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What Would Tagore Think Of SC’s National Anthem Ruling?

Posted by Pranav Prakash in Society
December 5, 2016

If one were to read the interim order of the Supreme Court that seeks to make it mandatory to stand up for the national anthem before the screening of movies, one could be excused for presuming that we are all legally obliged now to make our patriotism theatrical, so to speak.

To what extent this judicial masterstroke would disproportionately affect those of us insufficiently trained in the thespian arts remains to be seen.

Within the locked doors of cinema halls, if one were to let one’s mind wander during the 52 seconds that the tricolour flutters in all its magnificence, it wouldn’t be altogether unusual to wonder what ‘constitutional patriotism’ this act encompassed and what disrespect it hoped to preclude.

While the flag waves perhaps even ostensibly within inches of our faces as we tamper with our 3D glasses, the sight of an apparent liberation army on excursion will certainly take some time getting used to.

The necessity of the routine itself, specifically in conjunction with the spirit that it wishes to propagate could be debated endlessly; its infringement on the right of someone to sit through the anthem, should they so wish, is, however, troubling because of the moral retribution that it stands to draw unto itself as much as the legal action.

Rabindranath Tagore, who penned the anthem over a century ago, would find the prospect of the latter particularly bothering.


Almost in anticipation of his ideas on nationalism being misinterpreted, Tagore picked up quill and parchment for his thoughts, and published his essays on ‘Nationalism’ in the year 1917, comprising a polemical opposition to the eponymous subject of the book.

Tagore’s prosaic diatribe against what he considered a western formulation led many to call him an anti-national. A deeply inquisitive and perhaps, reflective reading of his essays would suggest, however, that Tagore’s disenchantment with the idea rose from the evident abrogation of the ideals of humanity that this perverse construction of an adopted nationalism could entail.

Tagore understood nationalism as a foreign construct; while it was adopted across Europe due to prevailing racial unity, in the Indian subcontinent, race differences accompanied by belligerence have been an issue. In resolving this ‘burden of heterogeneity’, India, he wished, should find a basis for unity that isn’t political but, perhaps, inspires a spiritual unity of human beings.

For Tagore, nationalism was a menace that exploited the looseness of India’s diversity and the feebleness of its unity.

Indeed, nationalism has remained one of the most dominant forces in modern politics owing to the ambiguities in its application. For Tagore, nationalism stood in the way of harmonious cooperation with humanity.

Treating certain versions of  patriotism as sacrosanct, he believed, would lead to its eventual ‘triumph over humanity’; this, he was willing to lay down his life to prevent.

As someone so fiercely opposed to the abstraction of nationalism, and eulogised by Mahatma Gandhi himself as an ‘ardent nationalist’, Tagore would have never approved of any manifestation of nationalistic sentiment that risked the lives and rights of those around us.

Is this, in the end, the kind of patriotism that we need to be instilled with, is the question that is bound to come to mind, the next time we stand in curated reverence in a cinema hall.


Image source: Wikipedia, Naoya Fujii/Flickr