ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rabindranath's Gora and the Intractable Problem of Indian Patriotism

For various reasons, in modern India, patriotism has found it very hard to establish a convincing locus for itself. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Indian patriotism was projected as Hindu nationalism. Rabindranath Tagore's Gora, published in 1909 in the immediate aftermath of the anti-partition Swadeshi movement of 1903-08, overcomes the ethnocentricities that led to such a distortion, but, in it, the particular comes too close to the universal - patriotism dissolves into love for all the helpless peoples of the world, offering a radically new way of being an Indian patriot.

This essay is organised as follows: first, I argue that, for various historical reasons, it has been exceptionally hard for modern Indian patriotism to find a sure footing for itself. I then discuss some of the ways in which these difficulties were sought to be resolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: by variants of Hindu nationalist resolutions which equated Indian patriotism with Hindu nationalism, calling the country a land of Hindus alone. In the final section, I discuss a distinctive Indian patriotic imaginary that Rabindranath Tagore elaborated in Gora, a novel published in 1909.1 It was written in the immediate aftermath of the first major popular upsurge in Bengal against colonial governance: the anti-partition Swadeshi movement of 1903-08. I conclude with some observations on the significance of the effort as well as on the fragility of its resolution.

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