Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. November 2, 1907
How to Meet the Inevitable Repression
The Swadeshi that you have started in Bengal is a move in the right direction, said some highly placed members of the Indian Civil Service to an Indian on their way back to this country from England; but they continued, we shall try to break the back of it in every possible way, we shall put the staying power of the Bengalee people to the severest test, before we allow them to develop their new nationalism. Thus spoke they, and what has happened since has certainly been singularly confirmatory of their frank avowal. The Declaration of the 7th of August, 1905, came as a surprise upon the English people; to their discerning ear trained hereditarily to true and false political notes, the resolution of the people of Bengal to live of their own and not to repose any longer on an unmanly faith in England's charity and benevolence, sounded like the very death-knell of the Anglo-Indian autocracy. The consciousness of potential strength that lay at the bottom of the people's determination to boycott English goods would, as it developed, inevitably render England's arbitrary tenure of power in India progressively difficult to maintain. The oversea overlords therefore made up their mind at the very outset to crush this ominous phenomenon in Bengal. But the Briton is by nature an optimist, a born believer in his own immense power and in the insignificance of others. And thus, though visited by a secret dread of ultimate possibilities, he at first nursed the fond illusion that the discontent in Bengal was only a mere surface-simmer, the Declaration of the 7th a mere petulant outcry, that the boycott was an impossibility in Bengal because it required for its success a higher patriotism than was to be expected of the Bengalee character. And many English people in England as well as in this country kept speaking in this strain for sometime, always finishing up with the confident and pleasant prediction that the Boycott movement in Bengal was doomed to a speedy and complete failure. It is this condition of the British mind that accounts for the somewhat mental attitude of the Government during the first phase of the movement in Bengal. But as soon as the success of the boycotters was patently manifest in the substantial and steady diminution of the imports from England, the self-assurance of the English people and their scepticism of the Bengalee character vanished into thin air, and they definitely launched upon their policy of “breaking the back of the movement”.
The country must fully realise the seriousness of the struggle on which it has entered with the Bureaucracy; it must be strong enough to withstand and triumph over the most merciless act of hostility from an immensely powerful opponent. To extinguish the boycott at any cost is clearly now the one policy of the Anglo-Indian autocrats. The weapons in their hands are many, some possessed of such subtle potency as easily to elude the comprehension of those who are not always on their guard. The policy of breaking up the dawning sense of Indian nationality into a congeries of conflicting forces that have been initiated under the guise of reform by the Secretary of State who happens, by the way, to be a commentator of the Prince of Machiavelli, shows the consummate cunning of the foe with whom we have joined action on behalf of our country. The treatment meted out to Liakat Hossain, Saroda Charan Sen and the Printer of the Sandhya gives us a glimpse of the relentlessness that we must be prepared as a nation to face; the protected hooliganism that fell like a scourge on the city but a few days ago, is a luminous indication of what is to come with increasing intensity (does it not remind one of very similar happenings at Naples in the days of Austrian tyranny?) The Seditious Meetings Bill that has been ushered into birth with such a blare of the legislative trumpet shows the boldness with which the Bureaucracy can fling defiance in the face of those who have dared to dream of Indian unity. And behind it all can you hear the roar – like that which the Christian martyrs heard when the gentler methods of persuasion had failed to shake their Christianity?
