24 Idea of Nation: Iqbal, Tagore and Savarkar

Satrajit Banerjee

epgp books


16.1 Objectives

  • This module will highlight
  • The idea of nation as propounded by Iqbal, Rabindranath Tagore and V.D. Savarkar.
  • Transformations in Iqbal’s of the idea of nation from being a supporter of Indian Nationalism to a vanguard of parochial Muslim nationalism and advocate of separate Muslim statehood.
  • Development of tagore’s views on nation and nationalism with an account of his critic of western concept of nation and nationalism
  • Savarkar’s conceptualization of Hindu and Hinduvta


16.2 Introduction


The idea of nation propounded by Iqbal, Tagore and Savarkar is considered as significant contributions to the understanding of Indian political thought. They presented three different premises regarding the idea of nation. Their understanding of nations varied as their experiences, arguments and goals were different. Iqbal, a learned Muslim poet, in his early phase of life rendered a romantic expression of nation and nationalism. As a passionate poet he fancied about Indian nationalistic spirit. Subsequently he turned out to be a staunch supporter of pan-Islamism and separate Muslim statehood as soon as he realized the plight of the Muslims in India and other parts of the world. Tagore, a versatile literary genius, looked for the nature and source of unifying factor, apart from the objective elements, behind the national solidarity. He formulated a unique version of the idea of nation which, he regarded, would be suitable for India as well as other human communities in the world. Savarkar provided the idea of nation by redefining the Hindu identity. He considered that the Hinduvta or Hinduness would be the fundamental principle of nation-building in India. This module seeks to analyse three distinct ideas of nation propagated by Iqbal, Tagore and Savarkar.


16.3 Idea of nation: Iqbal


Mohammed Iqbal, a passionate poet, cherished a deep attachment with the sights and sounds, flora and fauna, valleys and rivers, pilgrimages and temples of India. His early poetic renderings reflected unflinching support for the Indian nation and nationalism. However, his journey to Europe incited in him strong affinity and deep love for the Islam. Subsequently he turned into a staunch supporter of pan-Islamism. Finally, he voiced up for the separate statehood for the Muslims residing in India. Iqbal’s formulation of nation was evolved through three different phases which were nationalist phase, pan-Islamism and critic of Western nationalism and demand of separate Muslim nationhood.


16.3.1  NationalistPhase


Iqbal earned fame in the early year as a true nationalist patriot – poet, who showed a strong commitment to the Indian nationalism through a number of renderings. He unraveled his deep anguish in the poem Tasweer-I-Dard (The Picture of Sorrow) regarding the persistent discord and growing enmity among different religious communities in India. In the same poem Iqbal upheld the principle of human love as the highest value and ultimate binding forces which could bring together all human being overcoming all prejudices. He felt that it would lead them to the realisation of true freedom. Further in the Sada-E-Dard (the cry of pain) he lamented over the disunity and irreconcilable gape among the different communities in India.


Although he eulogised the spirit of Indian nationalism to a great extent, yet he considered religion as a significant determinant of nation-building process. Even Iqbal was so mesmerised with the spirit of Indian nationalism that, being a poet, enamoured in different epithets, he expressed his affection and attachment to the Indian people of their glorious cultural heritage, its rivers, countryside and mountains. In the poem Naya Shiwala (The New Temple) he envisioned for constructing a temple in India, wherein an idol of Mother India would be installed and worshiped. Another example of his deep reverence to India was that he imagined of divinity ingrained even in the every particle of dust of the country. In a poem, imbued with nationalistic spirit, entitled, Bachon Ka Qaumi Geet (The National Song of Indian Children) he mentioned that the great religious preachers of the past like Guru Nanak, Christi, Buddha and Krishna hailed India’s glorious heritage and preached the massage of harmony and brotherhood among all. Iqbal’s passionate adoration for the motherland was revealed in the famous verse ‘Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindudta Hamara… Mazhab Nahin Sikhita Apas Me Bair Rakhna Hindi Hain Hum Watan Ha Hindustan Humara’ (my India is the best country in the world… religion does not teach antagonism among each other; we all are Indian and India is our country). He was so immensely moved by the idea of nationalism that his feeling of belongingness to India reverberated in number of his poems. But his entanglement with Indian nationalism happened to turn into empathy and antagonism as soon as he travelled to Europe. During this period Iqbal appeared to espouse firstly, vision of a self-governing and united India free of foreign domination as well as inner discord, particularly between the Hindus and the Muslims. Secondly, resurgence of the Muslim and redressing the causes of gradual degeneration and declined of them in India.


