Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 23, 1907
And Still It Moves
What is the precise difference which the recent Government measures have made in the conditions of the Swadeshi movement? The first to be considered, because the most dramatic and striking of these measures, is the deportation of Lala Lajpat Rai. Has this deportation brought any really new element into the problem? When we began the movement we were prepared, or at least we professed to be prepared, for the utmost use by the Government of all the weapons the existing law puts in its hands1. We were prepared for press-prosecutions, we were prepared to go to jail on false charges, we refused to be appalled by regulation lathis, broken heads and Gurkha charges. Whatever use the Bengal Government might make of the repressive laws which stand on its statute books, to whatever advantage the local magistracy might turn their powers of government by ukase, we were prepared for everything, we started with the fixed determination to allow nothing to daunt us. Deportation was also a preexisting weapon of repression available to the bureaucracy under the existing laws. The difference its use has made is to bring in, in the place of provincial repression by the local government, imperial repression by the Government of India with the approval of the Secretary of State. It has also replaced the long and uncertain process of trial ending in a punishment of fixed duration by the swift and sudden process of kidnapping and a punishment – no, we apologise to the Friend of India, we should rather say, a leniency of uncertain, perhaps life-long duration. One other element it has introduced which patriots have had to face in all other countries, but which falls on our heads for the first time,– the punishment of exile. To speak the truth, this is the one and only terror of deportation to Indian patriots. The Indian mind with its passionate attachment to the very soil of the mother-country, its deep reverent feeling that mother and motherland are more to be cherished than paradise itself, must feel the deprivation with a force which no European race, except perhaps the passionate and emotional Italian, could understand. In jail the floor we tread is at least made of Indian soil, when we exercise in the prison yard the air that visits our cheeks is Indian air; the pulsation of Indian aspiration, Indian emotion, Indian life, Indian joys and sorrows beats around our prison walls and floods our hearts with the magnetic pervasiveness of which the air of India is more full than that of any other country. The bureaucracy blundered upon an ingenious way of striking us in a very vulnerable point when it hurried Lajpat Rai away to a remote corner of the world among alien men and cut him off from all sight of Indian faces and communion with Indian hearts. But what then? It is but one suffering the more and the deeper the suffering the greater the glory, the more celestial the reward. We cannot suffer more than Poeris2 in his Neapolitan dungeon or Silvio Pellico in his Austrian fortress or Mazzini in his lifelong exile. It is with the life-blood of a nation's best and the unshed tears that well up from the hearts of its strong men that the tree of liberty is watered. The greater the sacrifice, the earlier is its fruit enjoyed.
Yet it cannot be denied that the deportation came as a shock on the Moderates and as a surprise to the Extremists. It was a shock to the Moderates because of the source from which it came. They had never been able to shake off the idea that in the end Mr. John Morley, if not the sympathetic Lord Minto, would come to their help. To renounce that hope would be to reject the very keystone of the Moderate policy and turn their backs for ever on the illusions of thirty years. Even up to the moment almost of the deportation the Bengalee was clamouring for the recall of Mr. Hare and confidently expecting that his criminal inactivity in the East Bengal disturbances would be punished by a just and benign Secretary of State. On such high expectations the deportation came as a blow straight in the face and struck the Moderate Party dumb and senseless for a moment. The heaviness of the blow it had received can be judged by the sudden violence of the Indu Prakash which exceeded in the fierce anger of its utterances any Extremist organ. There is no disguising the fact that the Moderate's occupation is gone. British rule has so unmistakably, finally, irrevocably declared itself as despotism naked and unashamed, a despotism moreover which is firmly resolved to remain despotic,– the fiction of a constitution has been so relentlessly exposed as a sheer mockery and constitutional agitation has thereby been rendered such a patent elaborate and heartless farce that, although it will continue just as the snake continues to wriggle even after it has been cut into two, it has lost all life and all chance of carrying weight in the country. The temper of the Madras meeting, which a serious and influential paper like the Madras Standard asserts to have been composed mainly not of students but of adults, shows what the temper of the nation is likely to be. The deportation therefore has introduced a new element for the Moderate politician. His gods have failed him; the benign hand from which he expected favours has treated him instead to a whip of scorpions; the face of flowers he worshipped has had its veil torn away and stands revealed as a grinning death's head. Moderation lies wounded to death3. It can no longer exist except as a pretence, an attitude. To the Nationalist the deportation came as a surprise because of the occasion for which it was employed. We knew that the benignant bureaucracy had this weapon in their armoury, that they had used it once and might well use it again; but we thought it had more respect for its prestige and more common sense than to waste it on an insufficient occasion. The Natus were deported because it was suspected that they were behind the Poona assassinations and that the assassinations themselves were part of an elaborate Maratha conspiracy. In the Punjab there was nothing but a riot; for the persistent wild rumours of the disarming of regiments and murder of Europeans have received no confirmation of any kind. Deportation, as directed against the Nationalist movement, was like the magic weapon of Karna which could be used only once with effect; it should therefore have been reserved for a supreme occasion when it might have averted, for the time at least, an incipient mutiny or formidable rebellion. It was used instead in a moment of panic to meet a fancied mutiny; it was used not against the formidable and indispensable leader of a great approaching rebellion; but against a boy-orator and a pleader of considerable influence who at the worst was no more than one of the many prophets of revolution. Meant for Arjuna, it has been hurled against Ghatothkach4. This misuse deprives it of its utility; for as the Empire shrewdly pointed out the other day, the trick of deportation cannot be successfully played twice; the second time it will be a direct help to the strong revolutionary forces which are growing in the country. To the Nationalists therefore the menace of deportation does not bring in any new element into the situation, except in so far as it hastens their work or brings the leaders as well as the rank and file to the touchstone of peril where their value will be tested.
The new element of deportation, therefore, so far as it is a new element, merely facilitates the work of Nationalism. There is no reason why it should modify our action in any essential feature. We may be told of course that we cannot afford to imperil the leaders on whom the progress of the movement depends. We answer that the safety of the leaders can only be assured by sacrificing the vitality and force of the movement, a price too heavy to pay; secondly, where the will of a higher Power is active in a great upheaval, no individual is indispensable. The movement will not stop in the Punjab because Lajpat Rai is gone or Ajit Singh is hiding. Eppur si muove, “and still it moves”, to its predestined end.
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: hand
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Poerio
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: to the death
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Ghatotkach