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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. May 30, 1907

The Ordinance and After

We have pointed out in previous articles what we considered to be the individual effect of three of the measures of repression adopted by the bureaucracy in their fight with the Swadeshi movement. The review has led us to the conclusion that there is so far no new element in the situation beyond, on the one1 hand, the clear and universal conviction that has been carried home to the people of the nature and extent of the resistance which we may expect from the bureaucracy and, on the other, the more urgent necessity of adopting certain measures for national defence and resistance which ought to have been taken before. The conditions of the problem have not been materially changed, but its acuteness has been enhanced. The persecution of Swadeshi leaders and workers is nothing new, but it has increased in scale and in the atrocity of the punishments and it is being carried out not by local officials but by the Government of India. The attempt to break the back of the movement by restricting the action of students and teachers is nothing new, but it is now being taken up deliberately, systematically, not by a local administration, but by the Government of India. The utilisation by the bureaucracy of Nawab Salimullah and by the Nawab2 Salimullah of hooligans to harass and, if possible, break the Boycott is nothing new, but the extent to which this sinister opposition has been carried and the wide space of country over which it has been attempted is a new phenomenon. But there is one measure of the Government which is in itself a new phenomenon and seriously affects, if it does not entirely alter, the whole situation. This is the Coercion Ordinance directed against public meetings. It would not be true to say that the ordinance was absolutely unforeseen. We at least had always held it extremely probable if not quite certain that this and even more violent and crushing methods of coercion would eventually be adopted by the bureaucracy in its struggle for self-preservation. But we did not anticipate so rapid a development of coercive measures, or that they would reach their height, as they threaten to do under a professedly Radical and Democratic Government. Not that we ever believed there was any essential difference between Liberals and Conservatives with regard to India, but there was a difference in their professions and we imagined that what the Conservatives would do immediately and without compunction, the Liberals would also do, but with hesitation and some show of reluctance. There has, however, been no slightest sign of reluctance. With alacrity and a light heart they have refused to India that right of free speech and free meeting which their political creed declares to be a common and fundamental right and to deny which is an act of tyranny. Nevertheless, though not expected so soon, the Coercion Ordinance was not a contingency which had altogether been left out of view.

What then is the new condition which it creates? One of immense importance. Up till now our whole programme with unimportant exceptions has fallen well within the law. We have worked against bureaucratic government, we have not worked against the law nor exceeded its restrictions to3 any of our methods. So careful have we been in this respect that the bureaucracy have been at a loss where to get a hold on the Swadeshi movement without losing their prestige and reputation, and in the end they have been obliged to throw their reputation overboard and allow the agents of their ally, the Nawab of Dacca, to create disorder so as to prepare the way for proclaiming the Swadeshi areas. This desire to keep within the law was not, as some of our disappointed adversaries suggested, born of fear or unwillingness to bear sacrifices for the country for even without breaking the law many Swadeshi workers had to go to jail or undergo police and Goorkha4 violence, but part of a well-reasoned policy. To be able to keep within the law gives an immense advantage to a young movement opposed by a strong adversary in possession of all the machinery of legal repression and oppression; for it allows it to grow into adult strength before giving the enemy a sufficient grasp to strangle it while it is yet immature. Moreover, a nation which can show a respect for law even in the first throes of a revolution has a better chance of enjoying a stable and successful Government of its own when its chance comes. Nevertheless legality can never be the first consideration in a struggle of the kind we have entered upon, and if new laws are passed which offend against political ethics, which make our service and duty to our country impossible and to obey which would therefore be an unpatriotic act, they cannot possibly command obedience. Still more is this the case when the measure in question is not a law, but an executive ukase which may be5 prevented from passing into law. This can best be done by a widespread and quiet but determined passive resistance which will make the ukase inoperative without a resort to measures of the most extreme and shameless Russianism. We have not concealed our opinion that this is the course the country ought to adopt in the present juncture, if for no other reason, then because it is our duty as men, as citizens, as patriots.

We recognise, however, that much is yet to be said on the opposite side. The strongest argument against the course we have suggested, is that the bureaucracy evidently desire an immediate struggle. The course of events at Barisal, the recent outrageous insult to a prominent Swadeshi worker and the insolent harassment of the townspeople by the local officials and their underlings, are extremely significant. The attempt to provoke a struggle between the Hindus and the Mahomedans6 culminating in the singular affair of the Barisal night panic which still calls for explanation, has been a failure. It seems that the police are now attempting to force on some demonstration which will give them an excuse for turning Barisal into a second Rawalpindi. The unprovoked blow given by a Goorkha7 to Srijut Satish8 Chandra Chatterjee9 was obviously a prearranged affair, leaving the victim the choice between swallowing the insult and an act of retaliation which might have led to an émeute. We think that Srijut Satish10 Chandra on the whole did well to subordinate his feelings to the good of his country, but the odds were the other way, and the police must have known it. That in case of resistance even of the most passive kind, the police or military would not “hesitate to shoot”, is extremely probable from the action of the Punjab authorities and the known attitude of the local officials in East Bengal. Would it then be wise for us, it is argued, to expose ourselves passively to the arrest and deportation of our leaders, the dragooning of our towns and villages, the utmost outrages on men and women and all the violent ills of despotic repression, without any certain gain to the country to set in the opposite balance? The question really turns on the precise strength of the movement at its present stage of growth. If it is already strong enough to bear extreme Russian repressions11 without becoming unnerved and demoralised, the course we have suggested is the best, because it is the boldest. If not, it would be sounder policy perhaps to leave the bureaucracy to its Pyrrhic victory for a while and immediately turn all our energies to giving the movement the necessary strength, in other words, the necessary organisation of men, money and means which it needs in order to cope with the bureaucracy on equal terms. The choice lies12 between these alternatives.

 

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: on one

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2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: by Nawab

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3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: in

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4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Gurkha

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5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: may yet be

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6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: and Mahomedans

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7 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Gurkha

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8 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Satis

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9 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Chatterji

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10 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Satis

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11 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: repression

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12 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: is

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