Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. July 12, 1907
Work and Speech
We often hear that the time for speeches has gone by and action, silent, strenuous, sacrificing action is all that is necessary at the present moment. Denunciation of speeches has almost passed into a fashion and to rescue at least a certain class of speeches from undeserved contempt is a duty we owe to the speakers and the country they are serving no less by their speech than by other kinds of activity.
Those who happen to be in any kind of touch with the people will agree with us when we say that there is no consensus of opinion even amongst the educated section as to the wisdom of pursuing a great and bold ideal or our capacity of making the least possible progress towards its realisation. The indifference towards all patriotic activities still too common is not infrequently the result of a total lack of grasp of the situation and of the lines of activity which the situation demands. Most people are so immersed in their own affairs, so much oppressed by the anxieties and cares of the average life that they cannot study for themselves the actual condition of the country, the causes that have brought about its miseries and the true way of escape from them. Much help can be obtained from them if they are once convinced that many of our ills are the necessary results of subjection and everyone who desires to leave his country better than he found it, should either by thought or action, help the assertion of a separate national existence and an administration which can maintain and perfect such an existence. We have until now resigned ourselves to the absolute sway of a small alien body and by passive obedience had almost rid ourselves of the capacity for political animation. Real self-examination, real study of our political condition and the endeavour to discover a practical line of work which will build up a free nation, have only begun. If therefore the need for action is great, the need for speech is not yet over. Speech in itself is an instrument for good and not a mere waste of energy. But what we need is that the speeches shall be by men who can think, see and feel and not by mere mouthers of political commonplaces and unrealities. Patriotic propagandists who understand the situation themselves and have formed a tolerably good idea as to how work should begin can always make converts who will help them in promoting the cause. But mere declaimers who have no light to give, but rather give out mere darkness and confuse practical issues, have brought and will continue to bring the gift of speech into discredit and alienate public sympathy from propagandist work. But after all propagandist work has only begun. In Bengal, Barisal is the best-organised district; by a successful organisation of propaganda and moral pressure the Boycott has been almost a complete success. Yet we have been informed that the masses have not been reached and the opposition offered by a section of them must be put down to this deficiency of missionary work. It is therefore clear that there is still much to be done in this direction of bringing home to our people the necessity of the Boycott and kindred activities. And for this purpose we want men whose ideas are clear and who can act as an inspiring force by pouring into their speech the strength of a convicted intellect and a powerfully moved heart and will. They must radiate the light from a highly reflective surface. A fine illustration is the Shivaji address of Mr. Tilak recently delivered at Poona. The force and effectiveness of the address has been acknowledged in the editorial columns of journals like the Indian Patriot of Madras. Mr. Tilak took the occasion of the Shivaji celebration to make it clear that we are all being moved by a mighty impulse, by a natural aspiration and to desist from its forceful expression for fear of consequences is not only unmanly but prejudicial to the best interests of the country. Now such a pronouncement can only come from one with whom the aspiration is a guiding reality of his life and who is so much possessed by the certainty of its realisation as to be careless of the persecutions and sufferings its pursuit must involve. The Maratha leader does not conceal truth in the hope of conciliating the bureaucracy nor resort to such diplomacy on the platform as may obscure the purity of the ideal or demoralise the ardour of its pursuit in his followers. His admirable judgment saves him from utterances which may imperil the cause either by excess or by unseasonable reservations. A courageous and clear-sighted utterance which inspires and gives nerve and strength to the hearer, it observes the limitations which our own environments impose on our speech and actions. Powerfully directing the mind to the goal in view, emphasising the necessity of a perfect sacrifice, there is no touch in it of irresponsibility, no froth and foam of mere unmeaning rhetoric. The extreme course is not concealed; the sacrifice is not excused; but nothing is demanded of us which our present capacities and surroundings do not warrant.
Nothing, for instance, can be better than the exposition of the use and meaning of the national festivals which have now become a part of our public life. Helpful to the cultivation of courage – such courage as the appreciation of heroes securing their salvation against odds can give, they are not held for raising the standard of revolt; not because revolt is in itself a thing accursed,– no such loyalist cant is to be expected from a true Nationalist leader,– but because it is not under present circumstances either possible or necessary; for neither have we the means to revolt nor have we yet exhausted all possibilities of action within the law. Speeches of such an admirable temper shedding a dry light, as the Indian Patriot well says, fearless, cogent, outspoken and statesmanlike – who shall say that they are no longer needed, or that action can long endure in our present stage of preparation if we deliberately deny ourselves the stimulus of such utterances? The cry for work, the cry against mere noise we can sympathise with, but the cry against public propaganda has no meaning. No great movement has ever been able to do without it.
This work was not reprinted in the CWSA and it was not compared with other editions.