Tagore being an active politician of his age has written numerous literary works on his ideologies about the social, economic, and political situation of India. He seeks the re-establishment and reconstruction of the old ideas and ideologies and seeks new ones as well.
Tagore was not keen for the attainment of political freedom. He believed that unless there is not an ‘atmasakti’ in us, we cannot be worthy of freedom. Tagore believed that spiritual liberation was an integral part in the attainment of political and social liberation. Emphasizing on this idea of atmasakti, he said that in order to regain atmasakti, regeneration of rural society was essential. He made an effort in forming a rural society where there will be a social hierarchy and at the top of the hierarchy, there will be a Samajpati through whom the people would be able to maintain contact with everybody in society. He said that regeneration of rural society was possible by encouraging yatras, folk-songs and organizing village fairs. We can see that he establishes this idea in his play, ‘The Post-office’. Here he presents an ideal village scenario where the King is the Samajpati through whom the villagers are connected. He wanted self-sufficiency of the villages like old times. Though, his attempts failed in forming this kind of a society.
Defending his idea of a hierarchical state he displays in his play, “The King and the Queen”, the sympathetic Queen eventually rebels against the callousness of state policy toward the hungry. She begins by inquiring about the ugly sounds outside the palace, only to be told that the noise is coming from “the coarse, clamorous crowd who howl unashamedly for food and disturb the sweet peace of the palace.” The Vice regal office in India could have taken a similarly callous view of Indian famines, right up to the easily preventable Bengal famine of 1943, just before independence, which killed between two and three million people. But a government in a multi-party democracy, with elections and free newspapers, cannot any longer dismiss the noise from “the coarse, clamorous crowd.”
Occasionally Tagore took part in the deliberations of the Bengal Provincial Conference held annually since 1890 with his young nephews and expected the leaders to speak in Bengali rather than English. He insisted that the Englishman in India was an external fact and that the country was the truest and complete fact: “Try to build up your country by your own strength because realization becomes complete through creation.” Hence, Tagore advocated that we can only realize our own self in the country if we seek to create the country we wish to live in by our thought, our activity and our service. He criticizes the character of the King, as he is wasting the country’s potential by his lack of determination and irresponsible attitude. Tagore affirms that a homeland is the creation of the mind and that is why the soul realizes itself on its own experience in the motherland (as the King does not attend the council house or the streets of his kingdom he does not experience and see the devastating conditions of his country). Tagore believed the country would attain a form of salvation only when all of its parts pulsated with passion for the recovery of the motherland (the King’s kingdom, in ‘The Lover’s Gift’, could not attain salvation as the government officers were corrupt). Hence, Tagore’s method for liberation was an internal and an intellectual movement which he wanted to present.
The word “alien” in the first act of, “The Lover’s Gift” is an indirect reference to the Britishers; the King in the first act says, “Banish all the foreign robbers from my kingdom this moment.” This is Tagore’s voice to banish the Britishers from the subcontinent. He wants them banished, but he also asserts through the play that until and unless the country’s leaders and the citizens do not have that atmasakti then this freedom from the Britishers is useless, (as the King himself would not probably prove to be a good leader even when the foreigners would be banished.) Instilling national pride, he believed that India must earn her freedom. The role of the leader in a state is very important.
Tagore’s passion for freedom underlies his firm opposition to unreasoned traditionalism, which makes one a prisoner of the past. He firmly disapproved of dictatorship and imperialism which the Mughals and the British Raj represented, by portraying the careless and irresponsible King in the play, ‘The Lover’s Gift’.
In December 1903 the government decided on the partition of Bengal. The Bengali Muslims welcomed the proposal whereas the Bengali Hindus deeply opposed the idea and retaliated. So, Amritsar massacre of April 13, 1919, took place in which 379 unarmed people at a peaceful meeting were gunned down by the army, and two thousand more were wounded. Tagore strongly disapproved of the idea of punishment, so he wrote a letter to the Viceroy of India, asking to be relieved of the knighthood he had accepted four years earlier. Referring this to the play, The Lover’s Gift’, we see that the King by attacking Kashmir is indirectly punishing Queen for leaving him not realizing the severe consequences that the people would face.
