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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. May 25, 1907

The East Bengal Disturbances

We have said that the deportation of Lala Lajpat Rai brings no new element into the situation beyond hastening the processes of Nationalism and bringing us from a less to a more acute stage of our progress to independence. The second disturbing element has been the culmination of the alliance between Salimullah of Dacca and the bureaucracy in the anarchy and the outrages in the Mymensingh district. These disturbances are now almost over for the time being, though we must take full advantage of the lull allowed to us, so as to put our house in order against a possible recrudescence after the jute season. We should now seriously consider how far these disturbances have altered the situation and what we should do in order to meet these new conditions. We must first notice that neither the disturbances themselves nor their cause are in their nature a new element in the situation. The Salimullahi campaign, the use of Mahomedan Badmashes1 to terrorise Swadeshi Hindus, the official inactivity and sympathy with the lawbreakers, these have all been with us even before. The conclusions we arrived at at the time, the warnings and exhortations we addressed to the people have been proved to the hilt, justified beyond dispute, enforced in red letters of rapine, bloodshed and outrage. Our reading of the situation then was that no serious apprehension of trouble between Hindus and Mahomedans need be entertained except within that tract of country immediately under the influence of Nawab Salimullah, Mymensingh, Dacca, Tipperah and possibly parts of Pabna. This is precisely what has happened. In Comilla the trouble was stopped before it could do real mischief, by the resolute spirit of the Hindus; in Dacca, in spite of small skirmishes, individual harassment and a minor outbreak or two, it never gathered to a head, because the great strength and early preparations of the Hindus overawed the prime movers and their instruments; Mymensingh alone felt the full force of the storm, while Pabna still hovers on the brink of it. It is not that the Nawab's campaign was not vigorously pursued in other parts. The Red Pamphlet has been ubiquitous throughout Eastern and Northern Bengal; the preachings of the Nawab's Mullahs have been as persistent, as malignant in Barisal, in Calcutta, in every strong centre of Swadeshism. But though there have been alarms and excursions even as far west as Allahabad and Benares, the campaign has for the present signally failed outside the limits of Nawab Salimullah's kingdom. This is a fact to be noted. We do not say that Salimullahism carries no dangers with it of general disruption and disunion between the two communities; an unscrupulous agitation of this kind, aided by official backing is always dangerous. But in the rest of the country the blind faith in the Nawab and his Mullahs is absent and other conditions and forces exist which, if properly used by the Nationalists, will permanently counteract the promoters of disunion. Even of themselves, they have been sufficient to prevent the Mahomedans from siding with the self-elected leader against the Swadeshists.

But however limited the area of the disturbances might be, we warned the country that Comilla was not the first and would not be the last of such outbreaks and we called upon it to be ready in time to follow the example of the Comilla Hindus. Moderate politicians, blind leaders of the blind, were rejoicing over the end of the disturbances brought about, they said, by their mysterious efforts and crying peace, peace where there was no peace. We pointed out that the Comilla affair was not an isolated outbreak, but part of a policy and we knew the men we had to deal with too well to suppose that they would be put off their machinations by a single defeat. Beaten at Comilla, they were certain to try their luck again in Mymensingh. We warned the country also that when the disturbances came, it would be idle to look for protection to the officials and the police. By announcing Swaraj as our ideal we had declared war against the existence of the bureaucracy and we could not expect the bureaucracy to help us by making our efforts to put it out of existence safe and easy. On the contrary, the Nawab and his hooligans were practically, if not avowedly, the allies of the bureaucracy in their war against Swadeshism and must therefore command sympathy and helpful inactivity if not actual assistance from their friends. In all these respects our reading of the situation has been proved correct beyond cavil or dispute. The extent to which the Nawab has succeeded in turning the baser passions of the mob to his uses, the extent to which the Anti-Swadeshi army has gone in its outrages, not scrupling even to desecrate temples and violate women, the extent to which the officials carried their connivance with the excesses, an European police official actually leading the mob and the looting being carried on under the eyes of the police: these things were new, but the Salimullahi campaign itself, the use of the hooligans (our Indian Black Hundred), and the sympathy of the officials are elements which are old, of which the country had been warned and against which the leaders of the movement should have provided.

Even the extent to which these things were carried was due entirely to a feature of the Mymensingh occurrences which we had already warned the country to avoid the non-resistance of the Hindus of Jamalpur. There are some who say that the recent events in India are a proof of the impracticability of the Nationalist programme. We do not follow the reasoning of these logicians. The Jamalpur incidents and their sequel are a terrible proof of the soundness of the Nationalist ideas and the utter unsoundness of the Moderate theories of our relations with the bureaucracy and the best way of enforcing the Swadeshi propaganda. The people of Comilla followed the Nationalist programme with brilliantly successful results. They boycotted the courts, schools and every other element of the bureaucratic scheme of things and announced their intention of continuing the boycott so long as the Nawab of Dacca was allowed to remain in Comilla and the Nawab was packed off without ceremony. They met force with force and the hooligan army of Anti-Swadeshism underwent a crushing defeat. On the other hand, the people of Jamalpur did everything which the Nationalist programme excludes; they trusted to the promises of the alien, they chose to go to the Mela unarmed, like defenceless sheep, relying not on their own strong arm but on the protection of the British shepherd. At the order of the alien they laid down the lathis they carried for self-defence, at the order of the alien they trooped to the Mela, from which they had resolved to absent themselves, to be thrashed by Mahomedan cudgels. Then, when their sheepish trustfulness had had its reward, that one lesson was not enough; again they trusted to British protection and sent away the volunteers who stood between them and further outrage. And when the second storm came, they could think of nothing better than wholesale flight from the field of battle. Throughout we see the working of the old political superstitions, the old unworkable compromise which tried to oppose the bureaucracy and yet co-operate with it, to combine vigorous opposition with meek submission, to build up a nation under the most adverse circumstances and against the strongest opponents and yet be, first and foremost, docile, peaceful and law-abiding. These superstitions exploded in the explosions at Jamalpur and the conflagration that followed meant the collapse of a policy.

The hooligan disturbances in East Bengal bring therefore no new elements into the situation, but like the deportation of Lala Lajpat Rai, merely make it more acute and hasten the processes of Nationalism. They create no new conditions, but they have caused certain truths to be newly appreciated. The first is that the Pax Britannica is Maya and, if we mean to be Swadeshists and Swarajists, we must rely in future not on British protection but on self-protection. The second is that, as we have long insisted, our present means of self-defence are inadequate and better means and organisation are a pressing need. The third is the seriousness and true nature of the Mahomedan problem which our older politicians have always tried to belittle or ignore. Any one who wishes to deal successfully with the crisis in the country, must recognise these three lessons of experience and shape his methods accordingly.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.

1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: budmashes