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The Controversial Differences of Opinion between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi

Described as a “world poet,” Rabindranath Tagore is considered a mystifying ecumenical figure and an archetype of human creative possibility. Rabindranath Tagore bestowed the title of ‘Mahatma’ (“Great Soul”) on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1915. Mahatma Gandhi called Tagore Gurudev (“Revered Master”) and he attained a certain classicality. Tagore’s literary works have universal appeal and that illuminates his complexity and “myriad-mindedness.”

Nevertheless, experts have said that although Tagore admired Gandhi, he differed with him on specific issues.

The Controversial Differences of Opinion between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi

“Tagore admired Mahatma Gandhi immensely and expressed his admiration for his leadership time and again, but sharply differed with him when Gandhi was departing from adequate reasoning,” Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen once said.

After the Nepal-Bihar earthquake of 1934, Gandhi credited the disaster to the custom of untouchability among Biharis. Gandhi had said the earthquake was “a divine chastisement for the great sin we have committed against those whom we describe as Harijans”.

Although Tagore was against untouchability, he found this line of reasoning on Gandhi’s part unfounded and irrational.

Apparantly, Tagore shot off a refutation on rationalist lines, with a appeal for it to be published in Gandhi’s periodical, Harijan. The correspondence expressed “painful surprise” at “this kind of unscientific view of things”. It was plainly erroneous, Gurudev argued, to “associate ethical principles with cosmic phenomena”:

In the Harijan issue of 16 February, 1934, Tagore wrote his article The Bihar Earthquake to which Gandhi wrote his rejoinder Superstitions vs. Faith (pp. 115-121). Tagore considered Gandhi’s view that untouchability had brought down God’s vengeance upon certain parts of Bihar in the form of an earthquake as ‘unfortunate’, ‘unscientific’ and “too readily accepted by a large section of countrymen” (pp. 115): “If we associate ethical principles with cosmic phenomena, we shall have to admit that human nature is superior to Providence that preaches its lessons in good in orgies of the worst behaviour possible” (p.116). This amounts to “making indiscriminate examples of casual victims…in order to impress other at a safe distance who possibly deserve severer condemnation” (p 116). He felt the kind of argument that Gandhi used by exploiting an event of cosmic disturbance far better suited the psychology of his opponents than his own; and, “We, who are immensely grateful to Mahatmaji for inducing, by his wonderworking inspiration, freedom from fear and feebleness in the minds of his countrymen, feel profoundly hurt when any words from his mouth may emphasize the elements of unreason in those very minds — unreason which is a source of all blind powers that drive us against freedom and self-respect”. (p117).

Differences of Opinion between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi

To this, Gandhi had replied that he felt phenomena like droughts, floods, earthquakes et cetera, though they seem to have only physical origins, are somehow connected with man’s morality.

Gandhi replied by saying that he long believed phenomena produce results both physical and spiritual; and, “The converse I hold to be equally true … We do not know all the laws of God nor their working… I believe literally that not a leaf moves but by His will. Every breath I take depends upon His sufferance …. what appears to us as catastrophes are so only because we do not know the universal laws sufficiently … (catastrophic) visitations… though they seem to have only physical origins are, for me, somehow connected with man’s morals … My belief is a call to repentence and self-purification … even as I cannot help believing in God though I am unable to prove His existence to the sceptics, in like manner, I cannot prove the connection of the sin of untouchability with the Bihar visitation even though the connection is instinctively felt by me” (pp.118-l20). And the utilitarian then spoke and bared himself thus, “If my belief turns out to be ill-founded, it will still have done good to me and those who believe with me. For we shall have been spurred to more vigorous efforts towards self-purification…” (p.120). And answering Tagore’s stinging comment that “our own sins and errors, however enormous, have not got enough force to drag down the structure of creation to ruins” (p. 117), he said, “On the contrary I have the faith that our own sins have more force to ruin that structure than any mere physical phenomenon” (p, 120), And he concluded, ” …the connection between cosmic phenomena and human behaviour is a living faith that draws me nearer to my God, humbles me and makes me readier for facing Him”. Gandhi, in arguing thus, is proved one who must maximise utility and make use of every circumstance to forward ends he considers desirable. And his conviction about his belief obliterates from consciousness any apparent factual inconsistencies that his system of faith has with a physical phenomena as ordinarily understood. Both, in their own way, are relevant and unimpeachable.

