Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. March 24, 1908
Exclusion or Unity?
We dealt yesterday with the question of the function of the Congress, whether it should be merely to focus public opinion and proceed no farther or to gather up the life of the nation and deploy its strength in a struggle for national self-assertion.
When this question is decided, the next which arises is that of the aim towards which the Congress is to work. If its function is merely to focus public opinion, its aim can only be to submit grievances to the Government for redress, to beg for privileges and to petition for favours. It will then admit the absolute authority of the bureaucracy and fulfil the purpose of collective petitioning instead of leaving each individual class or community to approach the omnipotent seat of power by itself. The absolute rule of the Moghuls1 admitted this right of petition; it recognised2 no status in the applicant; it offered no promise of justice, but decided according to the will of the sovereign. The position of the Congress in that case is no better than that of the suitor at the justice seat of Akbar or Aurangzebe3. To ask without strength, to aspire without effort, to submit if refused by the sovereign power, will be the limit of its duties. The negation of national life which this attitude implies, is too reactionary to have a chance of acceptance. If the few who cling to these mediaeval notions, desire to keep the Congress to a role so beggarly, they must, when they enter the Congress Pandal, leave the nation outside. For a time by raising party cries and confusing issues they may get the bulk of the Moderate Party to follow them, but the moment they show their hand, there will be a second split and they will be left alone with a handful of well-to-do men on the Congress platform.
The function of the Congress must obviously be to gather the life of the nation together for the purpose of national self-assertion. The question which divides us is as to the nature and extent of that self-assertion. Whether we are to carry the self-assertion to its logical conclusion or to stop halfway, whether we are to separate ourselves from association with the Government or combine association with opposition, whether we are to use boycott as a local protest against a local grievance or a grand universal means of establishing a State within the State, these are the points at issue between the Moderate Party and the Nationalists. The Nationalists desire Swaraj, the Moderates desire Colonial Self-government. The Nationalists wish to exclude all petitionary resolutions, all, that is to say, which depend on the will of the bureaucracy for their execution and not on our own exertions; they would keep the deliberative side of the Congress for ascertaining the sense of the nation as to the work which should be done and the principles which should govern it, and would add a working or executive side to review the work already done, settle the future programme and supervise its execution. The Moderates wish to keep the petitionary side of the Congress as its chief function, but to admit a certain amount of self-help as a subordinate feature. Finally, the Nationalists proclaim the boycott as a movement of secession by which the nation can gradually withdraw itself from association with a control in which it has no voice or share and assert its own and separate life; the Moderates will not have a boycott movement at any price and are prepared only to admit a commercial boycott as temporary local action to bring about the redress of local grievances. The minor questions which divide the parties have no importance by themselves and would not give any trouble if there were no4 acute feeling engendered by these important differences of opinion or principle.
The importance of these differences cannot be denied and ought not to be belittled. We cannot agree with those who try to smooth over difficulties by saying that they do not exist or that there are no parties. This evasion of great political issues, this attempt to slink away from disagreeable facts and shirk the inevitable is likely to discourage the growth of a robust political sense in the people. People5 with a sound political instinct always take care to recognise and give their proper importance to great issues. They welcome keen discussion and even contention and eager struggle over them, but they do not allow these differences to override the sense of national unity or the struggle of parties to degenerate into a war of factions. This is the only sound way to deal with the difficulty, not by the principle of exclusion, not by breaking apart into sectional bodies and destroying the chance of a regular progression towards a single coherent and self-conscious political life, but by the principle of inclusion, by admitting differences of opinion, regulating procedure and accepting the result. The Nationalists are not in favour of Colonial Self-government as an ultimate ideal, but they accepted the resolution on Self-government as an expression of the immediate aim of the Congress at Calcutta, because they knew that the bulk of the nation was not yet prepared to accept Swaraj as an immediate purpose. They are in favour of boycott as an universal movement throughout India, but they accepted its restriction to Bengal because other provinces were not yet ready to declare in favour of boycott. They are always ready in principle to accept the decision of the Congress for the time being, reserving the right to get that decision altered in the future. The severity of the struggle at Surat was due to the attempt to use a local majority in order to effect a revolution in the Congress constitution, which would turn it into a Moderate Congress and exclude the Nationalist element altogether. They took strong exception to any use of this local majority for altering the mutual composition arrived at by common consent at Calcutta, and decided to record their protest by opposing on all contested points beginning from the election of the President, but they had no intention of seceding even if the Calcutta resolutions were dropped or modified; they would simply have strained every nerve to get the wrong redressed at the next session. This attitude which was clear from the speech and action of the Nationalist leaders throughout, has been obscured by the cry raised against them of wrecking the Congress and the falsehoods which not only attributed the whole blame of the second day's disturbance to them but represented it as preconceived by them and deliberately planned. The Nationalist Party recognises only one sufficient ground for secession, a resolution, constitution or procedure expressly or practically excluding them from the pale of the Congress. Temporary withdrawal as a protest not against the nature of the resolutions passed but against unconstitutional procedure, stands on a different footing and has been often practised, by the Punjab, for instance, when it abstained for several years from the Congress because of the arbitrary refusal to allow the question of the constitution to be dealt with or properly raised.
This we hold to be the only possible attitude if an organised political unity is to be achieved. Full right of discussion, free use of every legitimate means of protest, but not secession on account of opinions. The Moderate Party outside Bengal is, at present, keen for separation. It holds the view, loudly preached by the Bombay papers, that if certain resolutions are passed, if a certain colour is given to the proceedings of the body or to agitation carried on by any section of its members in the country, they are not only entitled but bound to withdraw if they are in the minority or to expel the Nationalists if they are in the majority. They seem to base this view on two grounds, first, that they cannot allow opinions not their own to be expressed in Congress resolutions, secondly, that such opinions or political association with those who hold them, will discredit Congress in the eyes of the Government. The first presupposes either a claim to hold the Congress as their personal property or an intolerance which is consistent6 with the essential conditions of a self-governing body; the second, either a dependence on bureaucratic in place of public opinion which is also incompatible with the spirit of self-government or an implied right of control by bureaucratic influence which no patriot will admit. We assert the right of the Congress to determine its own aims, functions, aspirations, constitution; we do not admit the right of any party sitting in convention to determine them for the Congress. If the Moderates desire to have the creed of the Congress fixed, they must get it done by the Congress, which is alone competent to decide the question, they7 must not couple it with a proviso of exclusion against those who cannot subscribe to every article of the creed. The ideal of the Congress may be complete Self-government or it may be partial, its methods may be petitionary or they may be self-assertive. That is a question not of constitution but of the balance of opinion. The only constitutional question to be decided in connection with the determination of the aim or ideal is whether those who pitch their ideal either higher or lower than the precise key settled at a particular session are to be excluded in future or admitted, whether the Congress is to be a stationary and sectional body or comprehensiveness is to be aimed at and progress and movement to be allowed.
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: Moguls
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: recognized
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Aurangzeb
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: not
5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Peoples
6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: inconsistent
7 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: and