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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. April 11, 1907

The Situation in East Bengal

While commenting on the proceedings of the Berhampur Conference, we expressed our opinion that the leaders had been guilty of the most serious deficiency in statesmanship and courage in failing to understand and meet the situation created by the occurrences in Tipperah. Leadership in this country has hitherto gone with the fluent tongue, the sonorous voice, skill in dialectics and acute adroitness in legal draftsmanship. The leader has not been called upon to understand the great and urgent national needs or to meet the calls of a dangerous crisis. In the opposition-cum-cooperation theory these were functions of the alien Government, and the only duty of the popular leaders was to advise or remonstrate and look on at the results. The present position in Bengal is full of the uncertainty and confusion of a transition period when circumstances have changed and demand new qualities, new ideas and a new spirit in the people's chiefs; but the leadership still remains in the hands of the old type of politicians. This would not have mattered if the old leaders had been men of genius gifted with the adaptability to suit themselves to the new circumstances, the vision to grasp them and the courage to act. But none of these qualities seems to be possessed either by Babu Surendranath, the one man of genius among the older leaders, or by Mr. Gokhale, the one man of real political ability, much less by the lesser heads. The country has still to seek for leaders who shall be worthy of the new age.

The Comilla affair has revealed beyond all possible doubt the heart of the new situation. It ought now to be plain to the meanest intelligence that a struggle has begun between two great forces which must go on till one or the other is crushed or driven to surrender. Any attempt to disguise the fact is the merest futility. Our Moderate leaders thought when Fuller had been driven out of the country and Morley had taken up the reins of Government, the struggle need no longer be a struggle and could again be reduced to the proportions of a public debate between the Congress and the Government. Now again, they thought, a pleasant reversion to the old opposition-cum-cooperation politics may be gradually engineered. But the forces of reaction, opposed to us, understand politics better; they have seen that the fire of the new spirit is not a momentary blaze to be kindled and quenched at the will of individuals, but the beginning of an immense conflagration. Their policy is as astute as might be expected in such past masters of the art of politics. It is evidently to isolate the struggle and fight it out in East Bengal; to oppose and put down the new spirit after it had taken hold of the whole nation would be a task so difficult as to be a practical impossibility; to meet it in a single part of the country and crush it before it had time to spread effectively over all India, is obviously the wisest course. It is part of the policy also to attack it by localities even in the affected area and not as a whole, to destroy it before the defence has organised itself; and to use as instruments the Sallimullahi1 sect of Mahomedans, while the Police confine themselves to keeping the ring.

The leaders may say that they thought the Comilla incident an unwelcome and deplorable outbreak which had happily been closed whether by the “secret” efforts of Babu Surendranath Banerji or by other less miraculous means. That they did think so, is probable and nothing could more damningly convict them of want of insight and even the smallest measure of political wisdom than such an inexcusable blunder. It was perfectly obvious that, as Comilla had not been the first incident of the kind, so also it would not be the last. Before the Conference met the disturbance at Mogra Hat was already in full course; and that2 details, reported in Babu Surendranath Banerji's own paper, were of the most glaringly unmistakable character. At Comilla there had been an outbreak of anti-national hooliganism coincident with the Nawab's visit; the authorities had practically refused to help the Hindus and had only interfered when the Hindus were getting the upper hand; and even then, the arrest and punishment of a few rioters was so casually and lightly done as to be absolutely useless for any deterrent effect while the might of the bureaucracy was centred upon the prosecution of alleged Hindu culprits in the shooting case.

Nevertheless, the Comilla incident ended in a national victory. At Mogra Hat measures were taken to prevent a repetition of that victory. A Mahomedan Police official seems to have acted practically as the captain of the rioters; the Sub-divisional Officer tried to deprive the Hindus of the means of self-defence; attempts were made to prevent organisation of defence by volunteers; a Police force held the station to exclude help from outside for the Hindus, leaving the Mahomedan rioters a clear field for their operations. Finally when in spite of all these obstructions the Hindus were again getting the upper hand, the higher authorities appeared on the scene, the disturbance was quelled, and arrests and prosecutions of Hindus are now in full swing. This is the substance of the account given by the correspondents of the Bengalee and the Patrika, and not yet denied. If after this the leaders are still unable to understand the situation, the sooner they give up their leadership and attend to their spiritual salvation, the better for themselves and the country.

The situation in East Bengal puts three important questions to any intelligent leadership. Is East Bengal to be left alone to fight out the battle of nationalism while the rest of the country looks calmly on? Is reaction to be allowed to persecute local and disorganised forces of nationalism or is mutual defence to be organised? What measures are to be taken to prevent the efforts of the officials to give the matter the appearance of a Hindu-Mahomedan quarrel? What answer have the leaders to give to these questions? At Berhampur two measures only were taken, an empty and halting Resolution of “sympathy” and a flamboyant call for a Defence Fund, to be utilised for we know not what purpose. It is not money that East Bengal needs, but practical assistance, guidance and leadership. These the leaders have proved themselves unable or unwilling to give. They will say perhaps that they have secured the “sympathy” of Lord Minto as well as of the Conference, and nothing further is necessary! It does not matter a jot whether the local officials are or are not acting on their own initiative in their singular attitude in East Bengal. The sympathy of Lord Minto has not prevented the repetition of the disturbances, and we have no confidence that it will prevent further repetitions which are now threatening. For effectiveness it seems to be on a par with the sympathy of the Berhampur Conference. The people can expect no protection from the alien bureaucracy which is interested in the extinction of nationalism. They can expect, it appears, neither help nor guidance from their own leaders. They are left alone to find out their own salvation. Be it so, then. Ourselves we will protect ourselves: unled and unassisted pave for the country its hope and its future.

 

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: Salimullahi

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2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: the

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