Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. November 5, 1907
Mr. Tilak and the Presidentship
While writing of the Nagpur imbroglio we have touched very lightly on the question of Mr. Tilak's Presidentship, the dispute over which was the beginning and real cause of the discord at Nagpur. We regard this issue as one of immense importance and shall today try to make clear our position in the matter and the reasons why we attach such a supreme importance to it. The Bombay Moderates with their usual skill in the use of their one strong weapon, misrepresentation, have been writing and speaking as if the question of Mr. Tilak's election to the President's chair were a personal issue; they blame Mr. Tilak for not withdrawing from the field, talk of us as Tilakites and assume throughout that we are fighting for a man and not for a principle. If it were a personal matter, Mr. Tilak who has always been an unselfish and unassuming patriot, always averse to pushing himself or to figuring personally more than was necessary for his work, always a strong fighter for the success of his ideas and methods but never for his own hand, would be the first to obviate all discord by withdrawing. But it is not a personal matter and Mr. Tilak has not himself come forward as a candidate for the Presidentship. His name was put forward last year by the Bengal Nationalists without consulting him and was again put forward this year as the embodiment of a principle. This being so, Mr. Tilak has no voice in the matter except as an individual member of the Nationalist Party, and is not entitled to withdraw his name except with the consent of his party. In fact, his personal right of accepting or refusing the Presidentship can only arise when and if it is offered him by the local Reception Committee or the All-India Committee. That the Moderates should not be able to understand this is natural; their conception of a leader and the Nationalist conception of a leader are as the poles asunder. Mr. Tilak by his past career, his unequalled abilities and capacity for leadership, his splendid courage and self-sacrifice, his services to the cause and the disinterestedness and devotion with which he used his influence, is naturally the most prominent of the Nationalist leaders, and our party looks up to his experience, skill, cool acuteness and moral strength for guidance on great occasions like the Congress session when it has to act as a single body. But our idea of a leader is not and will never be one whom we have to follow as an individual for his own sake, whether he is right or wrong; we follow him only so long as he is faithful to the principles of Nationalism and is ready to fight its battles in accordance with the collective will of the party.
The question was first raised last year in Bengal when at a meeting of the Nationalists in Calcutta it was decided to suggest to the country the name of Mr. Tilak as President of the Calcutta Congress and in accordance with this decision Srijut Bepin1 Chandra Pal, who was then touring in the Mofussil, was communicated with and asked to bring the question forward and take the sense of the public upon it in Eastern Bengal. We have never concealed the fact that this was deliberately done in order to throw down the gauntlet publicly to Loyalism, Anti-Swadeshism, Moderatism and every other ism which seeks to bring in foreign considerations and alloy or weaken the pure and uncompromising Nationalist creed. The nomination of Mr. Tilak was a crucial point as between the two parties, for three separate reasons. At that time the country was divided between the Swadeshists on principle and the Anti-Swadeshists – or, let us say, “honest” Swadeshists of the Mehta-Wacha2 type and still more sharply between Boycotters and those who trembled at the very name of Boycott. From this point of view, the attempt to secure Mr. Tilak's nomination was an attempt on our part to have the Swadeshi-Boycott propaganda recognised on the Congress platform. Secondly, there was and still is a small ring of Congress officials who treat the Congress as their own private property, decide in secret conclave what it shall do or not do, and hand round the Presidentship among themselves and the occasional newcomers admitted to their ranks from the Legislative Councils, except when a live M.P. can be secured from England or a Mahomedan had to be nominated to demonstrate Hindu-Musulman unity. The second object of the attempt to get Mr. Tilak nominated was to break through this oligarchic ring and establish the true nature of the Congress as no mere machinery to be engineered by a few wealthy or successful proprietors, but a popular assembly in which the will of the people must prevail. Thirdly, the opposition to Mr. Tilak and the attempt to force him always into the background arose largely from the feeling that Mr. Tilak's views and personality are objectionable to the bureaucracy and that the nomination of a public man once convicted of sedition would deprive the Congress and, what was more important to Loyalists, leading3 men of the Congress, of all chance of Government favour. But these very reasons which made the name of Mr. Tilak an offence and a stumbling-block to the Loyalists, imposed upon the Nationalist Party the duty of bringing forward Mr. Tilak's name year after year until he is elected. Leadership in the Congress must no longer be regarded as a convenient and profitable road to appointments on the Bench and in the Government Councils but as a post of danger and a position of service to the people and it must depend on service done and suffering endured for the cause and not in the slightest degree on bureaucratic approval, and the national movement must be recognised as a sacred cause which exists in its own right and cannot consent to be regulated by the smiles and frowns of the bureaucracy which it is its first object to displace. These are the principles for which our party are contending when they insist on Mr. Tilak's nomination and they are principles which are essential to the Nationalist position and are as living today as they were last year. The question of Mr. Tilak's Presidentship will be always with us until it is finally set at rest by his election, for until then we shall pass it year after year.
But so far as the Nagpur session is concerned, the question no longer exists. The attempt to make this question wholly responsible for the difficulty is disingenuous and the demand that Mr. Tilak should throw over his own party by a gratuitous refusal to be President if ever he is asked, so as to reassure irreconcilable Loyalists in their fears, is absolutely preposterous. The Nagpur Nationalists have put his name forward and they alone are competent to withdraw it. But such withdrawal is not necessary. They have failed to secure the necessary three-fourths majority and they can therefore no longer insist on his name unless they are asked to hold the Congress with their own funds. They are willing to withdraw in a body from the Reception Committee if the Moderates so desire; they are willing to co-operate on lines both definite and reasonable; and they are willing, if called upon, to hold the Congress with any Moderate President in the chair if the funds in Mr. Dixit's hands are paid in. But they are not willing to misappropriate public money for the Congress funds and they are not willing to walk into the Loyalist trap by an admission of any personal responsibility for the disturbances that have taken place, in the shape of a guarantee that no disturbance of any kind shall take place at the time of the Congress. Such a guarantee can only be given by those who were responsible for the rowdyism or instigated it, and this unwarrantable charge has already been emphatically denied by the leading Nationalists; to ask them to give a guarantee is to ask them to admit what they have already denied. If therefore the Moderates insist on these preposterous conditions, the public will know whom they have to blame.
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: Bipin
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Mehta-Watcha
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Loyalists and leading