Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. December 3, 1907
Personality or Principle
Our contemporary, the Punjabee, has in its last issue a balanced and carefully impartial comment on the Congress trouble and the action of the All-India Congress Committee, or rather of Sir Pherozshah Mehta in the exercise of his role of Congress Lion and Dictator. There is one remark of our contemporary's, however, which seems to us unfair to the Nationalist Party and with which therefore we feel bound to join issue. He censures the Nagpur Nationalists for forcing on a division in the camp over a personal question like the election of Mr. Tilak as President. The question of the Presidentship is, in his opinion, not only a purely personal issue but also extremely trivial, as the President has no function of importance and a democratic body like the Congress ought not to make a vital issue out of a nomination to a purely honorific post. We have already given our reasons for originally raising and still persisting in this question and we again assert that we are not swayed in the slightest degree by personal questions. It will not raise Mr. Tilak in our eyes if he becomes President, it will not lower him in our eyes if he is never nominated. To a certain extent the Presidentship is a position of honour, and so far as it is so, a man of ability and reputation, an acknowledged leader and moulder of opinion, who has suffered courageously for the country is entitled to that honour. But that is not the position we take. The Presidentship is in our view much more a position of responsibility and service. We cannot agree that it is of no importance who is chosen to fill the chair, even if the Congress be a democratic body, which, as at present constituted and conducted, it is not. In no democratic assembly is the choice of the President, whether he be a virtual ruler, as in America, or only a Moderator, as in France, a question of no importance. Our Congress is not as yet either a deliberative or a legislative body, but even so the Presidentship is a function of considerable importance. The President is the embodiment to all observers of the dignity and personality of that year's session and as such his address, though it may not be binding on the whole body, is an utterance of great weight and is or ought to be largely indicative of the national temper and policy. The Congress shows the importance it attaches to his address by devoting the first day to it, an arrangement which, if the address has no weight or value as a manifesto of Congress views and policy, is an absurd and reprehensible waste of time. Besides, the President is a moderator of debate in the Subjects Committee, and of rule and decorum in the public sitting. When divided views are before the national gathering it depends on him whether all sides shall get a fair hearing and a chance of impressing their views on the Congress. We raised the question of Mr. Tilak's Presidentship at a time when Swadeshi was the question before the country partly in order that the most powerful Swadeshi worker in the country might pronounce for Swadeshi from the President's chair, and the Congress by electing him might show its sympathy with the movement. We made no secret of our object at the time and it was certainly not of a personal nature. But there was a second point at issue which was in the minds of all though it was never formulated, and this too was a point of principle, viz. that the Congress should not in any of its actions be influenced by the desire of bureaucratic favour or the fear of bureaucratic displeasure, that it should declare its complete independence as a body which looked to the people alone and not to the bureaucracy. This could not be better done than by the election of a great man and leader who was not a persona grata with the bureaucrats and had undergone sentence of imprisonment for the crime of patriotism. That is the real difficulty in the way of the Moderates' accepting Mr. Tilak and it is equally the reason why the Nationalists refuse to give up their point. An apparently personal question often conceals one of essential principle, even when the person is not as in this case a great patriot and leader. It was not for profligate John Wilkes that the people of Middlesex fought in the eighteenth century but for the liberty of the Press which was attacked in his person. We too fight not for honour to be done to a man however great and noble, but for the liberty of the Congress from all shadow of bureaucratic influence and its new creation as an independent, popular and democratic assembly.
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.