Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. April 24, 1908
Party and the Country
The uses of party are a secret known only to free nations which value their freedom above all other things. Men of free minds and free habits are too strong of soul to be the slaves of their party feelings and too robust of mind to submit to any demand for the sacrifice of their principles on the altar of expediency. It is only in a servile nation unaccustomed to the habits of freemen that party becomes a master and not an instrument. The strength of mind to rise above personal feeling, the breadth of view which is prepared to tolerate the views of others while fighting resolutely, even aggressively, for one's own, the generosity of sentiment which can clasp the hand of an opponent so long as the claims of patriotism are satisfied, these are qualities that do not grow in the barren soil of servitude or flourish in its vitiated atmosphere. The pains of wounded vanity are as strong in slaves as in children; the pride which will not forgive defeat, the malice which broods over an affront for ever, the narrowness which does not allow good in an opponent or honesty in his opinions, while arrogating all virtues for oneself and one's party, these are the growth of the unhealthy air of slavery. So long as these are present, party is a curse because it becomes faction. And without party self-government is impossible.
The growth of parties immediately before the Swadeshi movement was one of the signs of an approaching awakening in the national mind. When the intellect is stirred and feelings become sincere and acute, parties arise, each passionate for its opinions, eager to carry them out, full of enthusiasm for an imagined ideal. The air becomes vibrant with life, the full blast of hope and endeavour fills the sails of destiny and through a sea sometimes stormy and never quite placid, the ship of a nation's fate plunges forward to its destination. A political life in which there are no parties is political stagnation, death-in-life. It means that the intellect of the nation is torpid, its feelings feeble and flaccid, its aspirations untouched with passion of sincerity, fervour of hope unawakened, love of the country an inoperative sentiment confined to the intellect only and not yet close to the heart. The patriot is consumed with the passion to serve his country, to make her great, free or splendid. His brain is full of plans for the fulfilment of his hopes and he seeks helpers and followers to bring it about, while he tries to disabuse the country of ideas which he believes injurious to his plans. A Mazzini planning the republican freedom of Italy creates the party of New Italy, a Garibaldi filled with the same hope but bent on freedom first and republicanism afterwards forms his Legion of Red Shirts and holds the balance of parties, a Cavour full of grandiose schemes of a Kingdom of Italy leads the old monarchical sentiment of Piedmont and all that gathers round it. These parties fear and distrust each other, but all have one clear and unmistakable purpose, the freedom of Italy, and work for it, each doing something towards the common end which the others could not have done. Thus the purpose of God works itself out and not the purpose of Mazzini, or the purpose of Garibaldi, or the purpose of Cavour. Parties are necessary but they must have a common end overriding their specific differences, the freedom, greatness and splendour of their Motherland. Only one party is inexcusable, inadmissible, not to be parleyed with, the party which is against freedom, the party which seeks to perpetuate national slavery.
In the India of today1 there are in appearance two parties at issue over the destiny of the country. One puts Swaraj as its goal, the other a modified freedom under the supreme control of a paramount and protecting Britain. Men of both parties try to show that their party is that of the true patriots, the other a faction fatal to the best interests of the country; both claim the lead of the country, the true right to be the representatives of its feelings and in possession of the future. If they were equally patriotic, this opposition would work for the good of the country and not for evil. If both were equally bent on the freedom of their country, they would supply each other's deficiencies, do each what the other is unfit to do and by their mutual rivalry work out the salvation of their country. The Moderate Party contains a certain number of men who are really patriotic and desire the freedom of their country, whatever they may think it prudent to profess in public. If these men formed the whole or the bulk of their party, the present strife of parties would be an unmixed blessing, but unfortunately for the country there is a large and powerful element which is of a very different stamp. The representatives of this clique are the true movers of the Convention and their aims are hardly disguised. They do not believe in the capacity of their people for self-government or in the desirability of freedom for India and, if they subscribe to the formula of self-government, it is avowedly as a distant millennium which is to be kept outside the pale of practical politics. Their political aims are bounded by such changes in the existing system of administration as will give them and their class a greater share in the bureaucratic administration and a safe, easy and profitable road to position, popularity and honours. Patriotism is with them no ideal, no overmastering passion, no duty, but an instrument for advancing certain interests and gaining certain advantages. These men are Loyalists of a baser type, who desire the continuance of the British absolutism out of self-interest and not from any love of it or conviction of its goodness and utility. It is these men who have brought about the Surat fiasco, the Convention, the creed and the Allahabad constitution and the Surendranaths and Gokhales have been tools in their hands. Conventionalism is a factor in our politics which makes for reaction, a revolt against the new ideas and a direct negation of our future. As such it will serve the ends of bureaucracy, tighten the chain and militate against progress; it can never be a factor helping towards our liberation. If the Bengal Moderates cling to the Convention, they too will be no longer a factor in the work of liberation but an enemy and an obstacle like the Italian Moderates who clung to the Austrian domination as necessary to Italy. They are forfeiting their future when they deny the future of their country. If parties are to arise henceforth, it must be among those who are the advocates of freedom and workers for freedom, for they alone can differ without faction and work together for a common end on different lines. Those who make the negation of the country's future the test of admission to their counsels, will themselves be excluded from the counsels of the Power that is shaping that future. Without them, for they are too feeble to be reckoned as an opposing force, that which they deny will accomplish itself.
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: In India today