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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. October 31, 1907

English Democracy Shown Up

Scratch an Englishman and you will find an Anglo-Indian,– this is what we said in these columns sometime ago. The Anglophilous Indian enthusiast who goes to England saturated with the old Congress poison of a morbid faith in the native generosity of English character, in the innate amenability of Englishmen to reason and persuasion regarding matters Indian, is doomed to a very rude awakening. He has not to stay long in the country before he finds every Englishman he may come across turning a deaf ear to his story of grievance and injustice. He is no doubt loudly applauded and called a “true Briton” when he declaims against the tyranny in Russia, but is invariably called “ungrateful” if he happens to tell home truths about England's dominion in Hindusthan1. He meets with the same callous disapprobation from all Englishmen alike, from the Liberal whose motto is “Government with consent” just as much as from the Tory whose principle avowedly is “let things be”. On the Indian question the Englishman will tell you his position is that of a “patriot”, not of a “partisan”. Imperialism is far above party; every Englishman therefore is an Imperialist when he is thinking of the Indian question, he has then ceased to be either a Liberal or a Conservative. To this rule there are some exceptions, a few old ladies here and there (who however hardly count in politics yet), and some truly noble men who hold humanity far higher than Imperialism. These men certainly frankly admit that England's arbitrary and tyrannous tenure of power in India is a standing libel on herself, a gross violation of those political principles which she proclaims from the housetops to the whole of Europe. The voice of such men however is hardly heard in the Councils of the Empire, and if ever heard, contemptuously ignored.

The hasty, hideous, indecent, savage yell that has been raised by the whole of the English Press against Mr. Keir Hardie because he has dared to tell the truth about the present situation in this country is a striking confirmation of what we have said above, and what we stated before in the Bande Mataram. We must not commit the mistake of supposing that the English Press is indignant because it doubts the truth of Mr. Hardie's statements against the Indian Government; not that at all; they know very well, one and all of that yelling throng, that every word of what he has said is true, and that Reuter has wired a grossly mendacious version of his statements; but they are full of wrath because the leader of the Independent Labour Party has told the unvarnished truth respecting the character of the rule that England has established here. They are bursting with rage because their long and unscrupulously kept-up fiction of a just and benevolent Indian rule has been exposed in all its ugliness at last by one who happens to be an Englishman, (Oh the sting of it!) and an Englishman of power and prestige too, who easily has the ear of the civilised world. He is a traitor, shout the impious fraternity of the British Press, because he has the nobleness of mind, the honesty of conviction, to be able to tell the truth against his own country when he finds it attempting without a blush to perpetuate an outrage upon humanity. He is no longer a statesman because he could not deliberately suppress a truth in consideration of the reasons of state, which in the present instance means, in the interest of the sickening British lie – repeated ad nauseam before Europe and America – that England governs India for the benefit of the Indians. The paper which so often contains articles from the pen of Sir Henry Cotton joins in this infamous chorus of denunciation no less than the Daily News which always so overflows with the pure milk of undiluted Liberalism, that is to say British Liberalism.

Let us hope this at least will serve to open wide the eyes of those of our countrymen who are still troubled now and then with the visitings of their old faith in England. England will not give us anything unless we can force her to her knees, this is the only moral to which the present outrageous clamour of the English Press points. We may present our case with as much eloquence, logic and precision as we please; they in England will always brush our representations insolently aside as mere “Babu rodomontade”. If an Englishman with a disengaged mind has the courage to take up our cause, and tell the world the most elementary facts about the wrong England is doing us, his voice is drowned in the roar of the ruling nation whose one aim is mercilessly to exploit India and let the rest of the world know as little about their real Indian policy as possible, and even to deceive it whenever opportunity offers. How humane it sounded, how extremely Christian, when Lord Lansdowne declared in the House of Lords with that supreme unction of which Englishmen alone are capable, that one of the motives of the war with the Boers was the righting of the grievous wrongs to which “our Indian fellow-subjects were forced to submit in the Transvaal”. That grandiose declaration was not without its effect in the international world, though we know only too well that the Transvaal Indians live under infinitely more humiliating conditions now than they ever did under the government of Paul Kruger. And one need not feel surprised if one hears an Englishman, even at the present day, repeating the pronouncement of Lord Lansdowne in all solemnity in order to prove England's constant anxiety and watchfulness on behalf of her Indian subjects.