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry MenChakravarti Rajagopalachari was the Governor General of India from 1948 to 1950 and one of the principal leaders in India’s fight for independence from the British. Widely known as Rajaji, Rajagopalachari joined Mahatma Gandhi in the anti-British movement in 1919. An enthusiastic supporter of his Satyagraha passive resistance tactic, Rajagopalachari was imprisoned five times in the years leading to India’s freedom. He departed briefly with the pro-independence Congress party of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1942, saying it took unjust advantage of Britain’s fixation with World War II. In 1959, he left the dominant Congress party for good and coordinated his own Swatantra Party founded on the notions of free enterprise and reduced state control.

Rajagopalachari’s daughter Lakshmi wedded Gandhi’s son, Devadas, in an inter-caste marriage which caused both parents some concern. So close did Rajagopalachari and Gandhi become that, until Gandhi picked the young Jawarharlal Nehru as his successor, Rajagopalachari was regarded broadly as his political heir apparent.

Rajagopalachari had an enormously refined intelligence, astoundingly widely versed in both Indian and Western culture. He was a superb craftsman of English prose. Among his many writings, one might single out his Tamil versions, translated into English, of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Because of the Rajagopalachari’s questioning spirit, Gandhi referred to Rajaji as his “conscience-keeper” on the eve of his 21-day fast in May 1933.

Rajagopalachari as Madras State Chief Minister

As Madras State Chief Minister between 1952 and 1954, Rajagopalachari launched an unusual new educational scheme in 1953. He called it the “Modified System of Elementary Education” and reduced schooling for elementary school students to three hours per day with students expected to learn the family vocation at home during the remainder of the day. The plan came in for sharp criticism and evoked strong protests from the Dravidian parties. Scholar Thanjai Nalankilli writes,

Madras State Chief Minister Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) brought forth a new educational scheme in 1953. According to this scheme, students went to school only for half-a-day and the rest of the day they learned what their parents did. It came as a shock to many non-Brahmin leaders. There were disproportionately far too many Brahmins in white-collar jobs from clerks to chief executive officers to judges to teachers to professors. In contrast there were far more farmers and low-wage blue-collar workers among non-Brahmin castes. According to Rajaji’s scheme, most non-Brahmin students would learn such skills as farming, barbering, laundering, shoemaking and other low-wage skills for half-a-day while most Brahmin students would spend half the day on “white collar skills” leading to higher paying white collar jobs which were already dominated by Brahmins for years. Non-Brahmin leaders feared that this would perpetuate the status qua, thus benefiting the Brahmin caste. (Rajaji was a Brahmin.) Some of the critics called the new education scheme “caste-based education” (in Tamil they called it kula vazhi kalvi thittam orkulaththozhil kalvi thittam or kula kalvi thittam). Many non-Brahmin leaders believed that only a full-day education would bring more non-Brahmins into higher-level jobs and uplift their lives. Opposition to Rajaji’s caste-based education scheme grew. Many non-Brahmin leaders and organizations vocally opposed it. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) played active roles in the opposition.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari at All India Radio Madras

Rajagopalachari was not an easy political collaborator, so merciless were the moral demands he made both on himself and others; he was no less commanding of his children. He was a man of slight build, always perfectly garbed. In later years, he softened, and his instinctive, aristocratic charm and straightforwardness of manner shone through. His was a far more Indian-based career than those of Gandhi or Nehru. His education was wholly home-based. His first journey outside India was, remarkably, as late as 1962, to visit President John F. Kennedy.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

When one carefully studies the career of Rajagopalachari, one vividly realises that there is a very thin line between success and failure in life. From 1941 to 1946, C. R. was one of the most unpopular figures in the political life of the country. In 1942, many of his colleagues cursed him, because his utterances peered them like arrows. The more he tried to placate the Muslim League and the British, the more he hurt his comrades.

For several years, C.R. ploughed a narrow furrow. During that period he was heckled at meetings, bitterly criticised in the press and once or twice mud and tar were thrown at him. Some angry men even questioned his motives. But undaunted, he faced public wrath with equanimity and patience.

In 1941, he passed through Allahabad and I casually met him in a train. I told him that his speeches and statements were being greatly resented by the public. He replied, “It does not mean that they are right and I am wrong. It only shows, they are angry and I am not. The judgement of angry men is not so sound as those who are not angry.” I could not pursue the argument further. He looked meditative and was lost in thought.

