Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. March 6, 1908
Back to the Land
The life of a nation is always rooted in its villages but that of India is so deeply and persistently rooted there that no change or revolution can ever substitute for this source of sap and life the Western system which makes the city the centre and the village a mere feeder of the city. Immense changes have taken place, great empires have risen and fallen, but India is still a nation of villagers, not of townsmen. This has been perhaps an obstacle to national unity but it has also been an assurance of national persistence. It is an ascertained principle of national existence that only by keeping possession of the soil can a nation persist; the mastery of the reins of government or the control of the trade and wealth of a country, does not give permanence to the people in control. They reign for a while and then the virtue departs out of them and they wither or pass away and another takes their place; but the tillers of the soil, ground down, oppressed, rack-rented, miserable, remain, and have always the chance of one day overthrowing their oppressors and coming by their own. When a small foreign oligarchy does the trading and governing and a great indigenous democracy the tilling of the soil, it is safe to prophesy that before many generations have passed the oligarchy of aliens will be no more and the democracy of peasants will still be in possession.
When the poison of Western education was first poured into our veins, it had its immediate effect, and the Hindus, who were then the majority of the Bengali-speaking population, began to stream away from the village to the town. The bait of Government service and the professions drew away the brightest intellects and the most energetic characters by their promise of wealth, prestige and position. They won for their community the rewards which they had set out to win. The Hindu community has now a monopoly of Government service, of the professions, of prestige, wealth and position; but it has lost possession of the soil, and with the loss of the soil it has sacrificed the source of life and permanence. The Amrita Bazar Patrika has long been drawing attention to the dwindling of the higher castes, and Mr. A. Chowdhuri at the Pabna Conference pointed out what has been known to the few for some time but not the general public, that this decrease is not confined to the higher castes but is common to the Hindu population. We are a decadent race, he cried, and inconsistent as the cry may seem with the splendid and leading position which the Bengali Hindu occupies in the public and intellectual life of the country, it is perfectly true. Intellectual prominence often goes hand in hand with decadence, as the history of the Greeks and other great nations of antiquity has proved; only the race which does not sacrifice the soundness of its rural root of life to the urban brilliance of its foliage and flowering, is in a sound condition and certain of permanence. If the present state of things is allowed to continue, the Mahomedan will be the inheritor of the future and after a brief period of national strength and splendour the Bengali Hindu, like the Greek, will disappear from the list of nations and remain only as a great name in history. Fortunately, the national movement has come in time to save him if he consents to be saved. With the deepening of the movement, as it turns its eyes more and more inwards, it is earning wisdom and acquiring insight, and one of the more powerful tendencies of the moment is the reversion of interest to the village. Srijut Jogesh Chowdhuri has an instinct for the need of the moment and just as he threw himself into Swadeshi activity long before the leaders of the hour awoke to its importance, so now he has started his Palli Samaj propaganda while the rest of the political leaders are unable to extend their view beyond the fields of activity already conquered. Srijut Rabindranath Tagore at Pabna laid stress on the same necessity. “Back to the land,” is a cry which must swell with time and, if the Bengali Hindu is wise, he will listen and obey. Swadeshi was the most pressing need of the nation till now, because we were threatened with a commercial depletion which would have rendered agricultural life impossible by turning famine into a chronic disease. The peasant must live if he is to keep possession of the soil, and a flourishing national commerce is the only sure preventive of famine. But now Swadeshi has become an integral part of our politics, the gradual growth of Indian industry is assured until this growth is complete, the struggle with famine will continue and this also is getting to be recognised as an essential part of our political activity. We must now turn to the one field of work in this direction which we have most neglected, the field of agriculture. The return to the land is as essential to our salvation as the development of Swadeshi or the fight against famine. If we train our young men to go back to the fields, we shall secure the perpetuation of the Hindu in Bengal which is now imperilled. They will be able to become mentors, leaders and examples to the village population and by introducing better methods of agriculture and habits of thrift and foresight and by organising the institution of Dharmagolas and securing more equal position for the peasant in his dealings with the merchant and the moneylender they will materially assist the Swadeshi manufacturer and the organiser of famine relief in the fight for survival. To settle more Hindu agriculturists on the land is the first necessity if the Hindu is to survive.
National Education has followed the trend of the political movement and its first energies have been devoted to literary and technical instruction. In the latter branch it has already, in spite of insufficient help from the public, achieved a signal success; if it has been able to make only a beginning, yet that beginning has been so sound, so admirably and intelligently done, that we can already perceive in this little seed the mighty tree of the future. We understand that the literary instruction is now being organised with a view to make the College in Calcutta a home of learning and fruitful research as well as a nursery of intelligence and character. But we look to the organisers of the College to make equal provision for agricultural training, so that a field may be created for its students on the soil whence all national life draws its sap of permanence. The establishment of the Pabna School is of good omen in this respect, but a single institution in East Bengal will not be sufficient, as the conditions of Pabna are not universal in Bengal, and model farms on drier soil such as we have in Comilla and West Bengal will also be needed. If the work is taken in hand from now, it will not be a moment too soon, for the problem is urgent in its call for a solution, and the mere organisation of village associations will be only partially effective if it is not backed up by a system of instruction which will bring the educated Hindu back to the soil as a farmer himself and a local leader of the peasantry of the race.
This work was not reprinted in the CWSA and it was not compared with other editions.