Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 18, 1908
Conventionalist and Nationalist
If we look to the pros and cons of the controversy between Conventionalists and Nationalists, we shall be placed in a better position to understand the real aim of the Moderates in putting the barrier of a creed between themselves and the people. In the first place, a part of the quarrel is over ultimate ideals: the Conventionalists are for the declaration of Colonial Self-Government as the goal of our efforts, the Nationalists for Swaraj without any qualification. Whatever the rights of the controversy, the ideal of the Conventionalists has been accepted in the form of a resolution by the Congress, and as a resolution but not a binding creed it has been submitted to by the Nationalists because it was the will of the majority. A creed is a matter of belief and conscience, a resolution a matter of policy; – and while no conscientious man will accept a creed which he does not believe, he can always submit as a good citizen to the will of the majority in matters of temporary policy. We are not concerned at present with the question whether such submission is imperative in all cases. It is sufficient that the Nationalists while preserving the liberty of every free mind to propagate their own doctrines and get them enforced wherever possible, have submitted to the Colonial Self-Government resolution as a part of the compromise unanimously arrived at in Calcutta. What need was there then of foisting a creed on the Congress? The object of the creed is to exclude the Nationalists, but the exclusion of the Nationalists is itself motived by an ulterior object. It is urged on behalf of the Moderates that it is impossible for them to work with the Nationalists because they are too violent and unruly to be members of an orderly assembly, but this is a plea too flimsy to bear scrutiny. If the Nationalists are sometimes unruly, it is because they are forced to urge their opinions on the Congress when they are deliberately ignored and throttled by the misuse of official authority to secure party ends. If the Nationalists are unruly, the Moderates are autocratic, and it is the autocratic misuse of power which creates the unruliness. Nor is unruliness in a party any good reason for breaking up a great National Assembly and excluding a powerful force from what professes to be the centre of national growth and strength. It is evident that a far more powerful motive is behind the policy of the Conventionalists, and that motive is fear and self-interest. Some are frank enough to confess it, but to put a plausible colour of patriotism on their deeper motives is to pretend1 that the Congress will be throttled or that by association with men of violent views and actions their work for posterity is hampered and spoiled. In other words, so long as they do not obey the orders of the Englishman, the Madras Mail and the Times of India, and dissociate themselves from the new movement and Nationalism, they will not enjoy the confidence of the bureaucracy or be allowed to approach them with statesmanlike petitions and co-operate with them in the work of prolonging the subjection of their countrymen to foreign absolutism. This loss of position and prestige with the bureaucracy is the ruling motive with the Bombay Moderates, the fear of being involved in the persecution to which the Nationalists willingly expose themselves, is the dominant thought among the respectabilities of Bengal. Another powerful incentive to the hope of getting rid of the Nationalist opposition to their monopoly of influence and control in the country itself when the Nationalists are isolated for the fury of the bureaucracy to wreak on them its vengeance for the awakening of India. “The Nationalists are using us as a shield,” the cry goes, “and we refused to be used, in that unheroic capacity.” Whether the Nationalists have or have not the courage to face the full fury of bureaucratic persecution and the strength to survive it is a question which will probably be decided before another year is out. The Moderates, at any rate, imagine that they cannot and rejoice over the pleasant expectation of seeing this over-energetic and inconveniently independent party being crushed out of existence by the common adversary of all. It is the spirit of Mir Jafar, the politics of Jagat Sheth repeating themselves in their spiritual descendants.
That these ignoble, but perfectly human and intelligible motives are behind the Conventionalist separatism is further evidenced by the attempt to whittle away the resolution on National Education by the removal of the expression on National lines and National control in order to make it a colourless approval of a mere academic departure. Mr. Gokhale placed his justification in his ardent passion for elegant English, but the resolutions of the Congress are not such literary masterpieces that this particular one should have evoked the dead and gone schoolmaster in Mr. Gokhale's breast. It is clear that the desire of the former was to get rid of the idea of Nationality from the resolution, because the aspiration towards Nationality is offensive to the bureaucracy and to avoid offence to the bureaucracy is, according to Moderate politics, the first condition of political activity in India. The change of a word for the sake of literary elegance was not surely so essential that the Moderates had to prefer breaking the Congress to breaking the rules of English rhetoric. The opposition to the Boycott resolution as originally framed has no root except in fear. No Indian in his heart of hearts can fail to sympathise with the boycott and even2 when he has not the patriotism or the selflessness to practise it himself; for boycott is the first expression of our national individuality, the first condition for the success of Swadeshi and the standing evidence of National revival. But the boycott is as a red rag to John Bull and the Moderate therefore is anxious to throw away the red rag or at least put it in his pocket so long as he is in the same field with the bull. “Wore horns” is the whole significance of the opposition to boycott, whatever economical or political excuses may be put forward by way of apology. The separatist policy is a policy of fear, selfishness and spite.
Is it possible for a policy of this kind to be a force in the country or for a party actuated by such motives to keep the people3 in its hands?
Strength against weakness, life against death, aspiration against self-distrust, self-immolation against self-preservation,– this is the real issue between Conventionalist and Nationalist, and it cannot be doubted which will survive.
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: motives pretend
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: boycott even
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: peoples