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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. June 25, 1907

Morleyism Analysed

The fuller reports of Mr. Morley's speech to hand by mail do not in any essential point alter the impression that was produced by Reuter's summary. The whole of the speech turns upon a single sentence as its pivot the statement that British rule will continue, ought to continue and must continue. Mr. Morley does not say forever, but that is understood. It follows that if the continuance of British rule on any terms is the fundamental necessity, any and every means used for its preservation is legitimate. Compared with that supreme necessity justice does not matter, humanity does not matter, truth does not matter, morality may be trampled on, the laws of God may be defied. The principles of Liberalism, though they may have been professed a thousand times over, must be discarded by the English rulers of India as inapplicable to a country of “300 millions of people, composite, heterogeneous, of different races with different histories and different faiths”. All these things weigh as dust in the balance against the one supreme necessity. If the continuance of British rule seems to be threatened by any popular activity, however legitimate, resort must be had to any weapon, no matter of what nature, in order to put down that activity. Reasons of State, “the tyrant's plea, necessity”, must be held to be of supreme authority and to override all other considerations. Mr. Morley admits that the plea is a dangerous one, but sedition is still more dangerous. The danger of the reason of State is that it can cover and will inevitably be stretched to cover the repetition of “dangers, mischiefs and iniquities in our olden history and, perhaps, in our present history”, in other words Mr. Morley's reasoning in favour of the present “iniquities” in India, can equally well be used to justify every utmost atrocity, cruelty, vileness with which tyrants ancient or modern have attempted to put down opposition to their sovereign will. Wholesale deportation, arbitrary imprisonment, massacre, outrage, police anarchy, torture of prisoners, every familiar feature of Russian repression, can be brought under the head of weapons necessary to combat sedition and can be justified by the plea of State necessity. This is the danger of reason of State, a danger that recent events in India and especially current events in the Punjab show to be by no means so remote as we might have some months ago imagined. But the danger of sedition is the cessation of British rule. And in the opinion of Mr. Morley, supported by an almost unanimous consensus of British opinion, the re-enactment by a British government of the iniquities and atrocities of ancient and modern tyranny are preferable to the cessation of British rule; it is better to take the risk of these than to take the risk of losing the absolute control of Britain over India. This is Mr. Morley's argument, approved by Conservative and Radical alike.... No, we are not distorting or exaggerating. There it is, plump and plain, in the speech of the great British Radical, the Liberal philosopher, the panegyrist of Burke and Gladstone. It is the last word of England to India on the great issue of Indian self-government. What does Mr. Morley mean by British rule? Not the British connexion, not the continuance of India as a self-governing unit in a federation of free peoples which shall be called the British Empire. No, Mr. Morley is quite as hostile to the Moderate ideal of self-government on colonial lines, modified Swaraj, as to the Nationalist ideal of Swaraj, pure and simple. The educated minority in India have the presumption to think themselves capable of working the government of the country as smoothly as the heaven-born Briton himself, but Mr. Morley is persuaded that they would not work it for a week. This is final. If after a hundred years of English education and no inconsiderable training in the subordinate conduct of the bureaucratic machinery of government, the educated class are not fit to be entrusted even by gradual stages with the supreme government of Indian affairs, then they will never be fit. And we must remember that the policy of the rulers henceforth will be to control and restrict and not to encourage or promote the spread of education of the higher sort. From our own point of view, we may put it more strongly and say that if a hundred years of dependence and foreign control have so immensely impaired that governing capacity of the Indian races which they showed with such splendid results for the last three thousand years, then another century will absolutely and for ever destroy it. Mr. Morley is therefore logically justified in reiterating his conviction that personal and absolute foreign control must be the leading feature of Indian administration to the very end of time. This is what Mr. Morley means by the continuance of British rule, he means the continuance of a personal and absolute British control pervading the administration of affairs in every department, in other words, a bureaucratic despotism strongly flavoured by the independent personal omnipotence of local governors and local officials. The problem which former British statesmen professed to have before them was the problem of gradually training and associating the Indians in an European system of government until they were fit to take over absolute control of affairs and allow their patrons and protectors to withdraw. This problem does not any longer trouble the peace of British statesmen; on the contrary, it is definitely and forever disclaimed and put aside as a chimera or a pretence. British rule in India will continue, ought to continue and must continue. What then is the problem which is troubling Mr. Morley? The problem is “the difficulty of combining personal government in our dependency with the rights of free speech and free meeting”. Personal government, absolute government, despotism, that is the supreme necessity which must be continued for ever even at the sacrifice of morality, justice and every other consideration. Subject to that necessity Mr. Morley proposes to allow a certain amount of free speech if that be possible. Free speech was harmless as1 long as the Indian people had not set their heart on self-government; but now that they have2 resolved to have nothing short of self-government, free speech means seditious speech, and sedition is not consistent with the continuance of the absolute and personal British control. How then can free speech and British despotism be combined? How can fire and water occupy the same space? That is the problem, which Mr. Morley refuses to believe insoluble, and he solves it by proclaiming the areas where free speech has been chiefly employed, and by establishing an Advisory Council of Notables.