16.3.2  Critic of western nationalism and pan-Islamism


Iqbal’s abhorrence to the western concept of nationalism had been reflected in his comment as he observed, “I have been repudiating the concept of nationalism since the time when it was not known in India and Muslim worlds. At the very start it had become clear to me from the writings of the European authors that the imperialistic designs of Europe were in great need of this effective weapon –the propagation of the European conception of nationalism in Muslim countries – to shatter the religious unity of Islam into pieces.”(Sherwani: 301). From his understanding of western intellectual traditions and assessment of Europe expansionism Iqbal reached to the conclusion that under the spell of western nationalism the Egyptians, the Iranians, the Turks and the Arabs, keeping aside their religious bond, gradually became inclined to their racial origin and there by promptly became prey to western aggression and exploitation. Indeed he was confirmed that the clandestine effort of the Europe to inject racialism subtly in the Muslim country was responsible for the disintegration of the Muslim world. Moreover a series of events like Italian raid on Tripoli (1911), the Balkan war (1912-1914), the revolt of Sharif Hussein of Makkah (1916), the Skies-Picot Pact (1916) and the downfall of Ottoman Empire by the Allied Power and subsequent initiative to tearing apart the whole territory into several fragments as prizes for the conqueror delivered a strong impression upon Iqbal that it had debilitated Muslim unity. He visualized that the West promoted and proliferated the supremacy of materialism. Hence it subdued the values of religion and spirituality. Iqbal believed that the capitalist society, a produce of the western civilization protected interests of the few instead of ensuring wellbeing of all. Even the capitalist civilization of the West brought Science, Philosophy, Democracy, Constitution, and Fundamental Right under its domination and crushed humanity. Moreover Democracy, Nationalism, Secularism and socialism were inalienable component of western civilization.


As a matter of fact Iqbal appeared to pondering over the idea of pan-Islamism as he realised the horrendous nature of western concept of nationalism which resulted in the existential crisis and discord in the Islamic countries throughout the world. Iqbal’s scathing repudiation of western nationalism and effort to develop a panacea for the consolidation and integration of Islam was enumerated extensively in his reply to Maulana Ahmed Hussain’s views on nationalism. He strongly rejected Maulana’s views that nations were formed by lands. Iqbal argued that the idea of nation and country were almost considered as complementary terms since demarcation of a definite geographical boundary deemed to be an important component of nation. It actually referred to a particular portion of land which came to be known as countries like India, Arab etc. Therefore, the idea of country as long as it referred to a particular geographical area would not be inconsistent with Islam. It was quite natural for the people to develop instinctively a strong sense of belongingness and emotional attachment to their place of domicile to that extent that they dared to bear hardship and even they could readily sacrifice for it. But the idea of nation was more than a simple geographical delimitation of land, rather a political concept. It was based on the principle of cohesiveness among individuals. However he conceived that a nation based on law of human association did not necessarily contradict Islamic values. Iqbal delineated that the endeavour of human society to look forward to establish a united social order and the initiative to restore peace and security of the nation was consistent with the Islamic values.


It appeared to Iqbal from the contemplation of Qua’ran that Islam promoted love and harmony among mankind instead of spurring fundamentalist and racial orientation. Historically speaking, in countries like Egypt, Greece and Persia religion assumed national character. But subsequently in those countries the racial identity got priority over the religious creed with the interference of the Jews. Europe under the influence of Christianity held state responsible solely for the conduct of social life of and detached religion from human affairs by confining it to the private and individual level. But Islam did not consider religion as an individual or private affair solely; neither had it implied a racial connotation. Islam promoted harmony and unity among mankind as a precondition of emerging as a cohesive community.


Iqbal further asserted that Europe became disintegrated as soon as the religious unity disappeared. The continent experienced a prolonged chaos and series of protests since the Christianity failed to emerge as a binding force. Even the idea of nationalism failed to rescue them from the imminent consequences. Subsequently irreligiousness, religious scepticism and economic conflict rived Europe. Iqbal did not want that the Asia should meet with the similar fate. Therefore, religion and nationality as a political concept could not in any way mutually reciprocate; rather they appeared to be antithetical to each other. Iqbal assumed that a community should follow Millat (a common way of life, law and order). In his understanding Millat referred to the idea of ‘Quam’ or nation. Iqbal viewed the spread of nationalism in India was part of imperialist venture which perpetuated exploitation of Indian people. In India, given the persisting social disunity, united nationhood would be an unattainable ideal. The idea of nationalism pioneered by the West would shatter the religious unity of Islam. Hence nationalistic pursuit of India influenced by the West and preoccupation to preserve cultural diversities would disturb the balance between cultural identity and political solidarity in India. Even the idea of nationalism demanded Indian Muslim to shun their faith and identity for the sake of greater Indian nationhood or Indianism. Iqbal asserted that it would disintegrate the Islam if the Indian Muslim conceded to the spirit of Indian nationalism. On the contrary he advocated for maintaining communal brotherhood and cultural autonomy as well as political autonomy of the Muslim, which he described by the term ‘ummah’. This vision of Iqbal was culminated subsequently into a claim of creating a separate Muslim state.


16.3.3    Separate Muslim Nationhood : A Synthesis of nationalism and Pan-Islamism


Iqbal’s concern for the Islamic community took another turn from his earlier preaching of Pan-Islamic views, as he came across, with the disintegration of Islamic world at the attack of western civilization and values, the emergence of independent and autonomous Muslim Republics in Turkey, Iran and Egypt. He was enthralled by the growing development of spirit of nationalism and allegiance among the Muslim population exclusively towards Islam. Iqbal, more and more, started realising need for formation of a separate state for the Muslim population in India. He mentioned in a massage sent to the central Khilafat committee on 1922 that, the duty of Muslims was to arrange distinct governments for themselves.


