Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 22, 1907
The Gospel According to Surendranath
The appearance of Babu Surendranath Banerji as an exponent of the “New Nationalism” is a phenomenon which shows the spread of the new spirit, but, we fear, nothing more. We congratulate Babu Surendranath on his conversion to the New Nationalism, but we are not sure that we can congratulate the New Nationalism on its convert. Nationalism is, after all, primarily an emotion of the heart and a spiritual attitude and only secondarily an intellectual conviction. Its very foundation is the worship of national liberty as the one political deity and the readiness to consider all things well lost if only freedom is won. “Let my name be blasted,” cried Danton, “but let France be saved.” “Let my name, life, possessions all go,” cries the true Nationalist, “let all that is dear to me perish, but let my country be free.” But Babu Surendranath is not prepared to consider the world well lost for liberty. He wishes to drive bargains with God, to buy liberty from Him in the cheapest market, at the smallest possible price. Until now he was the leader of those who desired to reach a qualified liberty by safe and comfortable means. He is now for an unqualified liberty; and since the way to absolute liberty cannot be perfectly safe and comfortable, he wants to make it as safe and comfortable as he can. It is evident that his conversion to the new creed is only a half and half conversion. He has acknowledged the deity, but he is not prepared for the sacrifice. It is always a danger to a new religion when it receives converts from among strong adherents of the old, for they are likely to bring in with them the spirit of the outworn creed and corrupt with it the purity of the new tenets. If leaders of the old school wish to be accepted as exponents of the New Nationalism, they must bring to it not only intellectual assent, but a new and changed heart – a new heart of courage and enthusiastic self-sacrifice, to replace the old heart of selfish timidity and distrust of the national strength.
In the leading article of last Friday's Bengalee some very important admissions are made. The unlimited possibilities of the organised national strength of India are acknowledged without reservation. “There is no limit to what they can do. We at any rate would set no limits to their ambition.... We want our country to be as great in its own way as other countries are in theirs. And we are determined to secure our rightful place in the federation of humanity by methods which are least wasteful in their nature and would soonest bring us to the assured destination.” The federation of humanity is one of those sounding phrases, dear to Babu Surendranath, which have no relation to actualities; but the rightful place of India among the nations, federated or unfederated, is one which cannot admit of any the least restriction on her liberty. And the description of the methods to be used at least rules petitioning out of court, for petitioning is certainly wasteful in its nature and would not bring us soonest,– nor, indeed, at all – to our assured destination. There is more behind. “Where is the room for compromise in spiritual life? Nobody has a right to tell us in regard to a question like this, thus far you shall go and no farther. National expansion and self-realisation is a sacred duty which we cannot lay aside at the bidding of any authority above or below. The charter here is a charter from on high and no mundane authority has a right to undo it.” All this is admirable. It is true that the writer in the next breath says, “We have no quarrel with anybody who does not stand in our way,” – an obvious truism,– and invites the Government “not to block the way”, promising it as a reward “a happy and not inglorious transformation at no distant date”. But the bureaucracy knows, as well as the writer knows, that transformation is only an euphemism for translation to a better world, and there is not the slightest chance of its listening to this bland invitation. However, the fact stands out that Babu Surendranath has declared for absolute autonomy to be arrived at by methods which among other things would soonest bring us to the assured destination.
Unfortunately the rest of the article is devoted to carefully undoing the effect of the first half. It is practically an attempt to controvert the position which we have taken up in this journal. Our position is that it is imperatively necessary for this nation to enter into an immediate struggle for national liberty which we must win at any cost; that in this struggle we must be inspired and guided by the teachings of history and those glorious examples which show how even nations degraded, enslaved and internally disunited, can rapidly attain to freedom and unity; and that for this purpose the great necessity is to awake in the nation a burning, an irresistible, an unanimous will, to be free. The Bengalee denies all these positions. We must win liberty, it holds, not by an immediate struggle but by a long and weary journey; not by heavy sacrifices, but in the spirit of a Banya by grudging, limited and carefully-calculated sacrifices. We are not to be guided by the concrete lessons of history, but by vague and intangible rhetorical generalisations about “our increased knowledge and wisdom, our enlarged affections and interests of the present day”. We are to curb our will to be free by a “trained intelligence” which teaches us that we are not a homogenous nation and must therefore tolerate differences.
We will content ourselves at present with pointing out that the Bengalee's answer to us is neither objective nor self-consistent. We have tried to establish our position by definite arguments and appeals to well-known facts of human nature and human experience; the Bengalee simply denies our conclusions in general terms without advancing a single definite argument. We can only conclude that our contemporary has no definite arguments to advance. The confusion of his ideas is appalling. We are to choose for the attainment of liberty the method which will bring us soonest to our destination; but we must at the same time insist on making it a long and weary journey. We must have the determination to get liberty “at any cost”; but we must not carry out that determination in practice; no, in practice we must get it not at any cost but at the smallest cost possible. We must really ask the Bengalee to clear up this tangle of ideas and discover some definite arguments before it again asks the Nationalists to confine themselves to realising their ideas in practice and to abstain from “quarrelling with everybody who differs from them”. It would be no doubt very gratifying to the Bengalee not to be quarrelled with, in other words, to escape from the annoyance of finding its intellectual positions and its methods assailed; but we cannot gratify it. So far as possible, our ideas are being realised in practice wherever Nationalism is strong; but for their full effectiveness they need the whole nation at their back and it is therefore our first duty to convince the nation by exposing pseudo-Nationalism in all its workings.
We shall meet the Bengalee's positions one by one hereafter. Meanwhile we take the liberty of offering one suggestion to Babu Surendranath Banerji. This veteran leader is a declared opportunist, who believes, as he has himself said, in expediency more than in principles. He seeks to lead the nation not by instructing it but by watching its moods and making use of them. Well and good; but even an opportunist leader must keep pace with public opinion, if he does not even go half a step in front of it; he must know which way it is going to leap before the leap is taken, and not follow halting some paces behind. The nation moves forward with rapidity; Babu Surendranath pants ineffectually after it. It is not by such hesitating pronouncements that he can retain the national leadership. The times are revolutionary, and revolutionary times demand men who know their own mind and are determined to make it the mind of the nation.
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.