Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. September 25, 1907
“Bande Mataram” Prosecution
The prosecution of the Bande Mataram, the most important of the numerous Press prosecutions recently instituted by the bureaucracy, commenced with a flourish of trumpets, eagerly watched by a hopeful Anglo-India1 Press, has ended in the most complete and dismal fiasco such as no Indian Government has ever had to experience before in a sedition case. The failure has not been the result of any lukewarmness or half-heartedness in the conduct of the prosecution or any unwillingness to convict on the part of the trying Magistrate. The Police left no stone unturned to get a particular man convicted, the Standing Counsel did not hesitate to press every possible point and make the most of every stray scrap or faint shadow of evidence against the accused, the Magistrate was a Civilian Magistrate whose leanings have never been concealed, the same who gave two years to the Yugantar Printer, who sent Bepin2 Pal before a subservient Bengali Magistrate with a plain hint to give him a heavy punishment, who sentenced Sushil Kumar to fifteen stripes, who brushed aside the evidence of barristers in favour of Police testimony, and every paragraph of whose judgment in the present case shows that he would readily have dealt out a handsome term of hard labour if the evidence had afforded him the slightest justification for a conviction. All the winning cards in the game are in the hands of the bureaucracy in such a trial. They can command the best legal knowledge in the country, they have a detective and secret service system which for political purposes is popularly supposed to be second only in its elaborateness to the Russian, they have their own servants sitting on the bench to try a case in which they are deeply interested, there is no trouble about juries who might be unwilling to convict, the Police have unlimited powers of search and can even turn the Post Office into a branch of the detective department; their methods of discovering witnesses are various and effective; yet with all this they were unable to bring forward a single scrap of convincing evidence to prove that the particular man they were bent on running down was the Editor. The Magistrate in his judgment and the affectionate Friend of India in Chowringhee in his comments have drawn from this failure the lesson that the laws against the freedom of the Press should be made more stringent. An ordinary unilluminated intelligence would have come rather to the conclusion that the executive authorities would do well to reform their method of instituting proceedings in a political trial.
The one important lesson of the Bande Mataram Case is the light which it throws on the spirit in which the bureaucracy have been instituting the political prosecutions and persecutions which have latterly seemed to be their only reason of existence. This spirit has been exposed in a lurid and sensational manner in the Comilla case, when an innocent man with difficulty escaped the gallows to which a political prosecution had condemned him. But in the Bande Mataram Case also there has been a less sensational though sufficient exposure of the same sinister spirit. What has been the whole meaning and aim of this prosecution? Certainly not an honest impartial desire to vindicate outraged law and check without personal animus or any purely political aim a wanton tendency to disturb the public tranquillity, which would be the only excuse for a sedition prosecution. It has been an obvious attempt to crush a particular paper and a particular individual. The bureaucracy has sought to cripple or silence the Bande Mataram because it has been preaching with extraordinary success a political creed which was dangerous to the continuance of bureaucratic absolutism and was threatening to become a centre of strength round which many Nationalistic forces might gather. It has sought to single out and silence a particular individual because it chose to think that he was, as the Friend of India expresses it, the master mind behind the policy of the paper. If we are challenged to justify this assertion, it will be sufficient to point to the conduct of this case from its very inception. The Bande Mataram has been for over a year attacking without fear and without disguise the present system of Government and advocating a radical and revolutionary change. It has advocated that change on grounds of historical experience, the first principles of politics and the necessity of national self-preservation. It has not minced matters or sought to conceal revolutionary aspirations under the veil of moderate professions or ambiguous phraseology. It has not concealed its opinion that the bureaucracy cannot be expected to transform itself, that the people of India and not the people of England must save India, and that we cannot hope for any boons but must wrest what we desire by strong national combination from unwilling hands. Hundreds of articles have appeared in the paper in this vein and the bureaucrats had only to pick and choose. But they have not attacked one of these articles, nor did their counsel venture to cite even a single one of them to prove seditious intention. The fact is that, however dangerous such a propaganda may be to an absolutist handful desiring to perpetuate their irresponsible rule, no government pretending to call itself civilised can prosecute it as seditious without forfeiting all claim to the last vestige of the world's respect. But though the paper could not be characterised as seditious, it was highly inconvenient, and there was a growing clamour which extended even to the cloudy home of the Thunderer in London, for its prosecution and, if possible, suppression. And so watch is kept to find the paper tripping over some trifle, for which it can be hauled up and got into trouble on a side issue. What is the matter for which the Bande Mataram was prosecuted? A reprint of the official translations of certain articles from a vernacular paper, translations issued as part of a case in the law courts and reproduced as such,– that is one count; and an insignificant correspondence which does not even profess to give voice to the policy of the paper,– that is the second and third; and there is no other. The Yugantar was prosecuted on articles expressing its essential policy; the Sandhya has been proceeded against on articles expressing its views on important matters; but it was sought to crush the Bande Mataram partly for a technical offence and partly on a side issue. So eagerly, so carelessly is the casual chance given snatched at that the executive do not even trouble to know what is the article on which action is being taken; they give sanction to prosecute on an advertisement in the righthand corner of the paper, and but for the compassionate correction vouchsafed by an officer of the company the mistake would have had to be rectified in the course of the trial itself. Sanction is given to prosecute a nameless Editor and the Police at once proceed to ask for a warrant against Aurobindo Ghose. It is in evidence that they had nothing better to go on than hearsay. But they had no hesitation in immediately pouncing on one particular writer of the Bande Mataram without possessing the least scrap of evidence against him. Obviously they cannot have done this without instructions. It was popularly believed that Srijut Aurobindo Ghose was all in all on the Bande Mataram staff, that all the best articles were written by him, that he gave the tone of the paper and that it could not last without him. Why did the Police take a body-warrant against Aurobindo Ghose to the office and why, having taken it, did they not arrest him? Obviously they took it because they thought that they would find plenty of evidence against him in the search, and they did not execute it because they found that not a scrap of proof rewarded their efforts. After that there was a pause till Anukul Mukherjee’s3 testimony was secured, and on that flimsy evidence the trial was started. Had it been honestly intended to deal only with the Editor, whoever he might turn out to be, the proceedings against Aurobindo Ghose would have been given up, but the Police made no secret of the fact that it was this one man who was wanted and that no other, whatever the evidence against him, would be thought worth capture. Even when the case for the prosecution was complete without any evidence fit to raise more than a flimsy presumption, the Standing Counsel would not give up, but in an outrageous address in which he rode roughshod over the higher traditions of his office, pressed weak points and wrested ambiguous evidence to get the charge framed. And after Anukul had broken down in cross-examination and made admissions fatal to their case, still the prosecution struggled for a verdict. And with what result? Even a Civilian Magistrate willing to support the prestige of the Government had more sense of law and justice than the bureaucracy and its advisers and was able to see that a man could not be sent to two years' rigorous imprisonment without any shadow of evidence. Their prey escaped them; the Manager who seems to have been arrested on spec and tried without even any pretence that there was any evidence against him was acquitted, and only an unfortunate Printer who knew no English and had no notion what all the pother was about, was sent to prison for a few months to vindicate the much-damaged majesty of the almighty bureaucracy.
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: Anglo-Indian
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Mukherji