(Mujahid-37). Around 1928-29 Iqbal asserted that the Muslim nations must concentrate on their own interests and remain focussed to this end till they became strong enough to emerge as family of republics. He delineated that `a true and living unity was not so easy as to be achieved by merely symbolical overlord ship. It was truly manifested in a multiplicity of free, independent units whose racial rivalries were adjusted and harmonised by the unifying bound of a common spiritual aspiration. It seemed to him that Islam was neither nationalism nor imperialism but a league of nations which recognised artificial boundaries and racial distinction for reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members’ (Mujahid-37). He realised that it would not be wise to renounce the idea of an artificial boundary for the Muslims. And he urged that the boundary would be drawn on the basis of Islamic values, and not political nationalism. Moreover, Muslim countries would be linked with each other through an open exchange and cooperation.


Indeed, Iqbal conceptualised of a distinct Muslim nationalism, a synthesis between nationalism and Pan-Islamism, in compliance with the Islamic valued and principles. Iqbal urged that Muslims should construct and pursue their own nationalism as he believed, “… wherever nationalism has been adopted in the Muslim world, and in whatever form the nation concerned has been a Muslim group. No Muslim people has evolved a national feeling that has meant a loyalty to or even concern for a community transcending the bonds of Islam.”(Mujahid: 35). He visualised that in several non-Muslim countries Muslim people’s allegiance to the predominant spirit of composite nationalism had been proved counterproductive to the interests. It was evident to him that in India, the similar experiment of showing loyalty to the plural society, other than to the Muslim community, would be detrimental to the autonomy of Muslim population.


In 1909, Iqbal expounded, as he refused to attend a meeting held at Minerva lodge, separate arrangement for Hindus and Muslim. He argued that it would be an ambitious project to look for a common nationhood for both Hindus and Muslims in India as it might not resolve the problem of backwardness of the Muslim population. In an address to the Muslim league session on 1928 he demanded for the need of creating a state within the territorial boundary of India for the Muslims. In the presidential address at the Muslim league session,1930 the fullest manifestation of his claim of creating a Muslim state came out as he reiterated, “the units of Indian society are not territorial as in European countries. India is a continent of human groups belonging to different races, speaking different languages and professing different religious. Their behaviour is not all determined by a common race-consciousness. Even the Hindus do not form a homogenous group… the Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India with in India is therefore, perfectly justified.”( Sherwanhi: 10).


Iqbal was aware of the apprehension of the Muslim population for their claim of creating a Muslim state within the predominantly Hindu state of India. However, he assumed that a consolidated state with Muslim majority based on communal bounding and values of Islam would be propitious for the Muslim population in India. He believed that the foundation of politics must be religion, otherwise it would be an aversion of Din (Islamic faith) and it would turn into Machiavellian order of state. Although Iqbal demanded a separate state for the Muslim within the geographical contours of India, yet he did not bear any disposition to part with India. Iqbal came up with lot more arguments in his effort to establish a consolidated state for the Muslim as he believed that in India one community sought to destroy another community and “…the present state of things is such that the communities (Hindis and Muslims) do not trust each other, they have no faith on each other.”(Sherwani: 60). Moreover, around 1927 he asserted,“…the talk of united nationalism is futile and will perhaps remain so far a long time to come. The words has existed in the lips of the people of this country for fifty years, and like a hen it has cackled a great deal without laying a single egg.”(Sherwani. P.59). Indeed the law of Islam repudiated the `apparent natural differences of race’ and `Historical differences of nationality’. In Islam nationality had been conceptualized not as ethnic, lingual or geographical unity but as `Unity of the religious and political idea’ or `Like mindedness’. (Sherwani: 141).


Iqbal proposed a blue print of Muslim state in the north-western part of India. In his scheme of reorganising India territory he stated, “…the Punjab, the north-west frontier province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North- West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India. ”(Sherwani: 11). Therefore, as Iqbal conceived, creation of a Muslim state within the territory of India would be in the best interest of India and Islam. In 1927, as an elected member of Punjab legislative assembly Iqbal expounded the impracticability of the notion of united nationalism as he rightly observed the growing animosity between Hindu and Muslim and crave of the both community to assert and articulate their self-styled vision and version of nationality along their respective religious faiths. Time and again he asserted his firm adherence to the demand of a separate homeland for the Muslim to the Nehru Committee and Simon Commission. During Round Table Conferences he further insisted on the exigency of creating a predominantly Muslim state. Iqbal retorted, in response to Mr. Srinivasa Sastris’s threat perception regarding the claim of separate statehood of the Muslim, that the “Muslim demand … is actuated by a genuine desire for type of unitary government contemplated by the nationalist Hindu politician with a view to secure permanent communal dominance in the whole of India.”(Sherwani: 12). Iqbal steadfastly disaccorded with the congress and Muslim league’s vision of rehabilitating and accommodating Muslim in the Indian polity. Iqbal enumerated in the eight letters to Jinnah the pressing need of separate statehood for the Muslim. Even he urged Jinnah to denounce the atheist socialism of J.L.Nehru as it might liquidate the claim of the Muslim by offering redress to their economic distress without resolving the actual problem.


