Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. February 6, 1908
Revolutions and Leadership
Among many of those who are our leaders, there is a feeling of resentment against Nationalists because there is so little recognition of their past services, so strong a disposition to find fault with their actions and question their authority. It is asked of us whether we are going to upset all authority, disregard discipline and overthrow the natural pre-eminence of men who have long worked for their country. This question is the expression of an inevitable feeling of personal pique forced from them by the sense of exasperation which the loss of prestige and power cannot fail to create. If we answer this question at all, it is because it takes its stand on points of general importance instead of appearing in its native character of personal feeling. The authority of a political leader depends on his capacity to feel and express the sentiments of the people who follow him; it does not reside in himself. He holds his position because he is a representative man, not because he is such and such an individual. To take the position that because he has led in the past therefore his word must be law so long as he lives is to ignore the root principles of political life. This1 past service2 can only give him the claim to be regarded as leader3 in preference to others so long as he voices the sentiments of the people and keeps pace with the tendencies of the time. The moment he tries to misuse his position in order to impose his own will upon the people, instead of making their will his own, he forfeits all claim to respect. If he has fallen behind the times, his only course is to stand aside; but to demand that because he is there and wishes to remain, the march of the world shall wait upon his fears and hesitations is to make a claim against which the reason and conscience of humanity rebels.
What the Moderate leaders ask is that the immense revolution which has begun in India, shall ask for their permission before it chooses its course or rolls forward to its great goal. Like so many Canutes they set their chairs, Presidential or other, on the margin of the tide of Nationalism and looking over the stormy waters command them to respect their thrones and stay the upsurging wrath of their billows so that their robes may not be drenched by the spray. It is a vain and fantastic demand. This tide was not created by any human power, nor can any man impose on it a limit or a bourne. As well ask the thunderbolt to respect the tallest oaks or the avalanche to regulate the line of its descent so that ourselves may go safe, as ask this tremendous revolution to obey the will of the insignificant individuals whom chance has lifted to a momentary eminence. Nationalism is itself no creation of individuals and can have no respect for persons. It is a force which God has created, and from Him it has received only one command, to advance and advance and ever advance until He bids it stop, because its appointed mission is done. It advances, inexorably, blindly, unknowing how it advances, in obedience to a Power which it cannot gainsay, and every thing which stands in its way, man or institution, will be swept away, or ground into powder beneath its weight. Ancient sanctity, supreme authority, bygone popularity, nothing will serve as a plea.
It is not the fault of the avalanche if it sweeps away human life by its irresistible and unwilled advance; nor can it be imputed as moral obliquity to the thunderbolt that the oak of a thousand years stood precisely where its burning hand was laid. Not only the old leaders but any of the new men whom the tide has tossed up for a moment on the crest of its surges, must pay the penalty of imagining that he can control the ocean and impose on it his personal likes and desires. These are times of revolution when tomorrow casts aside the fame, popularity and pomp of today. The man whose carriage is today dragged through great cities by shouting thousands amid cries of “Bande Mataram” and showers of garlands, will tomorrow be disregarded, perhaps hissed and forbidden to speak. So it has always been and none can prevent it. How can such and such a barrister, editor, professor whom his personal talents have brought forward for a time, say to Revolution, “Thou shalt be my servant” or to Chaos, “I will use thee as the materials of my personal aggrandisement”? As the pace of the movement is accelerated, the number of those who are left behind will increase. Men who are now acclaimed as Extremists, leaders of the forward movement, preachers of Nationalism, and embodiments of the popular feeling will tomorrow find themselves left behind, cast aside, a living monument of the vanity of personal ambition. The old leaders claim eternal leadership because they have rendered services – some few eloquent speeches or well-written petitions to wit; but before we are much older, those who are serving their country by personal suffering and self-sacrifice will find that they too must not presume on their services. Only the self-abnegation which effaces the idea of self altogether and follows the course of the revolution with a childlike belief that God is the leader and what He does is for the best, will be able to continue working for the country. Such men are not led by personal ambition and cannot therefore be deterred from following the will of God by personal loss of any kind.
Revolutions are incalculable in their goings and absolutely uncontrollable. The sea flows and who shall tell it how it is to flow? The wind blows and what human wisdom can regulate its motions? The will of Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by that Wisdom. When our work is done, we should realise it and feel glad that we have been permitted to do so much. Is it not enough reward for the greatest services that we can do, if our names are recorded in History among those who helped by their work or their speech or better, by the mute service of their sufferings to prepare the great and free India that will be? Nay, is it not enough if unnamed and unrecorded except in the Books of God, we go down to the grave with the consciousness that our finger too was laid on the great Car and may have helped, however imperceptibly, to push it forward? This talk of services is a poor thing after all. Do we serve the Mother for a reward or do God's work for hire? The patriot lives for his country because he must; he dies for her because she demands it. That is all.
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: His
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: services
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: as a leader