Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. 18 September, 1906
Is Mendicancy Successful?
An apologia for the mendicant policy has recently appeared in the columns of the Bengalee. The heads of the defence practically reduce themselves to two or three arguments.
1. The policy of petitioning was recommended by Raja Rammohan Roy, has been pursued consistently since then, and has been eminently successful – at least whatever political gains have been ours in the last century, have been won by this policy.
2. Supposing this contention to be lost, there remains another. There1 petitioning is bad, but when the petition is backed by the will of the community, resolved to gain its object by every legitimate means, it is not mendicancy but an assertion of a natural right.
3. Even if a petitioning policy be bad in principle, politics has nothing to do with principles, but must be governed by expediency, and not only general expediency, but the expediency of particular cases.
4. Then there is the argumentum ad hominem. The Dumaists petition, the Irish petition, why should not we?
We believe this is a fair summary of our contemporary's contentions.
We are not concerned to deny the antiquity of the petitioning policy, nor its illustrious origin. Raja Rammohan Roy was a great man in the first rank of active genius and set flowing a stream of tendencies which have transformed our national life. But what was the only possible policy for him in his times and without a century of experience behind him, is neither the only policy nor the best policy for us at the present juncture. We join issue with our contemporary on his contention that whatever we have gained politically has been due to petitioning. It appears to us to show a shallow appreciation of political forces and an entire inability to understand the fundamental facts which underlie outward appearances. When the sepoys had conquered India for the English, choice lay before the British, either to hold the country by force and repression or to keep it as long as possible by purchasing the co-operation of a small class of the people who would be educated so entirely on Western lines as to lose their separate individuality and their sympathy with the mass of the nation. An essential part of this policy which became dominant owing to the strong personalities of Macaulay, Bentinck and others, was to yield certain minor rights to the small educated class, and concede the larger rights as slowly as possible and only in answer to growing pressure. This policy was not undertaken as the result of our petitions or our wishes, but deliberately and on strong grounds. India was a huge country with a huge people strange and unknown to their rulers. To hold it for ever was then considered by most statesmen a chimerical idea; even to govern it and keep it tranquil for a time was not feasible without the sympathy and co-operation of the people themselves. It was therefore the potential strength of the people and not the wishes of a few educated men, which was the true determining cause of the scanty political gains we so much delight in. Since then the spirit of the British people and their statesmen has entirely changed – so changed that even a Radical statesman like Mr. Morley brushes aside the expressed “will of the community” with a few abrupt and cavalier phrases. Why is this? Precisely because we have been foolish enough to follow a purely mendicant policy and to betray our own weakness. If we had not instituted the National Congress, we might have continued in the old way for some time longer, getting small and mutilated privileges whenever a strong Liberal Viceroy happened to come over. But the singularly ineffective policy and inert nature of the Congress revealed to British statesmen – or so they thought – the imbecility and impotence of our nation. A period of repression, ever increasing in its insolence and cynical contempt for our feelings, has been the result. And now that a Liberal Government of unprecedented strength comes into power, we find that the gains we can expect will be of the most unsubstantial and illusory kind and that we are not to get any guarantee against their being withdrawn by another reactionary Viceroy after a few years. It is perfectly clear therefore that the policy of mendicancy will no longer serve. After all, cries the Bengalee, we have only failed in the case of the Partition. We have failed in everything of importance for these many years, measure after measure has been driven over our prostrate heads and the longed-for Liberal Government flouts us with a few grudging concessions in mere symptomatic cases of oppression. The long black list of reactionary measures remains and will remain unrepealed. We do not care to deny that in small matters petitioning may bring us a trivial concession here or a slight abatement of oppression there, even there we shall fail in nine cases and win in one. But nothing important, nothing lasting, nothing affecting the vital questions which most closely concern us, can be hoped for from mere mendicancy. To the contention of antiquity and success, therefore, our answer is that this antique policy has not succeeded in the long run, but utterly failed, and that the time has come for a stronger and more effective policy to take its place. To the other contentions of the Bengalee we shall reply in their proper order. This which is the true basis of the petitionary philosophy has neither reason nor fact to support it.
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: Mere