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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. June 1, 1907

The Question of the Hour

The writer of “A Word of Warning” which we publish today has voiced an opinion which we find to be held by several Nationalists who have the success of the movement sincerely at heart. Our correspondent, however, lays himself open to some misinterpretation when he speaks of “the suicidal folly of an unarmed and disorganised nation trying to measure its strength with that of the best-organised power in the land.” The kind of resistance which seems to be suggested here is something in the nature of rebellion and it goes without saying that such resistance for “an unarmed and disorganised nation” would be not merely foolish but physically impossible; an armed revolt without arms is an absurdity. But to measure our strength, in a very different way, with the bureaucracy, however well-organised the latter may be, is the whole purpose and principle of the Nationalist movement. Our position has always been that the potential strength of the people is far greater than the actual strength of the close oligarchy which governs them without regard to their wishes or interests and that this potential strength can only be educated, organised and welded into compactness and coherence by a direct struggle against the antiquated and semi-mediaeval system with which the country is still cursed in this twentieth century, when all other nations “from China to Peru” are busy modernising and humanising their governments and institutions. In the actual course of the struggle questions will always arise as between rigid applications of principle and concessions to policy and between the contending claims of sheer courage and courage tempered by calculation. We must remember that throughout the movement the immense advance we have made is due to the enthusiasm for a great principle and the boldness, in the opinion of many an almost foolhardy boldness, with which we have met every fresh crisis. When the whole of Bengal flung itself into a passionate struggle with the bureaucracy, it was not from any consciousness of strength, for neither the people nor the rulers had any idea of the latent possibilities of political strength in the country. It was in a moment of uncalculating anger that Bengal took up the policy a few daring spirits suggested and was amazed to find that in doing so it had discovered itself and begun a new era of Indian history. The real point at issue now is whether it will or will not be wise to make a frontal in preference to a flank attack on the coercion ukase. We have defied an ukase before, but it was then the ukase of local officialdom and of doubtful legality. The present ukase is the deliberate act of the Government of India and the Secretary of State, and its legality is as undoubted as its political immorality. The question therefore is whether we shall persist in carrying on our movement rigidly within the pale of the law, however oppressive the law may be, or follow the example of the Irish and the English Nonconformists by passive resistance to the law itself with a view to bringing about its repeal. The answer really hangs upon the possible next move of the bureaucracy and our preparedness to meet it. If the bureaucrats try to break our resistance as at Rawalpindi by wholesale arrest, deportation and police and military violence, as well as the still more questionable methods we have seen in operation in East Bengal, shall we still be able to persist, and, if not, what will be our next course? This is the question which has given pause for a moment to the active prosecution of the Nationalist campaign, since it involves a serious issue of policy which must be settled before concerted action can take place. For if the ukase is to be passively resisted, the opposition must be offered in concert and ubiquitously. A sporadic resistance will be ineffectual and give the advantage to our adversaries.

We again repeat that in our opinion the boldest course is the best. If we thought, as the Anglo-Indian papers affect to think, that the movement was the result of our own efforts, a mere human creation, we might be of a different opinion. But throughout we have been conscious that our own efforts and the impulse given or the work done by leading men, whether Moderates or Extremists, have been so small, petty and inefficient that they are absolutely insufficient to explain the extraordinary results. The machinery has been absurdly inadequate, the organisation nil, the means at our disposal pitiably small, the real workers few and mostly obscure, and yet the Indian world has stood amazed and the Anglo-Indian aghast at the vast and incommensurate results of an apparatus so inefficient. We believe, therefore, that Divine Power is behind the movement, that the Zeitgeist, the Time-Spirit, is at work to bring about a mighty movement of which the world at the present juncture has need, that that movement is the resurgence of Asia and that the resurgence of India is not only a necessary part of the larger movement but its central need, that India is the keystone of the arch, the chief inheritress of the common Asiatic destiny. The Mongolian world, preserving the old strong and reposeful civilisation of early Asia, flanks her on the right and has already arisen. The Mahomedan world, preserving the aggressive and militant civilisation of Islam, flanks her on the left and in Egypt, in Arabia, in Persia, is struggling to arise. In India the two civilisations meet, she is the link between them and must find the note of harmony which will reconcile them and recreate a common Asiatic civilisation. Viewing the movement in this larger light we believe that as its progress and development has been in the past, so it will be in the future above ordinary human calculations, with only one thing certain about it, that no external force can frustrate it and no internal intrigue divert. Neither John Morley nor Denzil Ibbetson nor Nawab Salimullah, neither false friend nor open enemy, nor even our own mistakes and weakness can come in its way, but rather they are unconsciously helping it on and working for it. In this belief we are willing to take any risk and meet any expense of our blood and our labour for the great end. To husband our men or our resources and try to buy liberty in the cheapest market, would be a false and foolish economy. Lajpat Rai has been swallowed up in the maelstrom and hundreds more will follow him, but their disappearance will make no difference either to the strength of the movement or its velocity. Still it will move.

But, subject to this confidence and readiness to throw our all into the gulf, we recognise the necessity of relying on our human judgment to guide us in perplexity, leaving it to the Power behind to make our mistakes as useful, perhaps more useful to the final success than our wiser judgments. On one thing only we must lay fast hold, on the triple unity of Swadeshi, Boycott and Swaraj. These must be pursued with unremitting energy, and so long as we hold fast to them, we cannot go far wrong.


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.