Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 3, 1907
Peace and the Autocrats
Ever since the differences of opinion which are now agitating the whole country declared themselves in the formation of two distinct parties in Bengal, there has been a class of politicians among us who are never tired of ingeminating peace, peace, deploring every collision between the contending schools and entreating all to lay aside their differences and work for the country. It is all very plausible to the ear and easily imposes on the average unthinking mind. Union, concord, work for the country are all moving and sacred words and must command respect – when they are not misused. But what is it that these politicians ask us to do in the name of union, concord and work for the country? They ask us to sacrifice or stifle our convictions and silence the promptings of conscience in order to follow leaders whom we believe to have lost touch with the spirit of the times and “work together unitedly” in a line of action which we believe to be ruinous to the country. The demand has been made quite nakedly by enthusiastic adherents of Babu Surendranath Banerji that we should all follow the leaders blindly even when we disapprove of what they think, say and do. A more presumptuous demand or one more destructive of all political morality and honesty could not be made. There is such a thing as a political conscience, even if its existence is not recognised by the Editor of the Bengalee; and expediency is not what that veracious journal declares it to be, the sole god of politics, but a subordinate guide, itself determined by higher considerations.
Of course, many of those who cry out for peace at any price, do not perceive all that is implied in their demand. Is it not possible, they argue, to have differences of opinion and yet work together? We should be the last to deny it. The whole system of party politics, for example, depends on the subordination of minor differences by those who are agreed on main and vital points. So long therefore as the differences are minor and either essentially or for the moment immaterial, there is no reason why there should not be complete unity for all practical purposes; but the moment vital differences arise, parties and party struggle become inevitable. The men of peace and unity are never weary of throwing Japan and England in our faces; but they seem not to have read the history of the countries which they offer us as our examples. Have they never heard of the struggle between Federalists and Imperialists in Japan or of the civil strife between Federalists and Unionists which preceded and made the way clear for her marvellous development? It was the time when American guns had broken open the gates of the country and she was in considerable danger from foreign aggression; yet this was the moment chosen by the most patriotic Japanese for a bitter party struggle attended by mutual assassination and ending in civil slaughter. And what was the point at issue? Simply, whether Shogun or Mikado should be leader and sovereign in Japan. Our wise men would have advised the Japanese to give up their differences and work together under the Shogun because he was “the recognised leader”; but the patriots of Japan knew that the question of Shogun or Mikado involved vital issues which must be settled at any cost; so with one hand they fended off the common enemy while with the other they fought out the question among themselves. This is the only solution to the difficulty which has arisen in India – to present an united front to bureaucratic attacks while fighting out the question among ourselves. For this amount of concord one condition is absolutely required, that neither party shall call in the common enemy to injure or crush the other. There must be no suppression of telegrams defending a leader of one party from official imputations, no attempt by editorial paragraphs to implicate him as an instigator of disorder, no assistance at viceregal interviews in which the bureaucracy is invited to take strong measures against his propaganda.
If it is argued that the differences dividing us are not vital, we entirely disagree. We are all agreed on one point, that the continuance of unmitigated bureaucratic despotism is ruinous to the country and a change is required; but beyond this point there is more difference than agreement. The new party is composed of various elements and there are minor differences of opinion and even of method among them; but they are all agreed in one unanimous determination to put an end to despotism, mitigated or unmitigated, and replace it by a free, modern and national Government. The old party is also composed of various elements,– ultra-loyalist, loyalist, ultra-moderate, moderate, and even semi-demi-extremist; but they are all agreed on this main attitude, that while they aspire to colonial self-government they will put up with mitigated despotism for another century or two if vigorous petitioning will bring them nothing better. Here is a vital difference of ideal, aim and spirit; and it is necessarily accompanied by a vital difference in method. The new party is agreed on a policy of self-help and the organisation at least of passive resistance. The old party is agreed upon nothing except the sacred right of petitioning. Sir Pherozshah Mehta and the Bombay Moderates would confine our politics within those holy limits. Pundit Madan Mohan and the United Provinces Moderates are willing to add a moderate and inoffensive spice of self-help; Babu Surendranath and the Bengal Moderates will even admit passive resistance within narrow limits and for a special and temporary purpose. But the difference of all from the new party remains.
Where there are such serious differences and men wish to follow different paths, no lasting composition is possible. The party struggle must go on until the country has definitely accepted one or other of the alternative ideals and methods. Temporary working compromises are alone possible, and the soundness of even such compromises is conditional, firstly, on the candour and whole-heartedness with which they are undertaken on both sides, and secondly, on the carrying on of the party struggle strictly within the rules of the game. The present bitterness of the struggle is largely due to the disregard of these elementary conditions. National Education is an accepted part of the political programme in Bengal; yet all the best known and most influential of the Moderate leaders are either practically indifferent or passively hostile to the progress of the movement. Boycott is the cry of both parties within Bengal; yet the Moderate leaders did not hesitate to stultify the Boycott movement by the support they gave to the Swadeshi-Bideshi Exhibition. Moreover, our experience has hitherto been that the Moderates look on any compromise in the light of a clever manoeuvre to dish the Extremists or a temporary convenience to stave off unpleasant opposition for the moment.
The second condition is equally disregarded. So long as it is sought to suppress the new spirit by autocratic methods of1 dishonest manoeuvres, there can be no talk of peace or unity. The conduct of Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya and his caucus at Allahabad has been both autocratic and dishonest. The delegates elected at the Railway Theatre were elected according to methods that have always been held valid by the Congress and there has never before been any question of the right of gentlemen nominated by a large public meeting to sit in Congress or Conference. Yet the Pundit and his crew chose by autocratic Resolutions of a temporary Committee which had received no power to alter the Congress constitution, to disallow the nominees of the Railway Theatre meeting! Even the British bureaucracy itself would have blushed to perpetrate so cynical and shameless a piece of autocracy. But these autocratic democrats had not even the courage of their autocracy. They tried first to exclude the elected of the people on the ridiculous plea that Mayo Hall would only hold a certain number and therefore – mark the logic of Moderatism! – this certain number must be composed of Malaviya Moderates and the Railway Theatre Forwards excluded; but they found that this trick would not serve. They then bolstered up their autocracy by the excuse that Allahabad must not be over-represented at the Conference. This excuse was a palpable trick since under the present rules it is impossible to prevent the place of the Conference from being over-represented. As a matter of fact among the few delegates who attended, Allahabad had an overwhelming majority. No sane man can expect concord and compromise between the parties while such trickery is considered a legitimate party manoeuvre. The penalty this time has been the failure of the Allahabad Conference. The penalty next time, unless the caucus learn wisdom, may be open war and the holding of two separate Conferences in the same province.
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: or