16.4 Idea of nation: R.N. Tagore


R.N.Tagore, Nobel laureate poet and patriot, expressed through his literary works philia for India. He witnessed suffering of his compatriots subjugated under the British colonial domination, partition of Bengal, indiscriminate exploitation of imperialism throughout the world. Tagore’s understanding of nation/nationalism developed under the backdrop of series of socio-political-economic-cultural development within and outside India. His profound nationalistic spirit still reverberates in the national anthems of the three different countries, i.e, India, Bangladesh, Srilanka. However after 1917, his high appreciation for the notion of nationalism turned into severe criticism. He unconditionally denounced the modern notion of nation/nationalism champion by the west. The statist version of nation/nationalism and its attribute of aggressiveness, claim of superiority and madness for subjugating and annihilating other nation detested him. On the contrary he strongly emphasised on a version a nation/nationalism embedded in society, not in state which would preserve the humanity, establish in her connection among individual and precluded violence and destruction. Tagore envisaged in his idea of nation/nationalism a vision of human unity.


Rabindranath Tagore in an article entitled `What Is Nation,’ illustrated and interrogated the idea of nation from various perspectives. In this article he mentioned that there was no trace of the idea of nation in the Indian heritage. Firstly, despite having commendable mastery over bangali vocabulary, Tagore was not convinced with any particular term in Bengali for representing nation or nationalism as he did not find any suitable alternative which might bear the exact essence of the terms. Therefore, he preferred to use the English terms nation and nationalism in analyzing his views. Following Ernest Renan’s arguments, Tagore reiterated that Egypt, China, Asiria and Persia in the primordial age were not accustomed with the idea of nation/nationalism. Although the Roman Empire was about to emerge as nation, yet they fall prey to the attack of the Barbarian Tribes and gradually disintegrated. But the fragments of the Roman Empire emerge as nations like England, France, Germany, and Russia through a study and prolonged struggle for century. Tagore sought to find out the factors which determined the nationhood of population in his above mention article. While defining the idea of nation Tagore endeavoured to find out the unifying factors or the principles of commonness in the existing nations of the world. At the initial level he interrogated the viability of the existing factors such as Monarch/King language, religion, and race, agreed upon widely, responsible for the formation of a nation. Thereafter, in pursuit of this he contended the role of those binding principles for creation of a nation. Indeed Tagore looked out for the missing link between the objective elements of nation-building and the sense of bonding; consciousness of nationality—the subjective dimension of nationhood.


As the prevalent agreed upon version of nation observed that the king or Monarchs united a population which subsequently emerged as a nation. Tagore, in conformity with this notion, argued that Ireland and Scotland became integral part of English nation as a result of monarchical rule in Britain. The sense of nationhood developed under the rule of a monarch once a conqueror occupied a land and with the advancement of time the ruler earned unconditional loyalty of the people of that land. However Tagore observed in contradiction to the earlier analysis that there were numerous examples of nations where there were no trace of such dynastic rule, even nation had been develop without the manifest or latent presence of Monarch. There were other examples of nations still surviving even after the downfall of the dynastic rule.


Among the other major binding factors of a nation was language. Tagore observed that the language might be considered as a source of solidarity within a nation. Yet it seemed dubious to him as he argued that U.S.A and England in spite of being two different nations used English as a common parlance. On the other hand Switzerland emerged as a united nation despite having more than three different lingual groups. Further the agreed upon notion of nation entailed that uniformity in religious practices of a group of people led them to emerge as a nation. On the contrary Tagore seemed that people with varying religious beliefs such as Protestants, Catholics could certainly be part of different nations. Tagore further argued that a person could become part of any nation either French or German or English irrespective of his/her religious inclination. Another prerequisite of nation-building held by the agreed upon doctrine of nation was the racial homogeneity. But Tagore contradicted as it was also true that in this world there was not a single race which was pure. Finally wealth and territoriality might be considered at important components of nation building. But this could not properly clarify the essence of nation. Therefore like Renan, Tagore also believed that nation was not a mere compound of race, religion, language, dynastic rule and geographical landscape rather it was an alive entity, a conscious being, an ideational form of an extended family of mankind. Indeed nationhood was the feeling of attachment of an individual with a particular group of people having common memories of past and experiences of the present. The main binding principle was cherishing lineage of a glorious past and consensus co-existence. Indeed nationhood was a condensed form of inherent consciousness of mutual mental and emotional attachment with the aspiration to strive together, live together which evolved through out ages and persisted through generations. Tagore felt that a group of people realized a strong sense of interconnectedness with each other when they suffered together and face the adversities unitedly. Tagore found that reciprocity and sharing of sorrow, pain, happiness brought individuals together and attached them to a string which hold them together. Nation is such an entity having a soul. It is the willingness of a group of people to stay together. The nation is a living reality, nationality is a psychological commodity.