There can hardly be any doubt that the Press has been shamelessly encouraged in its campaign of foul misrepresentation against Mr. Keir Hardie by Mr. Morley's speech at Arbroath. The philosopher-Secretary betrayed not a little ruffling of his philosophic calm in his undisguisedly hostile and somewhat petulant references to Mr. Keir Hardie's opinion that India should be given the same autonomy that is enjoyed by Canada. The wonderful allegory of the fur-coat though hardly giving us an encouraging indication of any power of imagination or perception, of any historical insight, of any sense of humour or relevancy on the part of its author, certainly furnishes abundant proof of his ill-natured impatience of the generous ideal that the labour leader cherishes for the people of this country.

But, after all, we perhaps do the Indian Secretary an injustice in charging him with lack of historical insight; in one sense, it may be said, he shows an abundance of it. For we learn from Reuter, that “he paid a tribute to the courage, patience and fidelity of the House of Commons, from which he augured that the democracies were going to show their capacity to tackle difficult and complicated problems.” The one remarkable feature of European democracies from the days of Athens to those of England, has throughout been that whilst they always most jealously keep vigil over the integrity of their own republican constitution, they revel at the same time in the despotic sway of unlimited power over the peoples they conquer. This is strictly true of the Pagan republics of Hellas and Rome as well as of the Christian Communes and Country-states of Mediaeval and Modern Europe. The ideal that has shaped the polity of Europe is always consciously or unconsciously Hellenic and not Hebraic; the Christian ideal of human brotherhood the European is apt to regard as part of the privilege of his citizenship, it is2 not to be extended to a conquered people. This is strictly true, the Christian missions and missionaries of Europe not withstanding. In other words, Christian Europe flings her Christianity aside in her treatment of those who have had the misfortune to come under her rule; these she looks upon as Athens and Rome did on their subject peoples. Mr. Morley whilst congratulating the English democracy on the determination they have shown to keep their Indian Empire their own, might very well have been feeling the secret glow of an historic enthusiasm in insensibly thinking of similar figures in ancient and modern European history extolling their countrymen on similar occasions.

What we meant by taxing him with want of historic perception was that he has betrayed a sad ignorance of Asiatic history. Asia has never embraced an ideal without universalising it. To profess the Christian faith and persist in confining the Christian ideal of human brotherhood to one's own nation strikes the Asiatic as a monstrous hypocrisy. Nor, as we have had occasion to remark before, has an ideal had to win its way to the heart of the Orient through a welter of its martyr's blood, as has been the case with all kinds of ideals in Europe. This is the secret of the willingness and readiness with which the monarchies of Asia are democratising the constitutions of their country. The period of English History dating from 1066 and ending with 1832, the Shah of Persia has had the magnanimity to summarise into a few years of Persian History. It is therefore that the average Indian who has studied England's history and literature feels so extremely perplexed, and is just now beginning to feel indignant at her strenuous and persistent refusal to give India that liberty which she has so prized all through her history.

England, on the other hand, and quite consistently enough thinks she is rightly acting in withholding from the Indian the citizenship of the British Empire, for in so doing she is strictly in the wake of European tradition, and has the full justification of history as she has known and understood it. And consequently John Morley hastens to remind Indians of the “weary steps” necessary before they can attain liberty, the weary steps that the countries of Europe have had to traverse before they secured it.

We fully understand the import of the latest speech of the Indian Secretary, and of the latest outburst of the British Democracy – India will only have liberty when she has the strength, physical and moral, to wrench it from the selfish grasp of the ruling country.


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: Hindustan


2 1973 ed. SABCL, vol.1: is