Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 10, 1907
Pherozshahi at Surat
The methods of Moderate autocrats are as instructive as they are peculiar. The account of the characteristic proceedings of Sir Pherozshah Mehta at the Surat Conference, which we published in yesterday's correspondence columns, bears a strong family likeness to the ways of the Provincial Congress autocrats all India over. The selection of a subservient President who will call white black at dictatorial bidding; the open scorn of public opinion; the disregard of justice, of fair play, of constitutional practice and procedure, of equality of all before recognised law and rule, and of every other principle essential to a self-governing body; the arrogant claim on account of past “services” to assert private wishes, opinions, conveniences, as superior to the wishes, opinions and conveniences of the people's delegates; these are common and universal characteristics in the procedure of our autocratic democrats. The difference is merely in personal temperament and manner of expression. “The State? I am the State,” cried Louis XIV. “The country? I am the country!” cries Sir Pherozshah Mehta or Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya or Mr. Krishnaswamy Aiyar, as the case may be. Only, as his personality is more robust, so is Sir Pherozshah's dictatorial arrogance more public, open and contemptuous than that of his compeers in less favoured Provinces. If the popular cause is to make any progress, if we are to show ourselves worthy of the self-government we claim, this strong-handed autocracy must itself be put down with the strong hand. As Mr. Tilak pointed out at Kolahpur1, the object of the national movement is not to replace foreign autocrats by the Swadeshi article, but to replace an irresponsible bureaucracy by popular self-government.
The most extraordinary of Sir Pherozshah's freaks at Surat was not his treatment of Sir Bhalchandra as if the President of the Conference were his tame cat,– for what else was the Knight of the Umbrella, pushed into a position to which he has no claims of any kind? Nor was it his exclusion of the Aundh Commission from consideration by the Conference; it is part of the orthodox Congress “nationalism” to exclude the Princes and Chiefs of India from consideration as if they were not an important part of the nation, and to leave them without sympathy or support to the tender mercies of the Foreign Office. Nor was it his turning the Conference into a tool for ventilating his personal grievances against Bombay officialdom. It was his action with regard to the question of National Education.
Let us consider one by one the pleas by which he managed to exclude this all-important Resolution from the deliberations of the Conference. They show the peculiar mental texture of our leaders and their crude notions of the politics which they profess. The first plea is that the Resolutions of the Congress are not binding upon the Conference. What then is the necessity or purpose of the Congress? As we understand it, the Resolutions of the Congress embody the opinions and aspirations of the united people of India; they put forward the minimum reforms which that people are agreed to demand from the Government or to effect for themselves. A Provincial Conference can go beyond these minimum reforms if the circumstances of the Province or the general opinion of the public demand it; it cannot diminish, ignore or go behind them without dissociating itself from the programme approved by the nation and breaking up all chances of an united advance. If these are not the relations of Congress and Conference, will Sir Pherozshah inform us what are the true relations? If the Conference does not exist in order to carry forward the national programme with whatever additions the Province may find necessary for its own purposes, does it then exist only in order to record the decrees and opinions of a few Provincial leaders?
The second plea was that Sir Pherozshah Mehta could not understand the meaning of National Education. At Ahmedabad, we remember, the Swadeshi Resolution was disallowed in the Subjects Committee because Sir Pherozshah Mehta would not know where he could get his broadcloth, if it were passed! The nation was not to resolve on helping forward its commercial independence, because Sir Pherozshah Mehta preferred broadcloth to any other wear. And now the people of Bombay are not to educate themselves on national lines because Sir Pherozshah Mehta does not know what a nation means nor what nationalism means nor, in fact, anything except what Sir Pherozshah Mehta means.
When, on a vote of the Subjects Committee, the Resolution was declared by the President to be lost, it seems to have been the opinion of a large body of the delegates that this was a misdeclaration. The obvious course was, under such circumstances, a count of votes by tellers on each side. But Sir Pherozshah was ready with his third plea that this would be to question the veracity of the President. We cannot too strongly insist that politics is not a social drawing-room for the interchange of courtly amenities. Where there is a question of constitutional right, to bring in personal arguments of this kind is to show that you have not grasped the elementary principles of democratic politics. The very first of these principles is that law rules and not persons,– the person is only an instrument of the law. The President or Chairman of a body sits there to keep order and see that law and rule are observed,– he does not sit there to make his own will the law. If therefore there is any question of a miscount, it is his bounden duty to see that immediate measures are taken to satisfy both parties as to its correctness and it is the natural right of the members to demand such a count. That right ought not to be waived in deference to the tender delicacy of a Chairman's self-love, nor has he or his friends any right to talk nonsense about his veracity being questioned or himself being insulted. Such mouthings show either a guilty conscience which cannot face public scrutiny or an entire moral unfitness for leadership in any constitutional proceedings.
We regret that the delegates at Surat did not insist on their rights. Sir Pherozshah Mehta came to Calcutta, prepared to do at the Congress precisely what he has now been doing at the Conference; but he found a spirit awakened in Bengal before which a hundred Pherozshahs are as mere chaff before the wind. It is a spirit which will tolerate no dictation except from the nation and from the laws which the nation imposes on itself. The progress of the National cause depends on the awakening of that spirit throughout India. Let there be only one dictator – the People.
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: Kolhapur