Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. September 26, 1907
The Chowringhee Pecksniff and Ourselves
The collapse of the Bande Mataram Prosecution and acquittal of Srijut Aurobindo Ghose, which have been welcomed with relief and joy by our countrymen all over India, are naturally gall and wormwood to the opponents of Indian Nationalism; but to none has the fiasco caused bitterer disappointment than to the Friend of India in Chowringhee. Sharing the common but mistaken impression that our paper depends on the writings of one man for its continued existence, the Statesman had evidently hoped that with the incarceration of Srijut Aurobindo Ghose the one paper in Bengal which it fears and which has ruthlessly exposed the falsehood and duplicity of its sanctimonious Liberalism, would be removed out of its path. It cannot conceal its chagrin and mortification at the disappointment of its cherished hopes, and as a pis aller it tries to discredit the Bande Mataram and informs our subscribers that they ought not to support us any longer because it has been proved that we are either guilty of having put forward a false defence or of the unpardonable immorality of having an editorial staff instead of a single Editor. The tone and method of this attack are worthy of this unctuous and mealy-mouthed Pecksniff of Anglo-Indian journalism. It unscrupulously supports its malicious insinuations by calling the witnesses summoned by the prosecution “defence witnesses” as if the accused had put men into the witness-box to tell a false story: and it shelters itself from the charge of libel by the use of ‘ifs’ and ‘ors’. Yet it has the impudence to claim a superior sense of honour for English pamphleteers and editors! “The great English political writers,” it says, “have never been afraid to own their handiwork and we cannot recall a single instance in which an English pamphleteer or editor has endeavoured to evade the law by raising technical difficulties as to his share of responsibility.” There are three separate insinuations in this carefully written sentence; first, it is hinted that Srijut Aurobindo Ghose was the real writer of the correspondence, “Politics for Indians”, but falsely denied his handiwork; secondly, that he was the responsible Editor of the paper and his denial of responsibility was “technical” and untrue; thirdly, that any writer for the paper was morally bound to accept responsibility for anything that might appear in the paper as a part of the political propaganda in which he was engaged and Aurobindo Ghose, knowing himself to be so bound, evaded his responsibility out of fear. Certainly the writer of this article need not disown his handiwork or evade his responsibility, for he has brought the art of safe slander to its utmost possible perfection.
We have no hesitation in saying that if we had invented a system of divided responsibility with the object of baffling a possible bureaucratic prosecution, we should have been entirely within our rights. In England a publicist or propagandist has always had the advantage of being tried by a jury of his own peers and in all but rare cases enjoyed every reasonable chance of a fair trial, but the reverse is the case in countries circumstanced as India is circumstanced today. Where the whole armoury of an absolute power is arrayed against him, the Judge a servant of his prosecutor, the law an instrument specially designed for his suppression, the wealth and power of a despotic executive and the activity of a not over-scrupulous police his pursuers, and his only supporters are his own patriotism and the sympathy of his people, the Nationalist is entitled to use any means for his own self-defence which will not be inconsistent with his mission nor injure his claim to national sympathy and support. He owes no moral obligation of quixotic candour to antagonists who themselves recognise no moral obligation in their struggle with him. Whatever he owes is to his people and the mission he has to discharge. If he will serve his country best by leaping into the fire, that is his duty; if self-defence is more to the interests of the country and the cause, no other consideration ought to weigh with him. The primary object of the Nationalist organs must be to keep up their propaganda until it is rendered physically impossible by the growing severity of bureaucratic enactments. Bhupendranath and Basanta deliberately exposed themselves to the worst effects of bureaucratic wrath in order to give an example to the country of heroic self-sacrifice and a living demonstration of the spirit of Swarajism; but they did it in the full confidence that the Yugantar would continue undaunted and unchanged in the course it conceived to be its duty to the nation. Had they exposed themselves with the knowledge that their disappearance would have meant the death of the paper, their action would have been heroic but foolish, an outburst of patriotic sentiment but not an act of patriotic wisdom. To allow the voice of Nationalism to be silenced would be to play into the hands of the adversary to whom we owe no duty. The gospel of Nationalism has to be preached with unflinching candour, but Nationalist organs will be perfectly within their rights if they protect their writers so long as it is humanly possible to protect them and so prolong their own career of propagandist usefulness.
No such arrangement was made in the case of the Bande Mataram. Had we intended to protect ourselves, we would have done it by the simple and convenient Japanese device of a jail editor. The device imputed to us would be neither illegal nor immoral, but it would be cumbrous and unsafe. It is perfectly true that it throws great difficulties in the way of the prosecution, but it is equally obvious that it leaves the bureaucracy free to single out any one they choose for harassment, and does not protect him at all, since the police have only to be clever enough in their choice of witnesses and the arrangement of the evidence, and the accused, whether really responsible or not, is doomed. Everybody can feel that if Anukul Mukherjee1 had had more backbone and lied more cleverly in the cross-examination, Srijut Aurobindo Ghose would now be a convict in the Central Jail. Had we thought of putting forward a false defence, we could have done it very effectively by producing an Editor on the spot. There were at least three men on the staff who were anxious to immolate themselves in this manner, and it was only prevented by the refusal of the accused to accept any such sacrifice and by the singular conduct of the prosecution in calling the officers of the Company as their witnesses. The moment Srijut Sailendranath Ghose entered the witness box, there was no course left open to the defence but to take their stand on the facts as elicited by the prosecution. For a member of the staff to come forward and by a splendid falsehood take upon himself the responsibility of the matter complained of, if not of the whole editorial function, would have been morally permissible; but it was obviously impossible for the Secretary of the Company to perjure himself by fixing a non-existent responsibility on any particular individual. The one defect in the conduct of the defence was that the circumstances which brought about the state of things described by the Secretary, were not elicited in cross-examination. When we come to deal with the facts of the case in detail, we shall mend that deficiency and our readers will see that the evolution of that arrangement was natural and even inevitable.
In the diatribe of the Chowringhee Pecksniff against us there is one bit of Pecksniffian logic which we fail to appreciate. He seems to think that a paper cannot be respectable unless it has a single autocratic Editor and that the readers of a paper not so blessed must be disreputable. Why, pray? We had always thought that what one man could do in the way of management could be done as well by a board or committee of men acting in unison and with one clearly understood policy; we used even to think that such conjoint management was in politics the characteristic of democratic times. But Chowringhee liberalism evidently thinks no arrangement respectable which does not involve absolute control by a single master-mind. It argues that the Bande Mataram policy being the joint product of several minds must be the result of distracted counsels, since only an autocrat can think clearly. After that we can hardly be surprised at the affection of the Friend of India for absolutism and absolutist methods or the support it has given to the new Grand Mogul who now governs India on mediaeval principles from Westminster.
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: Mukherji