Source: Unknown

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Caste System in India

Caste System in India - The division of society into four hereditary social classes

The caste system, also known as the varna system, is a hierarchical social structure prevalent in the Hindu nations of India and Nepal. Its origins trace back to the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE, and it is a central theme in the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita (c. 1000 CE).

The division of society into four hereditary social classes. The great Indian mystic poet Kabir said, “Now I have no caste, no creed, I am no more what I am!”

The caste system divides Hindu society into four hereditary social classes. Highest are the Brahmins, who are priests and teachers. Next come the Kshatriyas, who are political leaders and warriors. Third are the Vaishyas, who manage agriculture and commerce. The lowest are the Shudras, who work as servants for the other three castes. Those who are cast out of the varna system are known as “Untouchables” because contact with them was thought to defile the other castes.

Four factors contribute towards caste dominance: 1) land ownership 2) numerical strength 3) political power and 4) high ritual status in the social hierarchy. The dominant caste may not be ritually very high but enjoy high status because of wealth, political power and numerical strength. Caste pockets create locally dominant caste. People who belong to a particular caste prefer to settle in a particular area. Caste is often specific to a particular village or area or region. Local dominance can translate into regional dominance. Best example of the principle is the concentration and domination of Vokkaligas in south Karnataka in the old Mysore region and of Lingayaths in north Karnataka in the districts bordering Andhra Pradesh. These dominant castes are accorded high status and position and have control over all the fields of social life in that area.

Hindu texts justify this system based on karma and rebirth. A person’s actions in this life determine their gunas (qualities) in the next: Brahmins are characterized by sattva (intellect), Kshatriyas by rajas (action), Vaishyas by both rajas and tamas (devotion), and Shudras by tamas alone. These gunas predispose a person toward certain types of work, and society functions best when people do the jobs to which they are suited. Each varna has its own spiritual discipline: Brahmins follow jnana (knowledge), Kshatriyas pursue karma (action), Vaishyas practice both karma and bhakti (devotion), while Shudras undertake bhakti. In the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi criticized the social injustice of the caste system, and it was reformed as a result of his protests.

Caste Dominance and Caste System in India

It is the unity and cohesion of the caste as a group that makes the dominant caste more pronounced in village affairs. The dominant caste is dominant not because of any single factor but because of the combination of several factors. Land ownership is a crucial factor in establishing dominance. With the introduction of adult suffrage, numerical strength has become a crucial source at the disposal of a caste. A caste should have numerical strength if necessary to use physical force against the challenge of other power castes. But numerical superiority alone is not an important factor. In some of the surveyed villages the dependent castes have numerical strength.

The Supreme Court of India has ruled against preferential treatment for medical students belonging to schedule castes (SC), schedule tribes (ST), and other lower castes, who were aiming for specialist medical training. The ruling, which could have widespread implications in India, stated that such favouritism was “contrary to national interest”.

While India’s 1950 Constitution abolished the notion of untouchability, many peoples’ attitudes remain unchanged, although the 200-million-plus Dalits represent a powerful voting bloc.

Posted in Faith and Religion Music, Arts, and Culture

Gandhi on God

'Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work' Edited by S. Radhakrishnan (ISBN 1553940261) There is an indefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen Power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses. But it is possible to reason out the existence of God to a limited extent.

There is an unalterable Law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law; for no blind law can govern the conduct of living beings.

That Law, then, which governs all life is God. Law and the Law-Giver are one. I may not deny the Law or the Law-Giver because I know so little about It or Him. Just as my denial or ignorance of the existence of an earthly power will avail me nothing, even so my denial of God and His law will not liberate me from its operation; whereas humble and mute acceptance of divine authority makes life’s journey easier even as the acceptance of earthly rule makes life under it easier.

Source: ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work’ edited by S. Radhakrishnan

Posted in Faith and Religion

Gandhi’s List of the Seven Blunders of the World

Mahatma Gandhi

On their last afternoon together, Indian nationalist Mohandas Gandhi gave his grandson, Arun Gandhi, a list of seven errors to avoid. Over time, Arun Gandhi added one to this list.

  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Commerce without morality
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Worship without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle
  8. Rights without responsibilities.
Posted in Leaders and Innovators