Providence has however simplified our task. Nowhere in the world has an absolutism been so helplessly dependent on the loyalty and cooperation of those over whom it is set. The day that cooperation comes to a stop the English cease to be the rulers of this country. And it is this that sets a strict limit to the extent to which the Indian Government can carry on its repressive policy. There are acts from which even the Indian police will recoil with horror; there are policies against which even the loyal Subordinate Civil Service will revolt; and such acts and policies therefore are beyond the range of practical politics in this country – acts and policies of which we consantly read in connexion with the Russian and Turkish tyrannies. No one could accuse us of the intention to minimise to the country the immensity of the sacrifice it must nerve itself to face in the struggle with the powers that be; but at the same time we do not agree with those who turn away from the thought of liberty because it must necessarily involve the country, they think, in all those bloodcurdling inhumanities which they have read of, say, in the memoirs of Prince Kuropatkin. The position of the Indian Government, it must be borne in mind, is much less secure than that of any other Government in the world. Many Englishmen, not unpossessed of some culture and learning, were grossly scandalised to see Bepin Chandra Pal going about freely after he had refused to give evidence in the case against the Bande Mataram; he would have been hurried into Newgate the very next moment after his refusal to help the prosecution, had he been in England, they said, or he would have been immediately led off to Siberia had he been guilty of a similar defiance of the Government in Russia. The obvious answer to these plaintive hypotheses was that the Indian Government possesses none of that strength that is enjoyed by the Government either in England or Russia. In our national preparation against arbitrary rule we must not be wanting in a correct appreciation of our own strength and of the points of weakness of our opponents. The problem of the Bureaucracy, to state it finally, is to push its policy of repression against the Indian Nationalists as far as it can without alienating the moral sympathy of those on whose collaboration their tenure of power rests.
Our duty is thus obviously to train up the moral consciousness of our people to that level of development at which it will refuse as a whole to tolerate for any space of time at all the rule of the few over the many. And in doing this work we must press up all the avenues that lead to the common goal. The missionary work of preaching the ideal of self-rule in every part of the country, as the essential precondition of our National realisation, is of course of superlative importance, and the bold and unflinching facing of persecution in the faithful discharge of this sacred task is of equal service. But apart from this work we must also endeavour to foster the growth of those conditions that favour the easy and rapid germination of the love of liberty. Even a cursory glance at Indian life would convince everybody that it is only in the independent professions in our country that the ideal of Indian liberty struck its first root and is now most widely prevalent. The vast majority of our educated countrymen are absorbed in Governmental or quasi-Governmental services where the growth of the liberty ideal is naturally inhibited and where at best it acquires but a stunted development, being condemned from birth to deafness and dumbness. It would be difficult to think of anything more ruinously unfortunate for a country than that the greater majority of its educated men should be debarred throughout the most fruitful period of their life from participation in patriotic work, should be robbed of their only chance of livelihood if they ever happened to give explicit utterance to their love for the land that gave them birth. One can easily realise how unspeakably demoralising the influences of such a service must be, and yet the overwhelming proportion of our educated countrymen are constantly subject to them. The only way to remove this gross anomaly is to create rival sources of employment which will provide Indians an independent living. The existing professions are too few for this purpose, and are, further, filled already to choking. The only adequate means to this end is therefore the industrial development of the country which will open to our present and coming generations a much more attractive and promising avenue of employment than the services, the strictly subordinate services, let us not forget, of the alien Bureaucracy. The uprise of a numerous industrial class will thus spell a great and invaluable accession of strength to the political interest of the country. It is this that lends to the question of India's industrial development its main fascination and interest, and serves to remind us forcibly of the vital interaction that exists between the different branches of human activity. The stir and activity in the various industries of the country that have already been caused by the Swadeshi boycott movement is full of happy augury. We must strain every nerve to fill the whole country with trained industrial ability, we must send our young men in hundreds and thousands all over the world to learn the scientific methods of production so that India may in a very few years be covered with a network of industrial centres that will supply work to hundreds of thousands of our educated men, and rescue them from the inanition of a living death in Government service. The work already begun in this direction by the Association for the Advancement of Scientific and Industrial Training of Indians cannot be too much praised and deserves the most liberal encouragement. How very many more Basantas we may very reasonably expect to see rising up in an industrial India, ready to court suffering in the name of the Motherland.
And besides, the successful working of the handful of trades union in Bengal mostly composed as yet of illiterate men, certainly give us a most promising insight into the latent possibilities that lie in the direction of a general policy of passive resistance that may be adopted by the country. If the people of India are one day to signify their intolerance of arbitrary rule, it will very probably be, as Seely and Meredith Townsend foretell, by a general declaration of passive resistance. And before we can expect our countrymen in the services seriously to entertain the thought of refusing to serve the Bureaucracy, we must see that the country has other means of obtaining their subsistence to offer them.
This work was not reprinted in the CWSA and it was not compared with other editions.