Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. 8 September, 1906
The Times on Congress Reforms
The pronouncement of the Times on the proposal of the Congress for a further reform and expansion of the Indian Councils is significant for the thoroughness with which the futility and impossibility of the entire Congress ideal is exposed by the writer. Mr. Gokhale took great pains last year in his address as President of the Congress to point out, in detail, how the present Council of the Indian Viceroy might be remodelled, without disturbing the present position of the Government. His idea is that the elected members of the Viceregal Council may well be increased from five to twelve, of whom two shall be elected by the Chamber of Commerce and the representative of some important industry, and ten by the different Provinces. The two representatives of Commerce and Industry will, Mr. Gokhale opined, be Europeans, as there shall be 10 Indian members elected to the Council, out of 25, the total strength of that body; and even if they voted together they would be in a permanent and absolute minority; and the only effect of any vote they might give against the Government would be a moral effect. This is Mr. Gokhale's position and programme; and neither the Times nor, we are afraid, anybody else outside the ranks of those who hold that everything that is unreal and moderate is the product of sound statesmanship, clearly sees what the gain either to the people or to the Government will be from the acceptance of this wise and cautious counsel. The ten Indian members will form H.M.'s permanent Opposition in India: that is all; but a permanent Opposition has all the evils of irresponsible criticism without the advantages of a real Opposition which can some day hope to be the Government, and whom this possibility always makes sober and responsible. “The policy proposed by the Congress,” says the Times, “is a policy for bringing the Government into disrepute without the safeguards which all popular constitutions provide; it is a policy for generating steam without the precaution of supplying safety-valves;” and the justice of this criticism cannot be honestly denied.
If Mr. Gokhale's programme does not guarantee any benefit to the Government, neither is it likely to confer any benefit on the people except, of course, on a handful of men who shall enjoy the luxury of being Hon'bles and get enlarged opportunities of recommending their friends, relatives and protégés for office under the Government. The people will take little interest in these Council-elections, because they will soon find out – as they have already done in Bengal, that the elected members cannot carry any popular measure successfully through the Council or oppose effectively even the most mischievous ones. Mr. Gokhale is not only anxious to keep the elected members perpetually in the minority, but though he wants them to be vested with the right of moving amendments on the Budget, the Viceroy must have the right of vetoing them even if they are carried. The fact is, there is absolutely no seriousness about the whole thing. It is all to be a mere child's play. Or, Mr. Gokhale thinks, perhaps, that by gradually securing these so-called rights, he will ultimately get real constitutional rights and privileges from his British masters, but he forgets that these masters have never in the past done anything that has directly affected their interests and status as a sovereign power, nor will they do any such thing in the future, unless, of course, they are compelled to do it, by apprehensions of some great loss or danger. As for the idea that this so-called reform in the Legislative Council will, in any way, make for popular freedom by educating the people, that also is evidently without any reasonable justification for its success; for, as the Times very justly points out, Mr. Gokhale's programme has no room for any real political education for the people. To quote it in full: –
“Nor is the policy one which offers any substantial advantage to the people of India; it gives them increased opportunities of criticism but no increase of responsibility; it does nothing to give the people that education in politics which is essential if... they are now for the first time to have some share in the management of their own affairs. By the scheme under consideration the leaders of Indian opinion would not acquire that sense of responsibility which necessarily comes to men who expect that they will shortly be in power themselves; they are to have opportunities for finding fault with the Government but they will never have to make their words good; they can with a light heart demand a reduction of taxation or denounce the Government for not putting a stop to famines, because they know that they can never themselves be called upon to prove that these reforms are practicable. It is the prospect of office which sobers and restrains a European Opposition! Is it wise to assume that Indian politicians will be moderate and without this restraint?”
And the justice of this criticism who will deny? Mr. Gokhale's programme if accepted by Government, can have only one effect on the growth of public opinion and political life in India: it will prove the utter futility of any half-measures like these to secure real and substantial rights for the people. Such an education through failure was needed twenty-five years ago, when people still had faith in British shibboleths or had confidence in British character and British policy; it is absolutely needless and involves sheer waste of time and energy that have much greater calls on them for more substantial and urgent work now, – today when the people have already commenced to realise that their future must be shaped by themselves, without any help from their British masters, and indeed in spite of the most violent opposition that will, naturally, be offered by them. Mr. Gokhale's creed and his policy are anachronisms in the India of 1906; the one stands absolutely discredited with the people, the other is declared unwise and impracticable by the Government. The Congress must give these up, or continue as an effete anachronism in the country, or probably1 turn by the logic of this creed and this policy, into a loyalist opposition to all true and forceful popular movement and propaganda in India. Can we afford to allow an institution that we have all served so faithfully all these years, and that may at once become an organised institution of popular deliberation and effective public life, to grow effete and useless? Much less can we afford to place it in the hands of the enemies of popular freedom. That is the question before the country now. The coming Congress in Calcutta will perhaps decide this question. Friends of popular freedom should understand this and gather their forces accordingly for saving the Congress from both these calamities.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: possibly