Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 16, 1907
Mr. Morley's Pronouncement
The attitude assumed by Mr. John Morley in answer to the questions in Parliament about the latest act of mediaeval tyranny, cannot surprise those who have something more than surface knowledge of English politics and English politicians. Those who have been behind the scenes in English political life, know perfectly well that there sincerity is an element which does not exist. Professions, principles, ideals are the tinsel and trappings of the stage; each politician is an actor who has a part to play and plays it, certain set sentiments to mouth and mouths them. But the only reality behind is a mass of interests, personal interests, class interests, party interests, and the ruling principle of action is to “catch votes” and avoid the loss of votes. We have all noticed how persistently the Anglo-Indian Press out here talk of every movement as being artificial and the work of “professional agitators”, and how persistently they refuse to credit the popular leaders, even when they are men of high moral worth like Lala Lajpat Rai, with sincerity. We generally put this down to the perverseness and wilful misrepresentation of a reptile press; the real truth is that they are judging us from their knowledge of their own country. They are perfectly well aware that in England politics is a huge piece of humbug; it professes to be a conflict of principles and is really a conflict of more or less sordid interests. They know that in England, a sincere politician is a contradiction in terms. They are therefore unable to believe in the existence in India of a sincerity and reality for which their own country offers no precedent. The only exceptions to the general rule of insincerity are the novices in politics – the maiden innocence of whose souls is soon rubbed off by a few Parliamentary sessions,– and a handful of independent-minded eccentrics who have no chance whatever of rising to influence, much less to office. Occasionally a man of absolute sincerity like Mr. Bradlaugh breaks the record, but that is only once in half a century.
When Mr. John Morley entered politics, he entered as a literary man and austere philosopher and brought the spirit of philosophy into politics. His unbending fidelity to his principles earned him the name of Honest John, and this soubriquet, with the reputation for uprightness of which it was the badge, has survived long after the uprightness itself had perished in the poisoned air of office. No one can be long a Cabinet Minister in England and yet remain a man of unswerving principle. As Indian Secretary, Mr. Morley could not be expected to carry his philosophic principles into the India Office. On the contrary, there were several reasons why he should be even more reactionary than ordinary Secretaries of State. The Secretary of State does not represent India or stand for her interests; he represents England and his first duty is to preserve British supremacy; but Mr. Morley is also one of the foremost exponents of the most arrogant and exclusive type of enlightenment in nineteenth-century Europe, the scientific, rationalist, agnostic, superior type. As such he was the last man to think well of or understand Asiatics or to regard them as anything but semi-barbarous anachronisms. Moreover, as the Bengalee's London correspondent pointed out this week, he is evidently showing signs of senile decay which is shown partly in his growing ill-temper and intolerance of contradiction, but most in the mental languor which prevents him from questioning or scrutinising the opinions and information served up to him by the India Office. The verbatim fidelity with which he reproduces whatever Anglo-India tutors him to say, is strikingly evidenced by his answers to Messrs. Rutherford and O'Grady. His remarks on the situation in East Bengal might have been taken for an extract from the Englishman's editorials or from the imaginative reports of the special correspondent of the Empire.
Mr. Morley makes no attempt to justify the arbitrary action he has sanctioned except on the plea of necessity, the tyrant's plea, which no one in former days would have held up more eloquently to condemnation and ridicule than Mr. Morley himself. He does not tell us why Lala Lajpat Rai was deported or what were the charges against him; probably he does not himself know, but simply accepted the assurance of the able and experienced Denzil and the level-headed Minto that the step was necessary. For they are the men on the spot, and Mr. Morley's conception of his position in the India Office is that he is there to act as a buffer between the men on the spot and adverse criticism. We need not discuss his utterances; they are merely faithful echoes of Anglo-Indian special pleading, in which there is nothing that is new and very little that is true. But the threat which he held out to the Moderate Party is worth noting. For some time Mr. Morley and Lord Minto, with whom the Secretary of State rather superfluously assures us that he has an excellent understanding, have been talking big of some wonderful reform that they have up their sleeves and feverishly assuring the world that these fine things are all their very own idea and by no means forced on them by Indian agitation. And now we are told or rather the Moderate leaders are told that they will lose these pretty toys if they do not help the bureaucracy to put down “disorder”, or, in other words, to put down Nationalism. Mr. Morley offers them a certain administrative reform if they can give up for themselves or can induce their countrymen to give up the aspiration towards freedom. The Anglo-Indian journals all take up the cry and the absolute insincerity of it is sufficiently shown by the fact that even so venomous, reactionary and anti-Indian a print as the Englishman proses solemnly on the theme! The object of these threats is manifest. The sudden succession of coercive measures may for a moment have stunned the people, it may for a few days dismay the more timid, but it has certainly created a deep and settled exasperation throughout the country. The dismay is temporary, the exasperation will be permanent. Mr. Morley and Anglo-India hope to take advantage of the moment of dismay in order to half-bribe, half-intimidate the Moderate Party into detaching themselves from any opposition to these coercive measures. This is a vain hope. For even to the meanest political intelligence two considerations will at once occur. The first is that there is such a thing as buying a pig in a poke. Even the simplest buyer will want to see the animal before he puts down its price, and even the most confiding Moderate will want to know what is this wonderful reform of Mr. Morley's before he sells the country's future and risks his influence with the people for its sake. But on this point Mr. Morley preserves as studious a silence as on the charges against Lajpat Rai. Again, Mr. Morley and Lord Minto have hinted that their measure is an instalment of self-government, yet Mr. Morley emphatically declares that he will never strip the bureaucracy of any means of repression they possess, however barbarous and antiquated. It is evident therefore that whatever “self-government” may be in store for us, it is a “self-government” in which executive despotism will remain absolutely undiminished and unmodified. We have heard of a despotism tempered by epigrams and a despotism tempered by assassination, but this is the first time we hear of a self-government tempered by deportation1. We do not think any section of Indian opinion is likely to rise to this lure. The Bengalee has already rejected the one-sided bargain with scorn and even the Indian Mirror has received it without enthusiasm. Coerce, if you will – we welcome coercion, but be sure that it will rank the whole of India against you without distinction of parties.
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: deportations