Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. June 12, 1907
An Out of Date Reformer
Time was and that time was not more than two years ago, and indeed even less, when the reforms which Mr. Morley has announced would have been received in India by many with enthusiasm, by others with considerable satisfaction as an important concession to public feeling and a move, however small, in the right direction. Today they have been received by some with scorn and ridicule, by others with bitterness and dissatisfaction, even by the most loyal with a cold and qualified recognition. Never has an important pronouncement of policy by a famous and once honoured statesman of whom much had been expected, delivered moreover under the most dramatic circumstances possible and as a solution of a trying and critical problem, fallen so utterly flat on the audience which it was intended to impress. The outside world amazed at a change so sudden and radical may well ask what are its causes. The true cause is, of course, the revolution which has been worked in Indian opinion and Indian feeling in these two years. British Liberalism stands where it was and refuses to move forward. Indian opinion has advanced with enormous strides to a position far in front. The British Liberal has perhaps, from his standpoint, some reason for complaint. He had formed a sort of agreement with the section of Indian opinion which then dominated Indian politics. On our side we were to assure him of the permanence of British1 control, to acknowledge our present unfitness for self-Government and to accept perpetual subordination and dependence as an arrangement of Providence. On his side he has engaged to give us progressive alleviations of our subject condition, gradually increasing compensations for the renunciation of our national future; these he was prepared to concede to us by slow degrees according to his own convenience and ability. Nor was the prospect denied to India of becoming after the lapse of many centuries a trusted servant of England, or even something very like an adopted son. The bargain was one-sided, but the political leaders had an overpowering sense of their own weakness, of the superior excellence of British civilisation, and of the unshakable might of Britain. They had too a profound trust in the justice of England and the genuineness of English Liberalism. They believed that the Liberal offers of small rights and privileges were made not as a bargain or out of a shrewd calculation of advantages and disadvantages, but from the sense of justice and from a true sympathy with liberal aspirations all over the world. They were therefore ready to take gratefully and contentedly whatever small mercies were conceded to them. Now the spirit of the people has changed. From a timid and easily satisfied dependence on the alien they have passed at once to a passionate and determined assertion of their separate national existence and a demand for an immediate recognition of their right to control their own affairs. It is not surprising that the old Friends of India should be alarmed and indignant at the change or that they should call upon the older leaders whom they know and think they can influence, to drive the Extremists out of their councils, return to their old allegiance and observe the terms of the contract. “We are where we were, we still offer you the same terms,” they cry, “you shall have your reforms, but on the old conditions, the permanence of British control, the repression of all turbulent aspirations, dissociation from the forces of disorder and revolution.” So they cry to the Moderate leaders to turn back and retrace their steps, and by main force to bring India back2 with them to the standpoint of twenty years ago. It is a vain cry. If the Moderate leaders wished to go back, they would have to go back alone as men without a following, lost leaders, prophets whose power had passed out of them. The force which has swept the country forward is a force no man has created and which no man can control. As well ask a man who has become adult to return to the age of childhood as India to go back to the standpoint it has left irrecoverably behind.
The British Government is like Tarquin with the Sybil3; the terms it has refused will no longer be offered to it. It might have purchased contentment, a new lease of Indian confidence and a long spell of ease at a very small price only three or four years ago. Now at a price ten times as high it will be able to purchase at the most a short truce in a war which must be fought to the end. Mr. Morley recognised this fact when with an indiscreet frankness he referred to the educated class in India as “our enemies”. A long era of repression and reaction culminating in Curzonism has opened the eyes of the Indian people. They have learnt that not only were the reforms of Liberal Viceroys and Governments small and ineffective in themselves, but that they were held on a precarious tenure. Mr. Morley or another might give “rights” and “privileges” of a dubious character, but the power of Liberalism in modern England is apt to be brief and succeeded by long periods of pure Imperialism in which those rights and privileges will surely be taken away or nullified. They have discovered also that the support they might expect from Liberalism is of a very limited and meagre nature and that, when in office, Liberal and Conservative are for India synonymous terms. The struggle which began with the Partition has generated a new ideal and a newborn Nationalism has sprung in a few days almost to its full stature. There was no chance therefore that any reform would be acceptable which did not ensure popular control, make reactionary legislation by despotic Viceroys impossible and open the way to Swaraj. And even if Mr. Morley's reforms had had any chance of being acceptable, it was ruined by the series of repressive measures which preceded them. Reforms simultaneous and compatible with the deportation of leaders4, the prosecution of popular journals, the persecution of students and teachers and the prohibition of public meetings were of so patent a hollowness that the most moderate and loyal were compelled to receive them with a bitter scepticism. And as if to drive the moral home, the speech in which the reforming statesman introduced his measures was couched in the sour and autocratic spirit of a reactionary bureaucrat contemptuously doling out sops to the rabble to an accompaniment of hardly-veiled menace and insult. Mr. Morley has been unanimously complimented by the Liberal Press in England on his courage in coupling repression with reforms, kicks with breadcrumbs. For ourselves we are struck by his singular want of sagacity and of even an elementary knowledge of human nature and the feelings which govern great masses of men. As well might we call the policy of a Louis XVI or a Czar Nicholas courageous. The courage may or may not be there, but there can be no doubt of the unwisdom.
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: of the British
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: of back India
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Sibyl
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: of popular leaders