In the article ‘What Is Nation’ Tagore stressed on autonomy and distinctiveness of nations. He also admitted that contradictions among nations would lead to the advancement of civilization. However, in the `Nationalism’ he criticized that the autonomy of the nation could prove to be pernicious. He argued that the urge to establish distinctiveness of a nation ultimately resulted in flaunting its superiority over other nations. And even it might provoke a nation to devour other nations. Tagore accused the western nationalism for the catastrophic consequence of First World War and imperialist expansion throughout the globe. Even he warned the Japanese people to abandon the organized self-seeking mechanism of the western nationalism. Tagore did not oppose the claim of distinct identity of the nation. He looked down upon the tendency of aggressive distinctiveness of the nation and the tendency to overpower other nations.


Tagore mentioned that the nation was an embodiment of institutionalized power. In the ‘Creative Unity’, Tagore delineated the persistent conflict of the modern day world was between the ‘living spirit of the people’ and the process of nation-building. He reiterated, “The people are living beings. They have their distinct personalities. But nations are organizations of power, and therefore their inner aspects and outward expressions are everywhere monotonously the same.”(Tagore:143) Tagore asserted people were self-expressive and creative beings, and therefore they had the ability to create which made ‘the world of man fertile of life and variedly beautiful’. On contrary to this fact, he claimed that “the nations do not create, they merely produce and destroy. Organizations for production are necessary. Even organizations for destruction may be so. But when, actuated by greed and hatred, they crowd away into the living man who creates, then the harmony is lost, and the people’s history runs at the break-neck speed towards some fatal catastrophe.” (Tagore:144) Tagore came up with the idea of the ‘cult of the Nation’ which was based on human professionalism. He maintained that the cult would lead people towards a great success. But he warned strongly that it would bring great danger for the individuals by turning them away from the higher purposes of life. It seemed to him, “The greater the amount of success, the stronger the conflicts of interest and jealousy and hatred which are aroused in men’s mind, thereby making it more and more necessary for other peoples, who are still living, to stiffen into nations. With the growth of nationalism, man has become the greatest menace to man.” (Tagore:146)


Tagore thought that at the time of crisis the people became conscious about self-preservation and sometimes for doing so people might reach at the level of hyper-consciousness. But similar attribute of a nation might prove baneful for the other nations. Tagore further observed that a group of people remained subservient to their narrow self-interests when they got training to do so. Similarly Nationalism directed and motivated the people to attain its narrow purposes, and thereby they became morally degraded and intellectually blind. However, Tagore admitted that self-seeking attributes were not always necessarily selfish in nature. Sometimes self-interests of the peoples represented interests of all. Therefore, a nation promoting collective interests and remaining within its own limits would not appear to be a sinister to other nations. But Tagore lamented that, in reality, almost every nation practiced unrestrained selfishness and involved in aggressive occupation of foreign land. As a result of the commercial adventurism of the nations they became wealthy and prosperous. He further illustrated, “And this material prosperity not only feeds continually the selfish instincts of the people, but impresses men’s minds with the lesion that, for a nation, selfishness is a necessity and therefore a virtue. It is the emphasis laid in Europe upon the idea of Nation’s constant increase of power, which is becoming the greatest danger to man, both in its direct activity and its power of infection”. He also elaborated that nationalism, as it evolved in an unrestricted manner, would debase the moral foundation of human civilization. To him “The ideal of the social man is unselfishness, but the ideal of Nation, like that of professional man, is selfishness.”(Tagore:148).Tagore was also aware of the fact that he only emphasized on the negative aspects of nation/nationalism. But he should provide the solution of the problem. While responding to his friends in the West once he remarked, “I have often been asked by my Western friends how to cope with this evil, which has attained such sinister strength and vast dimensions. In fact, I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong.” (Tagore:152). Therefore new institutions, replacing the older ones, would not be able to tackle the menace permanently. Hence Tagore observed that the free-thinking, open-minded, noble-hearted individuals could resolve the problem of narrow selfishness.


Tagore vehemently criticized western nationalism as embodiment of imperialism, narrow and aggressive nationalism. Tagore firmly believed on universal humanism and human emancipation. To Tagore, nationalism in the west represented `organised selfishness’ and `organised self interest of a whole people’ (Nationalism: 15). Nationalism was “Bartering of higher aspirations of life for profit and power which cuts at the very roots of goodness, justice and truth in human’s relationship. Indeed nationalism promoted and proliferated world-wide suspicion and great and panic.(Nationalism:26). It laid to the moral perversion of human race and to the terrible absurdity (Nationalism:69-70).” Tagore viewed nationalism as “impending calamity –a most dangerous think that undermines the supremacy of man”.(Nationalism: 69-70). Tagore elaborated that idea of nation/nationalism was emerged and evolved under different circumstances in India and Europe. European nationalism tended to occupy the world market, conquer and exploit. European nationalism was aggressive and expansionist in nature. Indian nationalism came into being as resistance to the colonial domination and exploitation. Indeed Tagore clearly exhorted in his writing on Nationalism that it created gulf among mankind and upheld racial supremacy and chauvinism. Under the spell of nationalism people started worshiping the nation to which they belonged to. They flaunted their superiority and sought to establish their pre-eminence by destroying other nations’ autonomy.


