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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. June 28, 1907

Personal Rule and Freedom of Speech and Writing

Mr. John Morley is reported to have delivered himself of the following fatuity: “One of the most difficult experiments ever tried in human history was whether we could carry on personal government along with free speech and free right of public meeting,” and he was cheered by the House. He might as well have said, “We are carrying on in India the most difficult experiment of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare,” and no doubt he would have been applauded with the same enthusiasm. The average member of Parliament is gifted with no remarkable powers of understanding and such intelligence as they possess is never drawn upon in elucidation of matters Indian; and as there is a well-understood agreement between the two front benches that no real measure of liberty is to be given to India, the Secretary of State has a most enviable opportunity of saying anything he may please within the strict limits of such agreement about freedom of speech and similar topics, without the least fear of provoking any serious hostile criticism, and Mr. Morley has certainly taken his occasion by both hands.

Any power or privilege in order to deserve the title “free” must be based on the authority of an independent people possessing the supreme and ultimate power of control over its own government. It is this fundamental fact of self-government that must be their origin and sanction, and it is only in this sense that terms like “freedom of conscience” or “freedom of speech” are understood in the countries that actually enjoy them. Their ‘freedoms’ are the concrete expression1, the sacred symbols, of the popular will that has realised its sovereignty and constitute the inviolable limitations under which the executive must work. They stand inaccessibly superior to the needs or wishes of those who actually carry on the government of the country; whose tenure of power primarily rests on their unquestioned submission to the sovereign will and freedom of the people as whose servants they administer. Take the situation in England during the late Boer War as an instance. Throughout that war the Pro-Boers carried on their propaganda all over the country without the least let or hindrance from the Cabinet or the administrative authorities, however much they might have desired to coerce them into silence. John Morley himself was the most outspoken exponent of those who sympathised with the Boers and denounced the war, but no ukase could reach him nor any Emergency Act hurry him out of England.

But when the right of spontaneous articulation comes as a gift from a foreign despotism with no limits on the power of its Executive, instead of proceeding from the consent and conviction of the people governed, it becomes then a mere licence strictly similar in kind to any other of the species, for example, a licence issued by the Excise Department. It is held during pleasure, the giving and the taking of it having not the least reference to the people's wishes. In fact the word “right” has no meaning in a subject country. A right can only be where the people are “free”, and signifies some inalienable incident of citizenship the recognition of which is an absolute obligation on the Government. The things that masquerade in a country like India under the name of rights, are only concessions of might qualified by prudence and what is conceded in the prudential exercise of despotic power will be withdrawn out of the same consideration, the people remaining equally helpless before and after. The proclamation that is now brooding in a death-like hush over the Punjab and East Bengal is the amplest confirmation of the foregoing lines and disposes finally of the sickening cant of John Morley about the coexistence of free speech and personal rule. The freedom of a subject race is only the freedom to starve and die, all the rest of its existence being on sufferance from those who govern.

The pseudo sophies of the Radical philosopher who now rules our destinies, bear however some ugly results. They give in the first place a splendid opportunity to unblushing journals like the Times for insolent dissertations on the enlightened and democratic character of the Government that England has founded in the Orient and for illusory comparisons between the Indian Government and any other Government that might have possibly been established in this country if England had not come to bless her with her beneficent rule, the result of which is to place India in an entirely false light before the civilised world. They also fill the Briton, endowed by Nature with more than the ordinary mortal's share of pride, with an intoxicating sense of exultation as he thinks of the noble work his countrymen are carrying on in India. But far worse than all this is the poison they instil into the minds of those immoderate lovers of England in general, and John Morley in particular, who are known as Moderates amongst us hereby constantly borrowing from the language of English constitutionalism in order to designate the gewgaws given them by the Government. They have gradually deluded themselves into the belief that Indians possess like Englishmen the real incidents of citizenship and such belief hardens into a dogma when Mr. Morley lends it his sanction. The Queen's Proclamation becomes in the borrowed phraseology of the Moderate the Magna Charta of India; the indulgence granted to a subject people to ventilate their grievances is transmuted by the same jugglery of language into freedom of speech and writing, his membership of a helpless Dependency he must persist in describing as the citizenship of the Empire. No matter that the whole world laughs at him in utter contempt, and calls him a fool. There are two things that his English education and his reading of Morley have not given him the sense of history and the sense of humour. And when a proclamation descends like thunder and shatters all his pretentious nonsense to slivers, he clings nevertheless to his illusion and blames the Extremist for having brought on the catastrophe by his foolhardiness. He weeps and wails because he has lost his primary right of citizenship without a moment's thought on the fact that he has neither rights nor citizenship, and that such things cannot be taken away by a Government. He has read in the history of free countries, but read in vain, that right and citizenship have behind them a sacred tradition of sacrifice, even to the shedding of blood, on a loyal adequate recognition of which their Government is founded. The Moderate does not see that what has been withdrawn from him by the proclamation is no such right as he pretends to have had, but the mere opportunity conceded by the master to the helot to pour forth his unavailing complaint. He confuses sufferance with freedom, the favour of a foreign despotism with the right of citizenship, and his ambition is to win liberty by a whimper. Unless he relearns History and undeceives himself, he will always remain unfit for freedom, a hindrance to his country, a mere dupe of Morleyism, the subject of utter scorn for the nations that are free. What he adores as liberty is a sorry sordid, delusive mask, not the high-throned, stern, exacting Goddess whose one incessant, unambiguous demand resounds through History and ever pierces across the night of time to the heart of the Indian who would worship her “Main bhukha hun, main bhukha hun.


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: expressions