Tagore establishes a new political idea with its focus on individual and humanistic approach towards the set ideas. The novel Gora exemplifies Tagore’s vision of new, syncrestic India, rising above the considerations of caste, community and race. The character Gora is a staunch Hindu and a believer in nationalism (nationalism with its emphasis on self-respect and preservation of tradition). He focuses on Gora’s process of self-realization and a change from a nationalist to an internationalist. Gora projects himself as a true Indian to whom neither caste nor race nor nationality can inhibit. He is shown as a symbol of the rising nationalism of the twentieth century.
Rabindranath rebelled against the strongly nationalist form that the independence movement often took refrained him from taking a particularly active part in contemporary politics. He wanted to assert India’s right to be independent without denying the importance of what India could learn, freely and profitably from abroad.
“I invited thinkers and scholars from foreign lands to let our boys know how easy it is to realize our common fellowship, when we deal with those who are great, and that it is the puny who with their petty vanities set up barriers between man and man.” (Rabindranath Tagore 1929).
He wanted Indians to learn what is going on elsewhere, how others lived, what they valued, and so on, while remaining interested and involved in their own culture and heritage. Unlike Gandhi, Tagore did not resent the development of modern industries in India, or the acceleration of technical progress. Tagore was concerned that people not be dominated by machines, but he was not opposed to making good use of modern technology.
Tagore’s criticism on patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. He believed patriotism can limit both the freedom to engage ideas from outside narrow domestic walls and the freedom also to support the causes of people in other countries. As early as 1908, he put this in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, the wife of a great Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” Tagore presents this idea through the character of Kumarsen in the play, ‘The Lover’s Gift’; he surrendered to King Vikram in the name of patriotism but the fact is that the position of his people remains the same, they will be subjugated by the King’s army anyhow- his sacrifice is useless.
He wants a new kind of leadership which is sincere, dignified and not dependent. Tagore presses for more room for reasoning, and for a less traditionalist view, a greater interest in the rest of the world, and more respect for science and for objectivity generally. In his play, ‘The Lover’s Gift’, Tagore mocks such political leaders who for their own selfish reasons exploit the whole nation. He has drawn a caricature out of the King’s character to show a contrast to the character Kumarsen; the King becomes a foil for Kumarsen. Kumarsen shows extreme patriotism by surrendering his life for his people and his people’s respect for him was so intense that they tried to hide him knowing that teir lives were at stake. Here, Tagore also presents the idea that political leaders, like the King, are just wasting the country’s potential by wasting it on insignificant words and means which are neither practical nor propitious. Tagore’s disillusionment with contemporary Indian politics found expression in the following poem of ‘Kadi O Komol’:
Tell me not to sing please do not…
Are we assembled here to seek cheap fame, to get
Applause by weaving mere words,
To pass the night uttering insincere speeches
And earning false fame?
Who will wake up today and plunge into action?
Who wants to wipe out our Mother’s shame?
Tagore had a set concept of Indian womanhood. He re-established and re-affirms the state of woman in accordance with the old ideas. He believed that a woman’s domain differs from that of a man that is why her role in politics is limited. He disapproved of the fact that young girls were holding revolvers killed or tried to kill the British administrators. He told Dillip Kumar Roy;
“I do not think that woman stands to gain in the long run by rushing out into the open as a fellow-scabbler of her mate for the same laurels… She could never be at home in the sphere of masculine rough and tumble activities.”
In his play ‘The Lover’s Gift’ he presents this belief; the Queen, though a strong character, leaves her husband to fight for her country but returns to the King humbly asking his pardon, she could not fight for her brother, all she could do was surrender herself.
Rabindranath insisted on open debate on every issue, and distrusted conclusions based on a mechanical formula, no matter how attractive that formula might seem in isolation (such as “This was forced on us by our colonial masters – we must reject it,” “This is our tradition-we must follow it,” “We have promised to do this-we must fulfill that promise,” and so on). The question he persistently asks is whether we have reason enough to want what is being proposed, taking everything into account. Important as history is, reasoning has to go beyond the past. It is in the sovereignty of reasoning-fearless reasoning in freedom-that we can find Rabindranath Tagore’s lasting voice.