Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. December 26, 1906
The Man of the Past and the Man of the Future
Two men of the moment stand conspicuously before the eyes of the public in connection with the present session of the National Congress. The advent of these two men close upon each other is full of meaning for us at the present juncture. Both of them are sincere patriots, both have done what work lay in them for their people and for the land that bore them; both are men of indomitable perseverance and high ability; but there the resemblance ends. One of them worn and aged, bowed down with the burden of half a century's toils and labours, comes to us as the man of the past, reminding us of a generation that is passing away, ideals that have lost their charm, methods that have been found to be futile, an energy and hope once buoyant and full of life but which now live on only in a wearied and decrepit old age phantomlike, still babbling exploded generalities and dead formulas. The other comes with his face to the morning, a giant of strength and courage bearing on his unbowed shoulders the mighty burden of our future. We do not know yet what will be the nature of Mr. Dadabhai's Presidential speech; it may contain Pisgah sights of the future, to a great extent it is likely to be the swan song of the dying past. From Mr. Tilak we expect no great speech and no sensational pronouncement, his very presence is more powerful than the greatest declamations; for it is not as an orator he stands prominent in spite of his clear incisive utterances, nor as a writer in spite of the immense influence which as the editor of the Kesari he exercises on the political ideal of Maharashtra, but as the man who knows what has to be done and does it, knows what has to be organised1 and organises2 it, knows what has to be resisted and resists it. He is pre-eminently the man who acts, and action is to be the note of our future political energies.
Mr. Dadabhai, on the other hand, is the man who remonstrates; all his life has been spent in one energetic and unceasing remonstrance through books, through public speeches, through letters and writings in public print. Remonstrance, not action, was the note of our political energies in the past. Action was, according to the old gospel, the prerogative of the Government whether in India or in Great Britain, and our only duty was to urge them to act justly and not unjustly, in our interests and not in their own. We expected them to be angels and remonstrated with them when they proved to be merely men; this spur of that remonstrance, it was hoped, would prick them or at least the home-bred of Englishmen to justify the angelic hues in which they had painted themselves, for our benefit. To the young generation these hopes nowadays seem so incredibly futile that they are tempted to wonder how men of ability and education – many of them3 had studied something at least of history – could ever have cherished them. But when Mr. Naoroji began his career, nothing more real and solid was possible. The falling in pieces of the Maratha Confederacy and the overthrow of the Sikh power had left the Punjab and the Deccan stupefied and apathetic; the rest of India was politically exhausted and inert. In such circumstances it was inevitable that the task of reviving the life of the nation should fall into the hands of a small class of men educated in English Schools and in English ways of thinking. It was the one great service these men did to our country, that they accustomed us to hope once more and live politically. It was our misfortune rather than their fault that the hopes they proclaimed were delusive and the life they imparted meagre and superficial. Destitute of political experience, they could not avoid basing their political creed on theories and ideals rather than upon facts; without any education but what the rulers chose to impart, they had no choice but to borrow their theories and ideas from their English teachers; confined to English books and influence, cut off from the wide wholesome atmosphere of the world's culture, they were obliged to accept Englishmen at their own valuation. They were for the most part men of talent and ability; and it requires more than talent and ability; it needs the eye of genius to dispense with the necessity of experience and see truth with a single intuitive glance.
The ideas on which our agitation in the nineteenth century proceeded were therefore fantastic and unfounded; its methods were unsuited to the realities of political life in this country, its spirit and aim were so purely Westernised4 as to preclude the possibility of seizing on the whole people and creating a new national life. The energy expended on it was therefore small, limited both in intensity and area; and the results it brought about were not even commensurate with the little energy expended. But two things were gained – the renewal of political activity in the country and of political experience. A renewed life might have been brought about in other ways and with greater power and reality; but for experience that long wandering in the desert of unrealities and futilities was probably indispensable. However that may be, Mr. Naoroji was among the small knot of able men who first set in motion the new political activities of the country. And one thing distinguished him above most of his fellows that while they wasted themselves on things petty and unreal, he seized on one great fact and enforced it in season and out of season on all who could be got to listen, – the terrible poverty of India and its rapid increase under British rule. It was necessary that a persistent voice should din this into the ears of the people; for what with the incessant pratings about British peace, British justice and the blessings of British rule on the one side and the clamour for Legislative Councils, Simultaneous Examinations, High Education and similar shams on the other.... This one central all-important reality was in danger of being smothered out of sight. It was necessary for the nation but to realise its increasing poverty under British rule; only then could it take the next step and take to heart the fact that British rule and increasing poverty stood in the relation of cause and effect; last of all comes the inevitable conclusion that the effect could only be cured by the removal of the cause, in other words, by the substitution of autonomy in place of a British or British-controlled Government. Mr. Naoroji's was the persistent voice that compelled the nation to realise the first two of these fundamental truths; Mr. Romesh Dutt and others powerfully assisted the result, but it was Mr. Naoroji who first forced the question of Indian poverty into prominence, and for this India owes him a debt of gratitude deeper than that due to any other of our older politicians dead or living. It is true that he has not been able to proclaim the third of the three connected truths consistently and frankly; especially have those of his utterances, which were meant for purely Indian consumption, been marred by the desire to qualify, moderate and even conceal a plain fact, which, though it was necessary, it might yet be dangerous to proclaim. Nevertheless it is something that a man of his age and traditions should at least have frankly declared that freedom from foreign rule must needs be the only governing ideal of Indian politics. The man who is responsible for that declaration ought to be no Moderate. His heart at least should be with us. That in India and in the Presidential chair of the Congress his voice also will be for us we cannot so confidently forecast. If it is, his venerable sanction will be a support to our efforts; if not, his reticence or opposition will be no hindrance to our final triumph. For that which Time and Fate intend, no utterances of individuals however venerable or esteemed, can delay or alter.
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: organized
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: organizes
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: whom
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Westernized