Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. August 17, 1907
The Foundations of Nationality1
Mr. N. N. Ghose of the Indian Nation has some name in this country as an educated and even a learned man. He himself does not conceal his opinion that he is almost if not quite the only well-educated man in India and is perpetually asking the acknowledged exponents of public opinion on the Nationalist side what educational qualifications they possess which would justify them in advising or instructing their countrymen in politics. At one time it is the conductors of Bande Mataram who are put to the question; at another it is so able a political thinker and orator as Srijut Bepin2 Chandra Pal whose speeches and writings have extorted the reluctant admiration of our bitterest opponents in England; at another it is the editor of Yugantar who is apostrophied as an ill-educated adolescent – a paper every single issue of which evidences more knowledge, reading and power of thought and expression than the whole year's output of the Indian Nation. In the latest issue of his weekly Mr. Ghose has penned an article on the prospects of Nationality in India – which he thinks to be very bad indeed – and in trying to support his thesis by examples from history he has perpetrated such astonishing blunders, of so gross and elementary a character, that one wonders what ill-educated adolescent usurped the editorial chair usually occupied by the Principal of the Metropolitan College. We will give only a few samples of Mr. Ghose's historical knowledge. The unification of the Italian republics into a nation, he says, was not so much the effect as the cause of Italian independence. We leave for the moment the truth of the statement which is contrary to the facts of history; but we should like to know what on earth our universal critic means by his Italian republics? There were republics in mediaeval Italy, but we did not know that Naples and Sicily were republics under King Bomba, or Rome under the Popes, or Tuscany under the Grand Duke, or Lombardy under the Austrians, or Sardinia and Piedmont under the descendants of Victor Amadeus. Then again Mr. Ghose has “observed” that the different States of Greece developed a National unity as soon as they had a common enemy in the Persian. Really? We had always thought that the one outstanding fact of Greek history was the utter inability of these states to develop national unity at all, the sentiment of Panhellenism never having a look-in against the separatist spirit of the city-states. And then he tells us that the provinces and states of ancient Italy (whatever that may mean) also readily united into a great national state in the presence of a foreign enemy. Yet those foolish historians tell us that Italy was united not at all willingly by the Roman sword and the Carthaginian invasion simply tested the solidity of the Roman structure; it certainly did not create it. But it would be a wearisome task to hunt down all the errors with which the article is packed. We think that after this Mr. N. N. Ghose had better stop questioning other people about their qualifications for instructing the people and examine his own.
But in spite of his historical blunders he has succeeded in giving expression to a very common error which troubles many patriotic people and unnerves their faith and weakens the quality of their patriotism. “Let it be distinctly remembered and never forgotten that the essential conditions of a nationality are unity of language, unity of religion and life, unity of race.” And because there is diversity of race, religion and language in India he thinks that there is no possibility of creating a nationality in this country. This is a very common stumbling-block, but is there any reality in it? Rather we find that every nationality has been formed not because of, but in spite of, diversity of race or religion or language, and not unoften in spite of the co-existence of all these diversities. The Indian Nation has itself admitted that the English nation has been built out of various races, but he has not stated the full complexity of the British nation. He has not observed that to this day the races which came later into the British nationality keep their distinct individuality even now and that one of them clings to its language tenaciously. He has carefully omitted the striking example of Switzerland where distinct racial strains speaking three different languages and, later, professing different religions, coalesced into and persisted as one nation without sacrificing a single one of these diversities. In France three different languages are spoken; in America the candidates for White3 House address the nation in fourteen languages, Austria is a congeries of races and languages, the divisions in Russia are hardly less acute. That unity in race, religion or language is essential to nationality is an idea which will not bear examination. Such elements of unity are very helpful to the growth of a nationality, but they are not essential and will not even of themselves assure its growth. The Roman Empire though it created a common language, a common religion and life, and did its best to crush out racial diversities under the heavy weight of its uniform system failed to make one great nation.
If these are not essential elements of nationality, what, it may be asked, are the essential elements? We answer that there are certain essential conditions, geographical unity, a common past, a powerful common interest impelling towards unity and certain favourable political conditions which enable the impulse to realise itself in an organised government expressing the nationality and perpetuating its single and united existence. This may be provided by a part of the nation, a race or community, uniting the others under its leadership or domination, or by an united resistance to a common pressure from outside or within. A common enthusiasm coalescing with a common interest is the most powerful fosterer of nationality. We believe that the necessary elements are present in India, we believe that the time has come and that by a common resistance to a common pressure in the shape of the boycott, inspired by a common enthusiasm and ideal, that united nationality for which the whole history of India has been a preparation, will be speedily and mightily accomplished.
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 The exact date is uncertain. The article appeared in the daily edition on 14, 15 or 17 August. All these issues have been lost. The article was reprinted in the weekly edition on 18 August.
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: for the White