ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel) to manufacture cotton textile in India and had said through that movement, India will get independence within one year, Tagore opposed. He opined that manufacturing cotton in India was fine but independence could not be achieved within one year just by operating ‘charkhas’. The next instance was when Gandhiji opposed western education,Tagore stated that education had no boundary. When in 1934, Gandhiji stated after the earthquake in Bihar, that the earthquake had happened due to the sin of untouchability, Tagore opposed Mahatma’s logic and said that the whole of India had been suffering from the sin of untouchability. According to Gandhi’s logic, the earthquake should have happened all over India. But in spite of the said differences, still there were immense faith and respect between Mahatma and Tagore.”

Tagore welcomed Gandhiji’s band (Phoenix boys) from South Africa at Santiniketan in 1915. This welcome had a great impact on Indian history. Following is the letter (undated) of Tagore to Gandhiji welcoming the Phoenix boys:

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

That you could think of my school as the right and the likely place where your Phoenix boys could take shelter, when they are in India, has given me real pleasure—and that pleasure has been greatly enhanced when I saw those dear boys in that place. We all feel that their influence will be of great value to our boys and I hope that they, in their turn, will gain something which will make their stay in Santiniketan fruitful. I write this letter to thank you for allowing your boys to become our boys as well and thus, form a living link in the Sadhana of both of our lives.

Very sincerely yours,

Rabindranath Tagore

Source: ‘Mahatma and the Poet’ by Sabyasachi Bhattcharya

Samir Kumar Das, Professor, Political Science Department, Calcutta University told BE, “Mahatma and Rabindranath were very much appreciative of each other and their mutual respect for each other was very prominent. I think our generation must always keep in mind their mutual respect. Even if you differ in terms of your opinion, still then, the most important thing is to pay mutual respect to each other. We must listen to others and we must respect others’ opinions. But if we believe that whatever we believe is correct and we do not have to learn from anyone, then probably we are dead. The friendship between these two great men actually teaches our generation tolerance. We see manifestation of intolerance in almost every work of life. So as a nation, we must remember Tagore and Mahatma because of their tolerance.”

Coming to the dissimilarities, Das added, “Tagore’s vision was cosmopolitan as well as universal whereas Gandhiji’s was totally nation based and rural oriented.” He also stated, “They both believed in restricting human greed and both were environmentalists.”


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