Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 19, 1907
An Ineffectual Sedition Clause
We commented yesterday on the folly of the Punjab Government in prosecuting the Punjabee and the ridiculous and unenviable position in which the practical collapse of that prosecution has landed them. The absolute lack of courage, insight and statesmanship in the Indian government has been always a subject of wonder to us. The English are an exceedingly able and practical nation, well versed in the art of keeping down subject races at the least expense and with the greatest advantage to themselves. It is passing strange to see such a race floundering about and hopelessly at sea in dealing with the new situation in India. There are three possible policies by which it could be met. We could understand a policy of Russian repression, making full use of the means of coercion their despotic laws and practice keep ready to their hand in order to stamp out the fire of nationalism before it had spread. We could understand a policy of firm repression of disorder and maintenance of British supremacy, coupled with full and generous concessions in the sphere of local and municipal self-government. We could understand a frank association of the people in the government with provincial Home Rule as its eventual goal. The first policy would be strong and courageous but unwise; for, its only effect on a nation which has a past and remembers it would be to expedite the advent of its future. The second, if immediately undertaken, might be temporarily effective but could not for long satisfy national aspirations. The third is a counsel of perfection to which, fortunately for India's future greatness, Mr. Blair will hardly get his countrymen to listen. Nevertheless, any of these three would be a rational and sensible policy; but the present attitude of the Government is neither. It is an impossible mixture of timid and flabby coercion with insincere, grudging and dilatory conciliation. The Government looses a Fuller on the people and then at the first check withdraws him. It promises a reform and then hesitates and repents and cannot make up its mind to give it either promptly or frankly. It has stored up any number of legal brahmāstras and nāgapāśas to bind down and destroy opposition, but it has not the courage to use them. It would like to crush the people, but it dare not; it feels it necessary to make concessions, but it will not. This is the way Empires are lost. The only instance of a coherent policy is in East Bengal where the bureaucracy has envisaged the situation as an unarmed rebellion and is treating it on the military principle of isolating the insurgent forces and crushing them with the help of local allies before the opposition can become organised and universal. It is an acute and skilful policy but it needs for its success two conditions – weakness, vacillation and cowardice on the part of the Calcutta leaders, and want of tenacity in the strong men of East Bengal. But the situation in East Bengal is only a local symptom. In dealing with the general disease, the Government policy is mere confusion.
We may take its treatment of sedition as an instance. The clause dealing with sedition in the Penal Code is a monument of legal ferocity, but at present, of futile ferocity. The offence is that of exciting contempt and hatred against the Government. The Government means the bureaucracy collectively and individually. Anything therefore in the nature of plain statement and strong comment on any foolish or arbitrary conduct on the part of an official or on any unwise or oppressive policy on the part of the Government, Viceregal or Provincial, or on any absurd or odious feature in the bureaucratic system, or any attempt to prove that the present administration is responsible for distress and suffering in India or that bureaucratic rule is doing material and moral injury to the people and the country, falls within the scope of this insane provision. For, such statements, comments and attempts must inevitably provoke contempt and “want of affection” in the people; and the writer cannot help knowing that they will have that effect. Yet these are things that fall within the natural duty of the journalist in every country which is not still in the Dark Ages.
The alternative punishments – the minor, running to two years' rigorous imprisonment, the major, to the utmost penalty short of the gallows,– are of a Russian ferocity. Yet this terrible sword is hung in vain over the head of the Indian journalists1; for, mere imprisonment has no longer any terrors for Indian patriotism and really crushing penalties can only be imposed at the risk of driving the people to secret conspiracy and nihilistic forms of protest. The lower grades of the executive and judiciary are not affected by scruples, for they are neither called upon to consider ultimate consequences or exposed to external censure; but the higher one rises in the official scale, the greater is the deterrent effect of the fear of consequences and the fear of the world's censure. This is the reason why ferocious sentences like that on the Punjabee are minimised in successive appeals – a phenomenon an Anglo-Indian contemporary notices with great disgust. The clauses 124A and 153A are therefore weapons which the Government cannot effectually utilise and to employ them ineffectually is worse than useless. If the journalist is acquitted, it is a popular victory; if lightly sentenced, public feeling is irritated, not intimidated; if rigorously dealt with, a great impulse is given to the tide of nationalism which will sweep onward till this place2 of civilised savagery ceases to pollute the statute-books of a revolutionised and modernised administration.
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: journalist
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: piece