Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 17, 1907
The “Statesman” Unmasks
We do not know why the paper which calls itself the Friend of India and usually puts on a sanctimonious mask of liberalism, should have suddenly allowed its real feelings to betray themselves last Wednesday. Its attitude for sometime past has been extremely ambiguous. During the height of the disturbances in East Bengal this Friend of India maintained a rigid silence on Indian affairs and discoursed solemnly day after day on large questions of European policy. Like the Levite it turned its face away from the traveller wounded by thieves and passed by. Since the deportation of Lajpat Rai, it has cared less and less to preserve its tone of affected sympathy until on the 15th it appeared as the apologist of despotism and the mouthpiece not of an idea or of a policy, but of the individual grievances of a self-seeking politician whose influence has waned to nothing because he could not satisfy the new demand for courageous and disinterested patriotism. Professing to be a Liberal paper, the Statesman has defended the despotic regulation under which Lala Lajpat Rai was deported,– a regulation opposed to all the fundamental principles of Liberalism; it has defended the Coercion Ordinance as a proof of the leniency and liberalism of bureaucratic rule in India. Calling itself a friend of India, it has not scrupled to dissociate itself from its brother friends of India, the British Committee of the Congress, and sneer at them as ill-informed nobodies. After throwing the Congress, its principles and its friends overboard in this extraordinary manner, it has still the assurance to pose as the guide, philosopher and friend of the Moderate Party and lecture them on the necessity of supporting the Government in its action with regard to Lala Lajpat Rai.
The arguments with which the Statesman defends the deportation as a supreme act of Liberalism are of a remarkable kind. First, deportation “is not really so bad as it sounds”, because “the lot of the so-called political exile is considerably happier than that of the criminal in the common jail”. Prodigious! A man is arrested without any charge being formulated against him, without trial, without any chance of defending himself, separated suddenly from his family and friends, his country, his work for religion, society and motherland, and relegated to solitary imprisonment in a distant fortress; yet because he is not treated as Mr. Tilak was treated, as a common criminal with the daily harassment and degradation which is part of the criminal's punishment, this remarkable Liberal organ goes into ecstasies over the leniency of the British bureaucracy. Injustice and arbitrary oppression, in its opinion, is an admirable thing so long as it is not accompanied with vindictive personal cruelty. We remember a correspondent of an Anglo-Indian print at the time of Mr. Tilak's sentence, calling on the Marathas1 to admire the leniency of the British Government, because it treated him as an ordinary felon instead of impaling him or sawing him to pieces. The Statesman writes in the same spirit.
The second plea in defence of deportation is that no act of State is involved in the arrest, it is only a summary dealing under Municipal law. We do not know what to make of this rigmarole or what the Statesman understands by Municipal law, or by an act of State. Municipal law may mean the laws and rules which govern municipalities, but we presume it is not the Lahore Municipality which deported Lajpat Rai; or it may mean the ordinary laws and regulations by which local authorities arrange for local administration and the preservation of the peace. But here is an extraordinary action, above the ordinary laws, which needs the sanction of the Government of India and the sanction of the Secretary of State in which a political leader is arrested for mysterious political reasons and deported without trial. Yet this is Municipal law, not an act of State! and since it is Municipal law, no one need protest against it! Apparently an act of State in the Statesman's opinion is an illegal act which there is no statute to cover. Any action however tyrannical, if covered by a statute, ought to be borne without complaint by Indians as an act of great leniency and liberalism. Mark again the friendship of this friend of India and the liberalism of this Liberal.
A third plea is that “the action of the authorities in India, if contrasted with that of the average European Government, is leniency itself.” So then, tyranny is quite justifiable if it can site2 an example of another tyranny worse than itself. Let us remind the Statesman that the French and German bureaucracies are governments supported by the will of the people and that in the measures of stringency they adopt, they have the consent of the people behind them. And what have the police arrangements of Paris and Berlin to do with the punishment of a man without trial, a relic of medieval3 despotism of which no modern and civilised Government offers an example?
The real cause of all this special pleading for despotism is revealed in the latter part of the article. “Moderate men are apt to be pushed aside and their services forgotten by new men who seek to force the pace.” “A long apprenticeship to journalism, a weary plodding in the musty by-paths of the law, are the chief or only means by which power and influence can be gained.” This is where the shoe pinches. Who is this apprentice to journalism who is being pushed aside by young and extreme journals? Obviously the Statesman itself. Who is this weary plodder in the musty by-paths of the law, who claims that only lawyers or, say, only solicitors, have any right to be political leaders and whose “fame”, if not his “fortune”, has been affected by the new movement? It is plain enough now that the motive which so long actuated the Statesman was not liberal sentiment or high principles, but its own interest and influence. Since that interest was touched and that influence threatened by the increasing spirit of Swadeshism and self-reliance, the temper of this Friend of ours has been growing worse and worse until he has finally renounced his liberal principles and become a champion of bureaucracy.
The article closes with a curious attack which seems to be directed at Srijut Surendranath Banerji. “Violent speeches, inflammatory writings, a prosecution, a brilliantly unsuccessful defence, paragraphs in all the newspapers, questions by ill-informed nobodies in the House of Commons, the jail, the exit, fame and fortune, notoriety, may be a seat in Parliament – here we have not altogether a fancy picture of the modern Political Rake's progress.” This is, we are told, not altogether a fancy picture; in other words, with the exception of the last touch about the possible seat in Parliament, it is taken from the life4; and to whom can it be applied but Srijut Surendranath? For, obviously, no leader of the new school is meant, since no leader of the new school would aspire to a seat in Parliament. Yet after this ill-natured attack the Statesman yesterday had again the face to figure as the patron and councillor5 of Srijut Surendranath and advise him to sacrifice his feelings of personal friendship and respect for Lala Lajpat Rai, his principles, his patriotism, his reputation as a political leader and his influence with the people in order to get the approbation of Mr. John Morley and the Statesman.
A more complete unmasking could not be imagined. The Statesman not only attacks the new school,– that would be nothing new,– but turns round and rends his own6 associates, Srijut Surendranath, the British Committee, the friends of India in Parliament, renounces all liberal ideas and principles, throws off every disguise and stands forth naked and unashamed. We recommend this example of “friendship” to all Bengali customers of the Statesman's heavy goods, and would advise them either to cease patronising a dealer of such doubtful candour or to insist that the goods they get shall be of the pattern they have paid for.
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: Mahrattas
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: cite
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: mediaeval
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: from life
5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: counsellor
6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: old