Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. October 29, 1907
The Nagpur Imbroglio
It is difficult to get authentic and undisputed news of the Nagpur imbroglio, but if report is to be believed, there is a better chance than before of a satisfactory working compromise. It is in every way desirable that the present difficulties should be smoothed over if that can be done without any sacrifice to1 essential principle, and for any such compromise it is essential for both sides to recognise that while they may and should fight stubbornly for their principles both outside and inside the Congress, yet the National Assembly itself is not the monopoly of either. A great deal of clamour has been raised by the Moderates of Nagpur and Bombay over the outbursts of excited popular feeling in which a few Loyalists were roughly handled, and use has been freely made of them to obscure the real issue. It is well therefore that this incident, which we must all regret, should be understood in its true light. The Moderate majority on the Nagpur Reception Committee happens to be a factitious majority and most of the members take no sustained interest in the Committee work, while the Nationalist minority are alert and active. At the meeting which elected the Executive Committee the Moderates did not attend except in small numbers and a strong Nationalist majority was elected. The inconveniences of this tactical defeat were very soon felt by the Moderate Party and after a fashion to which they are unfortunately too much addicted, they tried to remedy their original error by riding roughshod over procedure and the unwritten law that guides the conduct of all public bodies. Mr. Chitnavis, one of the Secretaries, called on his own initiative a fresh meeting to elect a new Executive in which the Moderates should predominate. Dr. Munje, also a Secretary, was perfectly within his rights in opposing the bare-faced illegality of this unconstitutional procedure and refusing to allow the meeting to be held. Meanwhile, great popular excitement had been created and there was a strong feeling of indignation among the students and people in general against the Moderate aristocrats of Nagpur and when they issued from the abortive meeting, they were angrily received by the crowd waiting outside and handled in a very rough and unseemly manner. This was certainly regrettable, but it is absurd to make the Nationalist leaders in Nagpur responsible for the outburst. All that they did was to baffle a very discreditable attempt to defy all constitutional procedure and public decorum in the interests of party trickery, and in doing so they were entirely right.
A persistent attempt has also been made to prejudice the Nagpur Nationalists in the eyes of the country and obscure the real question by grossly misrepresenting their action with regard to the issue about the Presidentship. By the rule formulated at last year's Congress – a rule we have always considered foolish and unworkable – the local Reception Committee has to elect the President for the year by a three-fourths majority, and, if they cannot do so, the decision rests with the All-India Congress Committee. This arrangement is admirably conceived for swelling the Congress funds on the one hand and for defeating public opinion on the other. The Reception Committee is not an elected or representative body but is constituted on a money basis, as any one who can pay twenty-five rupees or get another to pay it for him can have his name enrolled as a member. Whichever side has the longer purse can secure the election of the President of its choice. Such an election is no more likely to represent public opinion than Mr. Morley's Council of Notables is likely to represent it. Like the Council of Notables, it will represent the opinion of the moneyed2 aristocracy, the men of position and purse, the men “with a stake in the country”. Nevertheless, the rule is there and so long as it stands, it must be observed. The position in Nagpur as in the Deccan is this, that the Loyalist Moderate Party is composed of the wealthy, successful and high-placed men, the retired officials, the Rai Sahebs and Rai Bahadurs, the comfortable professional men and those who pride themselves on their English education and Western enlightenment and look down with contempt on the ignorant masses. On the other hand, the young men and the poorer middle class form the bulk of the Nationalist Party, although it contains a minority of the wealthier men. The lines of divergence are therefore somewhat different from those in Bengal and the gulf between the two parties wider both in opinion and in spirit. In Bombay or Nagpur it would be perfectly impossible for a man like Srijut3 Surendranath Banerji to be a leader of the Moderates; he would be looked on with suspicion, continually checked, snubbed, thrust into the shadow and eventually forced out of the camp.
The struggle over the Presidentship in Nagpur followed lines necessitated by the character of the two parties. The Moderates relied on the length of their purse, the Nationalists appealed to the people. A few Moderates of wealth advanced money and filled the Reception Committee with men of their persuasion, who were therefore in a sense paid to vote for any President proposed by their wealthy patrons. The Nationalists, on the other hand, created a Nationalist organisation or Rashtriya Mandali and invited all who were willing to become members of the Reception Committee on condition that Mr. Tilak became President to send in the requisite sum, not to the Reception Committee but to the Rashtriya Mandali. Eventually it was found that though the total sum raised by the Nationalists was much larger than that contributed by the Moderate magnates, yet the votes it represented fell short of three-fourths. It was decided, therefore, after paying in the sums sent in unconditionally to the Congress funds, to devote the rest to some Nationalist purpose, preferably the creation of a National School in Nagpur. This decision has been deliberately misrepresented as a perversion of Congress funds and a refusal on the part of the Nationalist Party to contribute their share of the Congress expenses. The money was expressly sent in on the condition and with the proviso that the contributors would become members of the Reception Committee only if there was a certainty of Mr. Tilak's being elected, and for this reason it was sent in to the Rashtriya Mandali and not to the Congress Committee, as the latter could not accept conditional contributions. In the disposal of these monies, therefore, Mr. Tilak not having been elected, the Congress has no concern whatever and the Moderate Party less than none; it is a matter entirely between the Nationalist organisation and its contributors. Yet it is on these and similarly flimsy pretexts that the Moderate magnates have withdrawn from the Reception Committee.
A compromise can now be arrived at only on condition that the present constitution of the Executive Committee is not interfered with and that the Congress session will be duly held at Nagpur. To transfer the Congress to Madras or any other centre for the convenience of the Moderate Party while there are men willing to hold it in Nagpur, would mean a definite and final split in the Congress camp, which would turn the Congress into a Rump of Loyalists and Moderates possibly with a Nationalist Assembly standing in opposition to it. The All-India Committee is not likely to force on such an undesirable consummation. Whoever may or may not retire himself from the Reception Committee, the body itself remains and is the only one constitutionally capable of holding the session this year. On the other hand, the rule of the three-fourths majority remains and if Mr. Tilak's followers cannot secure this for their nominee, the Nationalists cannot lower themselves by attempting to secure his election by any unfair or unconstitutional means. They may also meet the Moderates halfway by raising further funds as their share of the Congress expenditure. If Mr. Tilak is not elected, it does not matter to us, in the absence of Lala Lajpat Rai, whether Dr. Rash Behari Ghose or any other figurehead graces the Presidential seat, and this need not be a cause of further quarrel. On the basis of Dr. Ghose's election and the status quo in other respects a compromise ought not to be impossible, and at the present juncture it is undoubtedly desirable. We hope that good sense and not party feeling will prevail.
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: of
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: monied
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Sj.