Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. December 12, 1907
About Unmistakable Terms
We answered yesterday in general terms the claim advanced in the columns of the Bengalee to implicit and blind obedience from all Bengalis to the Calcutta Moderate leaders and to any local representatives of loyalty and moderation whom they may be pleased to erect to the gaze of an adoring public. But the Bengalee's article contained also certain passages which demand more direct and plain-spoken answers1 and this today we will give. The Bengalee, not contented with its arrogant demand for submission, goes on to declare that the Nationalists, because they refuse this claim, are traitors to their country, that the men who opposed Mr. Chitnavis' autocracy at Nagpur or Sir Pherozshah's at Calcutta or Mr. K. B. Dutt's at Midnapur2 are rowdies and the Nationalist leaders, Mr. Tilak and Mr. Khaparde in the West of3 Srijuts Bepin4 Pal, Aurobindo Ghose or Brahmabandhab Upadhyay in Calcutta have been abettors of rowdies, and it calls on the whole country to speak out in unmistakable terms against us. Unmistakable terms? Well, then, let us have an understanding about terms, to begin with. What is the definition of a traitor to his country? Are men traitors who have exposed themselves to persecution, imprisonment and harassment for the sake of their country? Are those traitors who have made large sacrifices and devoted themselves to the cause of the Motherland? Or are those young men traitors who have stood in the forefront of the battle of boycott, braving the full fury of the bureaucrats and their police, and but for whom the boycott agitation would have flagged and perished after the first six months of excitement? The Bengalee says they are: for they may have done all these things, and yet if they oppose Mr. K. B. Dutt or Srijut Surendranath, they are traitors to their country. On the other hand, have not those rather the complexion of traitors who are ready to call in police assistance against their countrymen in a Swadeshi conference although there has been no riot or violence, who boast that the police are in their hands and they can get all arrested who oppose them, who are ready to forget all the oppression from Barisal till now and call in Magistrates and police superintendents to the place of honour in national meetings, who are ready to take the lathis out of the hands of volunteers to please a District official? Or those, to take other examples, who wrote with brilliant success to Anglo-Indian papers to get Mr. Tilak prosecuted at the time of the Poona murders? Or those who pointed out Lala Lajpat Rai to the bureaucracy as the man to strike at when the Punjab was in a ferment over the Colonisation Bill? But, by the Bengalee's reasoning, men may be the moral descendants of Mir Jafar and Jagat Seth and yet be excellent patriots so long as they obey Moderate leaders and respect age and authority.
The second term we want to see so defined as to be unmistakable, is the term “leaders”. The Bengalee calls for discipline and submission to leadership, but who are the leaders to whom we are to yield this unquestioning military obedience? What is the qualification in Mr. K. B. Dutt of Midnapur5, for instance, by virtue of which we are called upon to sacrifice for his sake our national self-respect, our convictions, and our natural right to a free exercise of our individual reason and conscience? The Bengalee talks of age, but it is preposterous to set up age by itself as the claim to leadership in politics; nor did the Moderate leaders themselves show an overwhelming deference to age when they were themselves younger and more ardent. Respect for age as a part of social discipline we can understand, but leadership by seniority is a new doctrine. Then again the Bengalee talks of authority. What authority? The authority of social position, wealth, professional success? Are we to obey Mr. K. B. Dutt because he is the leader of the Midnapur6 bar just as the East Bengal Mahomedans obey Salimullah because he is the Nawab of Dacca? We decline to accept any such law of obedience. Authority is always a delegated power which does not rest in the individual but proceeds to him from a definite source and returns to that source. Official authority proceeds from an organised government executing the law which can both delegate its power to individuals and take them away again as it pleases. In popular movements the people are the only source from which authority can proceed. The people follow a leader because he best interprets their ideas, aims and feelings or because he shows himself the best fitted to organise7 and lead the popular forces to the realisation of popular aspirations and ideals, and the moment their confidence is shaken, the moment they begin to think he does not represent their best ideas and aspirations or that his methods of leadership are mistaken, the authority begins to depart out of him. There can be no other kind of authority in democratic politics, nor can popular leadership be self-constituted. Those who demand military obedience to self-constituted leaders are not preparing self-government but killing it, striking at its very roots. If what the Moderate leaders want is to replace bureaucracy not by popular self-government but by the government of particular persons or classes, if they want the movement to be not democratic but oligarchic, or plutocratic, let them say so clearly, in God's name and let us have done with this juggling with words, and henceforward on both sides “speak in unmistakable terms”.
Finally, while we are about defining terms, let us know when a man becomes President of a Conference or Congress session. The Bengalee says, “The attempt that was made to heckle the President and to bring into contempt his position as the head of the Conference was unique in the history of our Conferences and Congresses. We never witnessed in the whole course of our public life a proceeding... so derogatory to the authority of the President.” The “heckling” took place before Mr. K. B. Dutt was elected, when the President's chair was vacant. Are we then to suppose that a man becomes President before he is elected? It is curious that Mr. K. B. Dutt himself made this unwarrantable claim when the trouble first began. By custom the Reception Committee designates a President but the decision of the Committee has no binding force on the delegates of the Conference who have always the power to elect any one else whom they may prefer and not till a public confirmation by the votes of the delegates, has the President designated by the Reception Committee any authority or tenure of office. Until then he is merely a public man nominated for a particular function and the public have every right to “heckle” him so as to be sure that he will properly represent them before they give him their votes. Because till now this right has not been enforced, it does not follow that the public has forfeited its right, nor are we bound by “traditions” which mean simply the absence of lively popular interest and have no sanction in any reasonable principle of procedure.
The Bengalee sets up discipline as the one requisite of a popular movement and to back up its proposition it is so ill-advised as to quote the example of Parnell and his solid Irish phalanx. The choice of this example shows a singular ignorance of English politics. Before Parnell's advent, the Irish Party in Parliament was a moderate party of Irish Liberals of very much the same nature as the old Congress Party before the Boycott. It was balanced in Ireland by a revolutionary organisation using the most violent means employed by secret societies. When Parnell first appeared on the scene, his first action was to revolt against the leader of the Irish Party and make a party of his own. Consisting at first of a mere handful it soon captured the whole of Ireland and created the solid phalanx. But what was the secret of Parnell's success? Parnell, unlike our Moderate leaders, did not dwarf the ideal of a national movement but always held the absolute independence of his country as the goal: he made it a fixed principle to accept no half-way house between independence and subjection short of an Irish Parliament with independent powers; he suffered no man to enter his party who did not pledge himself to refuse all office, honour or emolument from the alien government and he showed his people a better way of agitation than mere dependence on England on one side and secret outrage on the other – the way of passive resistance, obstruction in Parliament and refusal of rent in the country. Only so could Parnell succeed in creating the solid phalanx, and when it was broken, it was by the folly of his adherents who receded from his principles and sacrificed their leader at the bidding of an English statesman. If Srijut Surendranath wishes to have the country solid behind him, he must be a Parnell first and not shrink from a Parnellite policy and ideals. Only clear principles and unambiguous conduct can secure implicit obedience.
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: answer
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Midnapore
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: or
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Midnapore
6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Midnapore
7 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: organize