In the wake of industrialization and advancement of science and technology nationalism became slave to capitalism. Capitalism for its ever increasing crave for expansion had taken over the west. Therefore western nationalism/nation turned into a torch-bearer of exploitative and aggressive from of machine civilization which devalued the moral consideration and human elements. The materialist crave dehumanized the notion of nationalism and produced a new version of national solidarity which was based self-seeking and self-serving demands and mechanical relation. Tagore thus ruminiated that nationalism in this vision form was morality unacceptable. Tagore explaining the dreadful nature of capitalist and imperialist expansion conceded that the force of commercialization resulted in commodification of mankind. And the lust for gaining superiority and hunger for exploitation lead to the unhealthy competition among the nations in the west. Consequently this mad race and antagonism turned into catastrophic warfare among them, utter destruction of their own people and annihilation of other nations. Tagore carefully differentiated between spirit of the west and the nation of the west. The spirit of the west promoted and spread values like freedom equality and fraternity. On the other hand the nation of the west was based on violence, destruction and devaluation of moral considerations. However, predominance of the nation of the west suppressed spirit of the west and thereby the world became victim of domination and subordination of European nationalism in the form of colonialism and imperialism.


Tagore mentioned that India did not witness the emergence of nation as it was developed in the west. In his own words, “The word Nation does not occur in our language, nor does it exist in the country. We have learnt of late to prize national greatness by virtue of European education. But its ideals cannot be found in our minds.” (Sen:130). For centuries there was intermixing of numerous races in India as a result of foreign invasion. Subsequently the invaders made this land as their habitation for generations. Therefore different culture, languages, religion coexist in India. India society absorbed almost all the elements and practices of all the races came from outside and resided and here. However their autonomy had been preserved. Tagore stated, “The history of India does not belong to one particular race but to a process of creation to which various races of the world contributed– the Dravidians and the Aryans, the ancient Greeks and the Persians, the Mohammedans of the West and those of Central Asia”(Nationalism: 15). Therefore Indian nation could be attributed with the principle of unity and diversity. Indian civilization always valued morality, spirituality and it gave primacy to the society over the politics. Tagore delineated, “Europe prizes political independence; we set store by spiritual liberation”.(Sen:130) Hence neither nation nor nationalism in India professed and promoted violence, aggression and exploitation of others. Indian national solidarity is based on the principle of `the whole world was her family’. Tagore castigated western nationalism. He was quite confirmed of the fact that the pursuit of installing or imitating Western version of nation in India would be counterproductive. He asserted that the foundational basis of Indian and European nation was different. He stated, “The basis of Hindu civilization is society; the basis of European civilization is the State. Man can attain greatness either through society or through the State. But if we ever think that to build up the Nation after European pattern is the only way open and the only aim of humanity, we shall be wrong.”(Sen:131).In another article entitled ‘Indian Society’ Tagore claimed that unity among Indian people was existed in the pre-colonial era. Unlike Europe, the source of the unity was laid in the Indian social system. Indeed, harmony and co-existence among the Indian people was a social phenomenon and not a political project. He further explained that the society exercised absolute control over human life. Most of the nations throughout the world encountered several upheavals and strived for self-preservation, but in India the society meandered through several obstacles and managed to survive for several centuries. Tagore was well aware of the inherent aggressive nature and exploitative elements of the European nation. His pessimistic understanding of the European conception of nation led him to observe, “The civilization as manifested in the cult of the Nation has yet to be tested. But it is clear that its ideals are not ennobling; they carry the evils of injustice and falsehood; there is a sort of terrible cruelty about the cult….”(Sen: 130-31)


Indeed his vision transcended the spatial notion of nation/nationalism based on exclusivity. His idea of nation/nationalism elevated to the level of internationalism and ultimately got a cosmopolitan outlook. Universal humanism, emancipation, sentiment of bounding and reciprocity and moral consideration were


the fundamental principles of Tagore’s idea of nation/nationalism. Tagore consider nation as a conscious being, having a sole and inherent feeling of mental attachment among the people.


16.5 Idea of nation: V.D. Savarkar


Savarkar was one of the prominent trailblazers of Hindutva and Hindu Rastra in India. His fondness with the Hindu identity grew in his childhood which was evident from his first publication entitled ‘The Glory of Hindu Culture’. His early political career was started as a revolutionary nationalist, which was ended with his imprisonment for being convicted in a case of attempting murder of Curzon Willy and A.M.I Curzon in 1910. He submersed in the Hindu nationalist politics as soon as he was released from jail. He founded Ratnagiri Hindusava in 1924. It was later merged with the Hindu Mahasava. He wrote the ‘History of War of Indian Independence’ in 1909 and declared Sepoy mutiny as the first war of independence, shunning the clandestine effort of the British Empire to distort and demoralise Indian nationalistic spirit. Another famous writing of him was a pamphlet entitled ‘Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?’(1923) which illustrated his conceptualisation of Hindu, Hindutva and Hindu Rastra.