It may be asked, if the continuance of absolute government is the whole policy of British statesmanship, why does Mr. Morley trouble himself about free speech at all or propose any reforms? That question can be easily answered by a consideration of the suggested reforms. The first of these reforms is a Council of Notables. Mr. Morley has told us what is the object of this body; it is to be a sort of medium of communication between the government and the people. Of course Mr. Morley is quite mistaken in supposing that such a body can really serve the object he has in view, but we are concerned for the present not with the sufficiency of the means he is devising for his object, but with the object itself. The second reform is an expansion of the Legislative Councils and greater facilities to the elected members for the expression of their views; in other words the object of the expanded Legislative Councils is to keep the Government in India in touch with the views of the educated class. The third reform is the admission of Indian members to the India Council, and it is obvious that here again the object is that these Indian members should keep the Government in England in touch with the opinions of educated India, just as the elected members of the Legislative Council3 are to keep the Government in India in touch with the same opinion. The fourth reform is the decentralisation of the administration so that each local official may become an independent local despot. The object is clearly defined; first, to give him greater opportunities of being in touch with the people, secondly, to give him a greater power of personal despotic control within his own jurisdiction unhampered by the interference of higher authorities. All the reforms have one single object, one governing idea, an absolute personal despotic British control in touch with the people. That is Mr. Morley's policy.

The object of keeping in touch with the people and knowing their opinions is not to redress their grievances, still less to allow their opinions any control over the administration. The object is quite different. A despotism out of touch with the people is a despotism continually in danger, ignorant of the currents of opinion, ignorant of the half-visible activities among its subjects, ignorant of the perils gathering in the vast obscurity, it must one day be suddenly surprised and perhaps overthrown by the unforeseen outburst of activities and dangers it had not anticipated. It is in order to avoid these dangers that Mr. Morley wishes to employ various means of keeping in touch with public opinion and its manifestations. He talks in his speech of the necessity of the rulers putting themselves in the skins of the ruled, in other words, of thoroughly understanding their thoughts, feelings and point of view. This does not mean that they shall rule India according to the sentiments, views and wishes of the Indian people. The whole conduct of Mr. Morley and the whole trend of his utterances shows4 that he means the opinions of the Government to prevail without regard to Indian opinions and sentiments. The rulers are to understand the ruled so that they may know how their measures are likely to affect the minds of the latter, how opposition can best be persuaded or Samjaoed into quiescence and how, if persuasion is useless, it can most swiftly and successfully be crushed. Through the Council of Notables, the Legislative Councils and the Indian members of the India Council, the Government will come to know the ideas, views, and feelings of the people; through the two former bodies they will try to present unpopular measures in such a way as to coax, cajole, delude or intimidate public opinion into a quiet acceptance. If they cannot do this, then through the decentralised local officers they can keep in touch with the popular temper, learn its manifestations and activities and successfully and promptly put down opposition by local measures, if possible, otherwise by imperial rescripts, laws and ordinances and every possible weapon of despotic repression.

We have analysed Mr. Morley's speech at length, because people in India have not the habit of following the turns of British parliamentary eloquence or reading between the lines of the speech of a Cabinet Minister. They are therefore likely to miss its true bearings and fail to understand the policy it enunciates. Read by an eye accustomed to the reservations and implications by which a British Minister makes himself intelligible without committing himself unnecessarily, Mr. Morley's speech is an admirably clear, connected, logical and, let us add, unusually and amazingly frank expression of a very straightforward and coherent policy. To maintain in India an absolute rule as rigid as any Czar's, to keep that rule in close touch with the currents of Indian sentiment, opinion and activity and to crush any active opposition by an immediate resort to the ordinary weapons of despotism, ordinances, deportations, prosecutions and a swift and ruthless terrorism, this is Morleyism as explained by its author.


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: so


2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: are


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


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