Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 26, 1907
Nationalism not Extremism
It is a curious fact that even after so many months of sustained propaganda and the most clear and definite statements of the New Politics, there should still be so much confusion as to the attitude of the Nationalist Party and the elementary issues they have raised. This confusion is to some extent due to wilful distortion and deliberate evasion of the true issues. The ultra-loyalist publicists especially, Indian or Anglo-Indian, are obliged to ignore the true position of the party, misnamed Extremists, because they are unable to meet its trenchant and irresistible logic and common sense. But with the great majority of Indian politicians, the misapprehension is genuine. The political teaching of the New School is so novel and disturbing to their settled political ideas,– or rather the conventional, abstract, second-hand formulas which take the place of ideas – that they cannot even grasp its true nature and turn from it with repugnance before they have given themselves time to understand it. The most obstinate of these misapprehensions is the idea that the New Politics is a counsel of despair, a mad revolutionary fury induced by Curzonian reaction. We can afford to pass over this misapprehension with contempt, when it is put forward by foolish, prejudiced or conceited critics who are merely trying to bring odium on the movement or to express their enlightened superiority over younger politicians. But when a fair and scrupulous opponent honestly trying to understand the nationalist position falls into the same error, we are bound to meet it and once more clear our position beyond misapprehension or doubt.
Some friends of ours have thought that we were unnecessarily harsh and even unjust in our criticism of Dr. Rash Behari Ghose's speech in the Supreme Legislative Council. They urge that Dr. Ghose at least presented the Extremist position with great energy, clearness, courage, and did it with the greater effect as one who himself stood outside our party. We have every respect for Dr. Rash Behari Ghose personally; he is perhaps the foremost jurist in India, a scholar and master of the English tongue, a mine of literature in possession of a style of his own, too rich and scholarly to be turned to such everyday uses as a Legislative Council speech. But eminence in law and literature do not necessarily bring with them a grasp of politics. Dr. Ghose has only recently turned his attention to this field and has not been long enough in touch with the actualities of politics to get a real grasp of them. It is therefore natural that he should be misled by names instead of penetrating beyond names to the true aspects of current politics. The ordinary nick-names of Moderate and Extremist do not properly describe the parties which they are used to label; and they are largely responsible for much confusion of ideas as to the real difference1 between the two schools. Dr. Ghose evidently labours, like many others, under the obsession of the word Extremist. He imagines that the essential difference between the parties is a difference in attitude and in the intensity of feeling. The Extremists, in his view, are men embittered by oppression which makes even wise men mad; full of passionate repining at their “more than Egyptian bondage”, exasperated by bureaucratic reaction, despairing of redress at the hands of the British Government or the British nation, they are advocating an extreme attitude and extreme methods in a spirit of desperate impatience. The Extremist propaganda is, therefore, a protest against misgovernment and a movement of despair driving towards revolt. We are unable to accept this statement of the nationalist position. On the contrary, it so successfully represents the new politics to be what they are not, that we choose it as a starting-point for our explanation of what they are.
The new movement is not primarily a protest against bad Government – it is a protest against the continuance of British control; whether that control is used well or ill, justly or injustly2, is a minor and unessential consideration. It is not born of a disappointed expectation of admission to British citizenship,– it is born of a conviction that the time has come when India can, should and will become a great, free and united nation. It is not a negative current of destruction, but a positive, constructive impulse towards the making of modern India. It is not a cry of revolt and despair, but a gospel of national faith and hope. Its true description is not Extremism, but Democratic Nationalism.
These are the real issues. There are at present not two parties in India, but three,– the Loyalists, the Moderates and the Nationalists. The Loyalists would be satisfied with good Government by British rulers and a limited share in the administration; the Moderates desire self-government within the British Empire, but are willing to wait for it indefinitely; the Nationalists would be satisfied with nothing less than independence whether within the Empire, if that be possible, or outside it; they believe that the nation cannot and ought not to wait, but must bestir itself immediately, if it is not to perish as a nation. The Loyalists believe that Indians have not the capacities and qualities necessary for freedom and even if they succeed in developing the necessary fitness, they would do better for themselves and mankind by remaining as a province of the British Empire; any attempt at freedom will, they think, be a revolt against Providence and can bring nothing but disaster on the country. The Loyalist view is that India cannot, should not and will not be a free, great and united nation. The Moderates believe the nation to be too weak and disunited to aim at freedom; they would welcome independence if it came, but they are not convinced that we have or shall have in the measurable future the means or strength to win it or keep it if won. They therefore put forward Colonial Self-Government as their aim and are unwilling to attempt any methods which presuppose strength and cohesion in the nation. The Moderate view is that India may eventually be united, self-governing within limits and prosperous, but not free and great. The Nationalists hold that Indians are as capable of freedom as any subject nation can be and their defects are the result of servitude and can only be removed by the struggle for freedom; that they have the strength, and, if they get the will, can create the means to win independence. They hold that the choice is not between autonomy and provincial Home Rule or between freedom and dependence, but between freedom and national decay and death. They hold, finally, that the past history of our country and the present circumstances are of such a kind that the great unifying tendencies hitherto baffled by insuperable obstacles have at last found the right conditions for success. They believe that the fated hour for Indian unification and freedom has arrived. In brief, they are convinced that India should strive to be free, that she can be free and that she will, by the impulse of her past and present, be inevitably driven to the attempt and the attainment of national self-realisation. The Nationalist creed is a gospel of faith and hope.
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: differences
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: unjustly