V.D Savarkar formulated the idea of nation on the basis of kinship, communal identity and religious affinity. His perception of nation was an amalgamation of territoriality and cultural nationalism. The central argument of his version of nation was based on the identity of Hindu and Hindutva. He envisioned of a Hindu Rastra to be established in India. Savarkar, for providing a comprehensive understanding of the term Hindu, inquired the answers of the questions, “‘Who is a Hindu?’—he who is a subject to the tenets of Hinduism. Very well. ‘What is Hinduism?’—those tenets to which the Hindus are subjected. (Savarkar: 103) ”


At the outset he rendered a territorial definition of Hindu. He mentioned that the residents of the Sindhu landscape had been denominated as Hindu. Here he sought to trace the origin of the nomenclature ‘Hindu’. In his perception the nomenclature ‘Hindu’ was originated from the name of the place of habitation of that population. Savarkar mentioned, “…the word Hindu has been derived from the word Sindhu, the Indus, meaning primarily all the people who reside in the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu…”(Savarkar: 104). He further explained, “And then we actually find that the Vedic name of our nation Sapta Sindhu had been mentioned as Hapta Hindu in the Avesta by the ancient Persian people. Thus in the very dawn of history we find ourselves belonging to the nation of the Sindhus or Hindus and this fact was well known to our learned men even in the Puranic period.”(Savarkar: 07). He believed that a sense of nationality gradually developed among the people residing on the Sindhu river belts and they emerged as a nation of Hindus. Savarkar elucidated that “the Aryans, had spread out to the farthest of the seven rivers, Sapta Sindhus, and not only had they developed a sense of nationality but had already succeeded in giving it ‘a local habitation and a name!’ Out of their gratitude to the genial and perennial network of waterways that run through the land like a system of nerve-threads and wove them into a Being, they very naturally took to themselves the name of Sapta Sindhus an epithet that was applied to the whole of Vedic India….”(Savarkar: 05). And yet after their expansion to the furthest corner of India they retained their nationhood. Savarkar further elucidated, “Thus as the horizon opened out to the South we find that the centre of gravity had very naturally shifted from the Sapta Sindhus to the Gangetic Delta and the name Saptasindhu or Aryawart or Daxinapath gave way to the politically grander expression Bharatkhanda which included by the definition of our Nation attempted at a period when the vast conception must have been drawing over the minds of our great thinkers.” (Savarkar: 13). Finally he came to this conclusion that “… no word can give full expression to this racial unity of our people as the epithet, hindu, does.”(Savarkar:89) Therefore, the term Hindu referred to a definite geographical area. And certain common features were developed among the Hindus sharing a common land as their residence, which led to the racial harmony among them. Thus a common place of living was one of the preconditions of the Hindus’ to emerge as a nation.


Savarkar mentioned that the major source of solidarity among Hindus as a nation was to be close affinity to their mother land and sharing a common bloodline among all descendants and compatriots. Thus he asserted, “The Hindus are not merely the citizens of Indian states because they are united not only by the bonds of the love they bear to a common mother land but also by the bonds of a common blood. They are not only a nation but also a race-jati. The word jati…means a brotherhood, a race determined by a common origin, possessing a common. All Hindus claim to have in their veins the blood of the mighty race incorporated with and descended from the vedic fathers, the sindhus.”(Savarkar:84-85) The Hindus were bound together by a common cultural thread. And the Sanskrit language was regarded as the mother tongue, an element of commonness, of all Hindus. This vernacular was the repository of the cultural practices of the Hindus. Savarkar thus expressed, “We Hindus are not only a Rashtra, a Jati, but as a consequence of being both, own a common sanskriti expressed, preserved chiefly and originally through Sanskrit, the real mother tongue of our race.”(Savarkar:100). Indeed, cultural homogeneity was a fundamental principle which restored proximity and facilitated reciprocity among the Hindus. Savarkar preferred to denominate this term as ‘Sanskriti’. He delineated, “Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common fatherland and by the common blood… but also by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilization—our Hindu culture, which could not be better rendered than by the word sanskriti.”(Savarkar: 92-93). Moreover, Savarkar also mentioned that a Hindu must consider this land as his pitribhu(fatherland) and punyabhu(holyland). He further elaborated that one would be considered as Hindu if India was his birthplace and domicile of his ancestors and the religious sect that he was belonged to had been originated in India.


Savarkar introduced a far more comprehensive term Hindutva in order to define the identity and nature of the common bond among all Hindus. He clearly point out the distinction between Hinduvta and Hinduism. As he envisaged, “Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.”(Savarkar:03) He further explained, “Here it is enough to point out that Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an ‘ism’ it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or system. But when we attempt to investigate into the essential significance of Hindutva we do not primarily—and certainly not mainly— concern ourselves with any particular theocratic or religious dogma or creed. … Hindutva embraces all the departments and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.”(Savarkar:04) In order to make the notion of Hinduvta more intelligible Savarkar reiterated, “A Hindu marrying a Hindu may lose his caste but not his Hindutva. A Hindu believing in any theoretical or philosophical or social system, orthodox or heterodox, provided it is unquestionably indigenous and founded by a Hindu may lose his sect but not his Hindutva—his Hinduness—because the most important essential which determines it is the inheritance of Hindu blood.”(Savarkar:90) So, Hinduvta represented the identity of Hindus. Indeed Hindutva referred to one’s consciousness and characteristics of being a Hindu. It was the unifying factor among all Hindus. Hindutva represented an inclusive and accommodative identity which bound all religious creeds and sects originated in Hindustan to a common thread of Hinduness. Therefore Hindutva was a such an idea composed of three essential elements: race(jati), culture(sanskriti) and territory(pirtibhu and punyabhu)


