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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. November 19, 1907

Bureaucratic Policy

The policy of the bureaucracy at the present moment would be a curious study to any dispassionate observer of politics. It is not an unmixed and fearless policy of repression, yet the repression, wherever entered on, is as thoroughgoing, ruthless and without scruple as the most virulent advocate of the strong hand could desire. It is not a policy of frank and wise concession, though concessions of a kind are fitfully made with no very apparent rhyme or reason. A Coercion Act is put upon the Statute-book of the most thoroughly Russian severity; it is supposed to be passed in hot haste to meet a crisis of an exceptional kind and to be urgently and imperatively demanded by the Chief Bureaucrats of three provinces who decline to be responsible otherwise for the preservation of peace and the British rule within their respective jurisdictions; yet when it has been passed, it is only applied to a single district in the whole of India. The protests of Moderate politicians against the deportations and their urgent pleas for the release of the prisoners in Mandalay are brushed aside with contempt, yet the very next news is that Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh are released and on their way homeward. Simla, vowing it will ne'er consent, has consented. On the other hand Liakat Hossain1 is pursued with relentless severity, a politically-minded High Court Bench discharges with a contemptuous impatience the appeals brought before it in political cases, and the wholesale persecutions of young men in the mofussil centres and the campaign against the Nationalist Press does not relax. The official explanation given by the Englishman is that the Extremists have collapsed, Sir Pherozshah Mehta is once more master of the situation, the Moderate Party has come suddenly by its own and the Government recognising its own victory and the victory of its friends, is willing and can afford to be generous. With all respect to Hare Street we will offer another explanation which we think will be found nearer to the mark.

The policy of the Anglo-Indian bureaucrats has always been checked by their strong sense of the weakness of their position in India. They know perfectly well that if the whole population of India gets to be infected by the enthusiastic beliefs and insurgent spirit of Nationalism, their present absolute sway over the country will at once become an impossibility. They know that the almost universal conversion of the educated class to Nationalism is a contingency of the near future and that Nationalism having once taken possession of the educated class must immediately proceed to invade the masses; such a consummation is sure to be immensely hastened by a policy of unflinching repression which will alienate the whole educated community. The bureaucracy have indeed no love for the educated class, and the policy dearest to their hearts would be to create in the masses a counterpoise to the intellectuals, such as another bureaucracy once hoped to create in Russia. It is not likely that they will fix any permanent hope, still less their main hope, on the policy of setting Hindu and Mahomedan by the ears by an unstinted pampering of the latter community, however thoroughly they may have resorted to that expedient in the terror of the moment; for by doing so they will not only help to weld the Hindu population into a homogeneous whole, but they will be creating a new and dangerous power in the country in a Mahomedan community excited by new hopes and eager to recover their old ascendency. On the other hand, the masses under present circumstances are not easily accessible to a foreign and unsympathetic handful of aliens chiefly known to them through a corrupt, brutal and cruelly oppressive police, while the work of educating them into loyalty will take a long time and may be no less a failure in the end than the old plan of creating a permanently loyal middle class as a support to foreign rule against the regrets of the aristocracy and the possible fanaticism of the masses. Awaiting therefore the launching and success of their experiment with the masses the bureaucrats would like to keep the more pliable portion of the educated classes as long as possible in their own hands and set them against Nationalism. But they are not prepared to purchase this support at the sacrifice of any least fragment of their absolute authority and irresponsible power; they are only willing to appease the rising unrest by sham concessions or any temporary and isolated step which will not affect their prestige or their authority. The difficulty is that with the exception of the Loyalist section of the Moderate Party led by men like Sir Pherozshah Mehta, no one would be satisfied with apparent concessions sufficient only to meet the claims of the wealthier upper ten of the educated community to titles, honour and position; the more advanced section which places patriotism before loyalty demand2 in addition such a substantial concession as would in their opinion pave the way for complete self-government in the future; but this the bureaucracy are not prepared to concede. Yet the Loyalists are precisely those whose support is least worth having. Really strong in commercial centres like Bombay and Surat, wearing an appearance only of strength, in other parts where Nationalism has not yet put forth a strength, it is a waning force constitutionally prone to inertia and incapable of exciting enthusiasm.

Such is the position which the bureaucrats have to face, and once we realise it their policy becomes quite coherent and intelligible. They have to be prepared against the possibility of the flood of Nationalism submerging the whole country in spite of all the dams they may erect, and for this reason they are arming themselves with extraordinary powers which will enable them to check its future expansion and crush it where it has already established itself. At the present moment they hope to get it under without persisting in a general repression which would drive the whole educated community into the Nationalist camp. They have got Bepin3 Pal and Liakat under lock and key, Brahmabandhab is dead, Aswin4 Dutta may be paralysed by a rigorous enforcement of the new Act in Backergunge5, and of all the more powerful Nationalist speakers and writers one or two only have so far escaped the attack made upon them. The bureaucracy may well hope that the back of the movement is broken and relax their legal thumbscrew, at least until they have seen what Sir Pherozshah can do at Surat. Any fresh development of Nationalism they are prepared to meet by ruthless repression. Wherever they see it spreading itself by open propaganda, they will forthwith6 apply the Gagging Act; wherever it spreads by its own force without the aid of the platform they will attack it through the young men as at Rangpur, Dinajpur, Dacca and Midnapur7, and whatever leader or active propagandist comes forward, they will find some pretext to thrust into prison. Meanwhile they will pursue their policy of isolating the movement, locally by crushing it where it is bold and vehement while they will play with and indulge it for a time where it is milder and more cautious, politically by setting all other forces in the country against it.

This is their second line of defence, to find for themselves as many points of support as possible against Indian Nationalism amongst the Indians themselves. Their first hope is in the Mahomedans whom they will encourage enough to buy their hostility to the Hindus, but not enough to make them really powerful or give an impetus to a Mahomedan revival. Their second hope is in the landed aristocracy whom they broke and ground into the dust with the aid of the newly created middle class and would now call in in their turn to help in crushing that very middle class grown too powerful for its creator. Their third hope is in the masses whom they expect to dominate partly by a carefully-conceived primary education, partly by decentralising their administration sufficiently to give the District Officer direct touch with and autocratic control over the peasantry and partly by creating in officially-controlled Panchayets8 instruments of check and supervision among the masses themselves. Their fourth point of support is in the Loyalist-cum-Moderate Party in the Congress. It is to keep the way open for a reconciliation with that party that Lajpat Rai has been released, the Gagging Act kept in abeyance outside Backergunge9 and overtures made in the demi-official Press, notably in such foul-mouthed revilers of all educated India as the C. M. Gazette and the Englishman to the more sensible and sober elements in the Congress. The word has gone round to rally the Moderates to the Government and that party is notified by act and word that if they will accept the olive branch, be even temporarily satisfied with Mr. Morley's reforms and dissociate themselves from Boycott, Swaraj and Extremism, the bureaucracy will not confound them in one common ruin with the Extremists, but on the contrary give them its paternal blessing and a fair number of new playthings.

Such is the complete Minto-Morley policy as it now stands developed, and nobody will deny that, subject to the incurable defects of the bureaucratic position in India and the overruling decrees of Providence, it is a well-planned and skilful policy. The question is “what chance has it of success? and what should be the line taken by the Nationalist Party to frustrate this curious mixture of force and guile?” That is the chief problem to which we have now to turn our attention.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.

1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Hussain


2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: demands


3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin


4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Aswini


5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bakarganj


6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: forth with


7 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Midnapore


8 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Panchayats


9 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bakarganj