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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. April 6, 1907

Omissions and Commissions at Berhampur

The spirit of mendicancy has not been given much play in the proceedings of the Berhampur Conference and so far this year marks a distinctive advance. Last year's Conference was totally exceptional; and there could be no certainty that the victory then won for reason and patriotism, would be permanent, for the mendicant spirit fled from the Conference Pandal before Kemp's cudgels and the triumph of the gospel of self-help was accomplished in an atmosphere of such excitement that even the chill blood of a Legislative Councillor was heated into seditious utterance. The very moment after the dispersal of the Conference the mendicant nature reasserted itself, justifying the maxim of the ancients, “Drive out Nature with a pitchfork (or a regulation lathi), yet it will come back at the gallop.” But since then Nationalist sentiment in Bengal has grown immensely in volume; and although the Conference was held in a Moderate centre, in the peaceful and untroubled atmosphere of West Bengal, no positive mendicancy was permitted. There were, indeed, certain features of the Conference which we cannot view with approval. Last year the right of raising the cry of the Motherland wherever even two or three of her sons might meet, whether in public places or private, was asserted by the whole body of delegates in spite of police cudgels; this year the right was surrendered because Babu Baikunthanath Sen had pledged his personal honour to a foreign bureaucrat that there would be no breach of the peace. Since this plea was accepted by the delegates, we must take it that all Bengal has acknowledged the shouting of “Bande Mataram” in the streets to be a breach of the peace! Here is a victory for the bureaucracy. And yet the Chairman of the Reception Committee was not ashamed to include in his rotund rhetorical phrases congratulations on our triumph and our scars of victory. The private and personal honour of Babu Baikunthanath was set in the balance against the public honour of the delegates of Bengal, and the latter kicked the beam. It will be said that the position of Babu Baikunthanath as host precluded the delegates from doing anything which would compromise that estimable gentleman. We deny that Babu Baikunthanath stood in the position of host to the Conference, whatever may have been his relation to individual delegates; in any case the representatives of Bengal went to Berhampur not to eat good dinners and interchange kindly social courtesies, but simply and solely to do their duty by the country. We deny the right of any individual, whatever his position, to pledge a whole nation to a course inconsistent with courage and with honour. But the leaders seem to have accepted the plea with alacrity as a good excuse for avoiding a repetition of Barisal. “For such another field they dreaded worse than death.” The incident shows the persistence of that want of backbone which is still the curse of our politics. In any other country the very fact that the delegates had been assaulted at one Conference for asserting a right, would have been held an imperative reason for re-asserting that right at every succeeding Conference, till it was admitted. Unless we can show the same firmness, we may as well give up the idea of passive resistance for good and all.

Several of the Resolutions seem to us unnecessary in substance and others invertebrate in phrasing. We have no faith whatever in the Judicial and Executive separation nostrum; we do not believe that it will really remedy the evil which it is designed to meet. So long as the executive and judiciary are both in the pay of the same irresponsible and despotic authority, they will for the most part be actuated by the same spirit and act in unison; the relief given will only be in individual cases. Even that much relief we cannot be sure of; for the moment the functions are separated, it will become an imperious need for the bureaucracy to tighten their hold on the judiciary and, with all the power in their hands, they will not find the task difficult. Already the High Court itself has long ceased to be the “palladium of justice and liberty” against bureaucratic vagaries, and the unanimity of the two Services is likely to be intensified by the so-called reform. It is quite possible that the separation will make things worse rather than better. One reform and one alone can secure us from executive oppression and that is to make the people of this country paymasters and controllers of both executive and judiciary. No patchwork in any direction will be of any avail. What for instance is the use of clamouring about the Road-Cess when we know perfectly well that it was levied not for roads and other district purposes but as a plausible means of circumventing the Permanent Settlement? No one can deny that it is admirably fulfilling the purpose for which it was levied. It is absurd to think that the bureaucracy will be anxious to open out the country any farther1 than is necessary for military and administrative purposes and for the greater facility of exploitation by the foreign trader and capitalist. The needs and convenience of the people are not and can never be a determining factor in their expenditure. For the same reason they cannot be expected to look to sanitation beyond the limit necessary in order to safeguard the health of Europeans and avoid in the world's eyes manifest self-betrayal as an inefficient, reactionary and uncivilised administration. Really to secure the public health and effectually combat the plagues that are rapidly destroying our vitality, swelling the death-rate and diminishing the birth-rate would demand an amount of cooperation with the people for which they will never be willing to pay the price.

With the exception of these minor triflings and of one glaring omission beside which all its omissions and commissions fade into insignificance, the work of the Conference has on the whole been satisfactory. It is well that it has sanctioned the taking up of sanitation measures by popular agency; it is well that it has dealt with the question of arbitration and that it has approved of measures for grappling with the urgent question of scarcity and famine. But in failing utterly to understand and meet the situation created by the disturbances in East Bengal, the Conference has shown a want of courage and statesmanship which is without excuse, we wish we could say that it was without parallel. We shall deal with this subject separately as its importance demands.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.

1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: further