Imaging does matter. Especially if you are in politics. And if the battle is as fierce as the one for Bengal, then even more so. There is no denying that for every Bengali, Rabindranath Tagore holds a special place. There is almost no Bengali household which does not possess a book or two by the Nobel laureate or a collection of Rabindra Sangeet. The younger generation may be hooked to hip-hop and techno, but Tagore's tunes are often de rigueur in a lot of households.
Says poet Sudeep Sen who has worked on Tagore’s poems, “For Bengal, the relevance of Tagore is paramount. For the older generation and for the Bengali diaspora abroad, it is like what society in its holistic sense ought to be — educated, fair, egalitarian, hunger-free, and forward-looking. For the younger generation, Tagore is something that was a reality of the past, and this notion needs to be updated urgently. And that is because the relevance of what Tagore stood for has not changed — it is the way his vision is carried forward for the new generation in a language they understand (without any dilution) is the key.”
And hence, it's with deep interest that Bengalis are looking at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His look. His long, flowing beard. His long kurtas and a shawl draped across one shoulder. While no one from the Bharatiya Janata Party or the central government will confirm that this is a deliberate attempt to connect with Bengalis by projecting Tagore, the similarity cannot be missed. Recently an image of the PM went viral where he was seen with peacocks at his Lok Kalyan Marg residence. The resemblance to Tagore seated at the stairs of his Shantiniketan home cannot be forgotten.
The PM’s new look, timed with the beginning of the lockdown, made many wonder whether this was the reason why he didn’t go for a haircut or trim. But as time passed, he has begun to don a look which bears stark resemblance with Rabindranath Tagore. Of course, there are potshots from his opponents, and the Trinamool Congress repeatedly calls him and his party "outsiders" who are trying to connect with Bengal only for electoral gains. But the BJP rejects this outright. Says party MP Swapan Dasgupta, “Tagore belongs to all Bengalis and all Indians, irrespective of their voting preferences. He cannot be the private property of any party.”
When the PM addressed the Visva-Bharati centenary celebrations last year, he responded to this "outsider" charge against him. He spoke about the Gujarat connections of Tagore. “Satyendranath Tagore, who was in the Indian Civil Service, was posted in Ahmedabad. Rabindranath Tagore used to visit Gujarat frequently. He stayed in Ahmedabad for a long time. During such a period, he wrote his two popular poems. He wrote a portion of Khudito Pashan (Kshudhita Pashan) in Gujarat,” Modi said. “Not only this, Gujarat’s daughter Srimati Hutheesingh was married in the Tagore family. When Satyendranath Tagore’s wife Jnanadanandini Devi was in Gujarat, she saw women draping the pallu of saree on their right shoulders, which she felt cumbersome and improvised the style bringing the pallu on the left shoulder."
Amit Malviya of the BJP also said, “India's national movement for freedom was accompanied by a wave of social, educational and economic awareness throughout the country. Tagore was the ideological spirit behind India’s freedom struggle. Today, Bengal needs another renaissance. It needs to get rid of widespread corruption, appeasement and nepotism. People of Bengal have made up their minds to reclaim the lost glory of Bengal and build Sonar Bangla (developed Bengal) under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi.”
Rabindranath Tagore is known not for just his poems but also his revolutionary ideas. Universalism and self-reliance were among his views that Modi has connected to his policies and politics. Like Atmanirbhar Bharat. As the Trinamool Congress gears up to attack the PM when he begins his canvassing in Bengal, it's these teachings of Tagore and their use in his policies which will be put into the electioneering. Sources say Modi is likely to dwell more on Tagore and Subhas Chandra Bose in his campaign, while at the same time making a pitch for Sonar Bangla. But with his 'Tagore look' which has become a talking point, the PM and BJP hope to remind the people of Bengal that he is a part of them. After all, no Bengali can ever overlook the relevance of Tagore. And the PM knows that.