Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 16, 1907
The Old Year
There are periods in the history of the world when the unseen Power that guides its destinies seems to be filled with a consuming passion for change and a strong impatience of the old. The Great Mother, the Adya Shakti, has resolved to take the nations into Her hand and shape them anew. These are periods of rapid destruction and energetic creation, filled with the sound of cannon and the trampling of armies, the crash of great downfalls, and the turmoil of swift and violent revolutions; the world is thrown into the smelting pot and comes out in a new shape and with new features. They are periods when the wisdom of the wise is confounded and the prudence of the prudent turned into a laughing-stock; for it is the day of the prophet, the dreamer, the fanatic and the crusader,– the time of divine revelation when Avatars are born and miracles happen. Such a period was the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth; in such a period we find ourselves at the dawn of this twentieth century the years of whose infancy have witnessed such wonderful happenings. The result of the earlier disturbance was the birth of a new Europe and the modernisation of the Western world; we are assisting now at the birth of a new Asia and the modernisation of the East. The current started then from distant America but the centre of disturbance was Western and Central Europe. This time there have been three currents,– insurgent nationalism starting from South Africa, Asiatic revival starting from Japan, Eastern democracy starting from Russia; and the centre of disturbance covers a huge zone, all Eastern, Southern and Western Asia, Northern or Asiaticised Africa and Russia which form the semi-Asiatic element in Europe. As the pace of the revolution grows swifter, each new year becomes more eventful than the last and marks a large advance to the final consummation. No year of the new century has been more full of events than 1906-07, our year 1313.
If we look abroad, we find the whole affected zone in agitation and new births everywhere. In the Far East the year has not been marked by astonishing events, but the total results have been immense. Within these twelve months China has been educating, training and arming herself with a speed of which the outside world has a very meagre conception. She has sent out a Commission of Observation to the West and decided to develop constitutional Government within the next ten years. She has pushed forward the work of revolutionising her system of education and bringing it into line with modern requirements. She has taken resolutely in hand the task of liberating herself from the curse of opium which has benumbed the energies of her people. She has sent her young men outside in thousands, chiefly to Japan, to be trained for the great work of development. With the help of Japanese instructors she is training herself quietly in war, and science, has made an immense advance in the organisation of a disciplined army, and is now busy laying the foundations of an effective navy. In spite of the arrogant protests of British merchants, she has taken her enormous customs revenue into her own hands for national purposes. By her successful diplomacy she has deprived England of the fruits of the unscrupulous, piratical attack upon Tibet and is maintaining her hold on that outpost of the Mongolian world.
Japan during this year has been vigorously pushing on her industrial expansion at home and abroad; she has practically effected the commercial conquest of Manchuria and begun in good earnest the struggle with European trade and her manufactures are invading Europe and America. Her army reorganisation has been so large and thorough as to make the island Empire invincible in her own sphere of activity. A little cloud has sprung up between herself and America, but she has conducted herself with her usual sang froid, moderation and calm firmness; and, however far the difficulty may go, we may be sure that she will not come out of it either morally or materially a loser.
In other parts of the Far East there have only been slight indications of coming movements. The troubles in the Philippines are over and America has restored to the inhabitants a certain measure of self-government, which, if used by the Filipinos with energy and discretion, may be turned into an instrument for the recovery of complete independence. Siam has purchased release from humiliating restrictions on her internal sovereignty at the heavy price of a large cession of territory to intruding France; but she is beginning to pay more attention to her naval and military development and it will be well if this means that she has realised the only way to preserve her independence. At present Siam is the one weak point in Mongolian Asia. Otherwise the events of this year show that by the terrible blow she struck at Russia, Japan has arrested the process of European absorption in the Far East.
But the most remarkable feature of the past year is the awakening of the Mahomedan world. In Afghanistan it has seen the inception of a great scheme of National Education which may lay the basis of a State, strong in itself, organised on modern lines and equipped with scientific knowledge and training. Amir Abdur Rahman consolidated Afghanistan; it is evidently the mission of Habibullah, who seems not inferior in statesmanship to his great father, to modernise it. In Persia the year has brought about a peaceful revolution,– the granting of Parliamentary Government by an Asiatic king to his subjects under the mildest passive pressure and the return of national life to Iran. In Egypt it has confronted the usurping role1 of England with a nationalist movement, not only stronger and more instructed than that of Arabi Pasha but led by the rightful sovereign of the country. The exhibition of cold-blooded British ferocity at Denshawi has defeated its object, and, instead of appalling the Egyptians into submission, made them more determined and united. It is now only a question of time for this awakening to affect the rest of Islam and check the European as effectually in Western Asia as he has been checked in the East.
In this universal Asiatic movement what part has India to play? What has she done during the year 1313? In India too there has been an immense advance,– an advance so great that we shall not be able to appreciate it properly until its results have worked themselves out. The year began with Barisal; it closes with Comilla. The growing intensity of the struggle in Eastern Bengal can be measured by this single transition, and its meaning is far deeper than appears on the surface. It means that the two forces which must contend for the possession of India's future,– the British bureaucracy and the Indian people,– have at last clashed in actual conflict. Barisal meant passive, martyr-like endurance; Comilla means active, courageous resistance. The fighting is at present only on the far eastern fringe of this great country; but it must, as it grows in intensity, spread westwards. Sparks of the growing conflagration will set fire to Western Bengal, and India is now far too united for the bureaucracy to succeed long in isolating the struggle.
The second feature of the year has been the rapid growth of the Nationalist Party. It has in a few months absorbed Eastern Bengal, set Allahabad and the North on fire, and is stirring Madras to its depths. In Bengal it has become a distinct and recognised force so powerful in its moral influence that petitioning is practically dead and the whole nation stands committed to a policy of self-development and passive resistance. The Press a few months ago was, with the exception of a few Marathi2 weeklies, one journal in the Punjab, and the Sandhya and New India in Calcutta, almost entirely Moderate. The increase of Nationalist journals such as the Balbharat and Andhra Keshari in Madras, the Aftab in the North and ourselves in Calcutta, the appearance of local papers filled with the new spirit, the sudden popularity of a paper like the Yugantar and the extent to which the new ideas are infecting journals not avowedly of the new school, are indices of the rapidity with which Nationalism is formulating itself and taking possession of the country.
A third feature of the year has been the growth of National Education. The Bengal National College has not only become an established fact but is rapidly increasing in numbers and has begun to build the foundations of a better system of education. The schools at Rungpore3 and Dacca already existed at the commencement of the year; but immediately after the Barisal outrage, fresh schools at Mymensingh, Kishoregunj, Comilla, Chandpur and Dinajpur were established. Since then there have been further additions,– the Magura School, another in the Jessore District, another at Jalpaiguri, as well as a free primary school at Mogra4. We understand that there is also a probability of a National School at Chittagong and Noakhali. No mean record for a single year. As was to be expected, most of these schools have grown up in the great centre of Nationalism, East Bengal.
Such is the record of Nationalist advance in India in 1313. It is a record of steady and rapid growth; and the year closes with the starting of a tremendous issue which may carry us far beyond the stage of mere beginnings and preparations. Long ago we heard it prophesied that the year 1907 would see the beginning of the actual struggle for national liberty in India. It would almost seem as if in the turmoil in Tipperah the first blow had been struck.
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: rule
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Mahratti
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Rungpur
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bogra