The religious creed of the Hindus had been regarded as Hindu dharma. There were divergent schools and sects under the broader spectrum of Hindu dharma. Indeed he stipulated that there were different paths and philosophical schools under the aegis of Hindu dharma. The Sikhs, Jainas, Lingayats, Samajis and others were different branches of Hindu dharma. Therefore, the other sects and religious community native to Hindustan were nothing but variants of a common origin. However preponderance of Hinduism excluded or belittled other Hindu religious communities which were numerically inferior to the Hinduism. Hence Savarkar firmly believed that the internal differences among Hinduism and other Hindu religious creeds prevented the Hindus to consolidate as a single and united nation.


Nevertheless Savarkar thought that Hindus belonging to different schools had been acculturated to Hindu culture and they considered this land as their Pitribhu (fatherland) and Punyabhu (holy land). Savarkar asserted that Christianity and Islam were not native to this land of Hindustan because they recognized the far away land of their origin in Arabia or Palestine as the sacred place or holy land. Thus neither the people belonging to these religions nor the Hindus converts indoctrinated to those religions could ever be regarded as Hindu. Therefore a Hindu would not be considered as Hindu if he relinquishing his own religion embraced religion of foreign origin, i.e. Christianity and Islam. Savarkar categorically mentioned that the people belonging to foreign religious sect living in this land might consider India as fatherland but they could never revere this land as their holy land. Hence their love, compassions and allegiance to the land of residence would be fragmented.


An important objective of Savarkar’s formulation of the idea of Hindu identity was to preclude other minority Hindu community to be aligned with the Muslim. He was afraid of the communal overtone in the claims of the Muslims to secure their representation. The growing strength of the Muslim League also made him anxious of their future intentions. Therefore, He appealed to the Hindu minority community that they could claim their demands and representation and other essential and specific demands on the basis of their numerical strength and status. But he also clarified that they must avoid carefully, while doing so, separatist orientations or an approach of damaging interests of the majority Hindu community. He believed that the national and communal aspirations of the Hindus were synonymous. In his reckoning, nationalism in Hindusthan was the national communalism of the majority community. As the Hindus numerically outnumbered the other communities therefore they should be considered national community and they should be vanguard of nationalism which would be branded as Hindu nationalism in this land. However Savarkar stated that the other minority communities would be granted fair shares in all avenues of their lives. They would be ensured representation proportionate to their population and merit. He sought to minimize all sorts of interventions and claim of shares of the non-Hindu people. Even Savarkar declined to grant any sort of privileges and preferential treatments to the non-Hindu community.




At first, the idea of nation advocated by Iqbal, Tagore and Savarkar should be reviewed in terms of viability. In fact it is not difficult to find out the elements of idealism in their conceptualization of the idea of nation. It may cause serious damage to the plural social structure of India if the blueprint of nation-building conceived by Iqbal and Savarkar would have ever been implemented. Indeed the claim of establishing either a Muslim state or a Hindu state in a country like India is inconsistent with the cultural plurality and diversity of the nation. Moreover, a longstanding and irresolvable clash would destabilize India if any of the two communities would be allowed priority or superiority over the other. However Iqbal and Savarkar highlighted through their understanding and interpretation the problems of national cohesion and distress of the Muslims and the Hindus. On the other hand Tagore’s perception regarding the crisis of nations brought forth the catastrophic effects of national self-exaggeration. Tagore’s idea of nation was elevated to the level of internationalism and turned in to a cosmopolitan world-view.

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Books Consulted for this module

  • Chakrabarti. B and Pandey., R, Modern Indian Political Thought Text and Context, Sage, New Delhi, 2009.
  • Pantham. T and Deutsch. K.L., Political Thought in Modern India, Sage, New Delhi, 1986
  • Poddar, Arabinda, Renaissance in Bengal Search for Identity, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 1977
  • Iqbal , Allama, Kulliyat-i-Iqbal, (Urdu), Markaz-i-Maktaba Islami Publications, Delhi, 1999.
  • Hilal, Abdul Aleem, Social Philosophy of Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Adam Publishes and Distributors, Delhi, 1995


For Further Reading

  • Mukhyopadhyay, A.K(ed.)The Bengali Intellectual Tradition From Rammohun Ray to Dhirendranath Sen, KP Bagchi & Co., Calcutta, 1979.
  • Shamloo, Statements and Speeches of Iqbal, Al-Manqur Academy, Lahore, 1947
  • Mehta, V.R., Foundations of Indian Political Thought An Interpretation (From Manu to the Present Day),Manohar, New Delhi, 1996
  • Verma, V.P., Modern Indian Political Thought, Lakshmi Narayan Agarwal Publishers, Agra, 2014


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