Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 1, 1908
Ideals Face to Face
A new ordeal always brings with it a new awakening. The ordeal of Partition brought with it a great industrial awakening with politics as its undercurrent, a sort of economico-political self-realisation. All that such an awakening could do for the political future of the country has now been done. The ordeal of the Risley Circular brought with it a great educational awakening with politics as its impulse, a sort of politico-educational self-realisation. The ordeal of the Congress split will also bring with it a fresh awakening. This time the awakening will be political with a religious undercurrent. It is time that the nation rose above Swadeshi to Swaraj. It is time that it left the path of self-realisation through disguises and side-issues and flung itself frankly and wholly into the attempt to win Swaraj. The Surat split took place over the side-issue of the President's election, but the Convention's attitude has brushed away all side-issues and brought to the front the question of Swaraj. The future success of the Nationalist Party depends on the boldness with which it takes up the real point at issue and affirms its beliefs. If it hedges, then the Convention will have a sort of sanction for its attitude which will give it a moral force otherwise entirely lacking to its action. The ideal of unqualified Swaraj has a charm for the national mind which is irresistible if it is put before it in the national way by minds imbued with Indian feeling and free from the gross taint of Western materialism. Swaraj as a sort of European ideal, political liberty for the sake of political self-assertion, will not awaken India. Swaraj as the fulfilment of the ancient life of India under modern conditions, the return of the satyayuga of national greatness, the resumption by her of her great role of teacher and guide, self-liberation of the people for the final fulfilment of the Vedantic ideal in politics, this is the true Swaraj for India. Of all the proud nations of the West there is an end determined. When their limited special work for mankind is done they must decay and disappear. But the function of India is to supply the world with a perennial source of light and renovation. Whenever the first play of energy is exhausted and earth grows old and weary, full of materialism, racked with problems she cannot solve, the function of India is to restore the youth of mankind and assure it of immortality. She sends forth a light from her bosom which floods the earth and the heavens, and mankind bathes in it like St. George in the well of life and recovers strength, hope and vitality for its long pilgrimage. Such a time is now at hand. The world needs India and needs her free. The work she has to do now is to organise1 life in the terms of Vedanta, and that is a work she cannot do while overshadowed by a foreign power and a foreign civilisation. She cannot do it without taking the management of her own life into her own hands. She must live her own life and not the life of a part or subordinate in a foreign Empire.
All political ideals must have relation to the temperament and past history of the race. The genius of India is separate from that of any other race in the world, and perhaps there is no race in the world whose temperament, culture and ideals are so foreign to her own as those of the practical, hard-headed, Pharisaic, shopkeeping Anglo-Saxon. The culture of the Anglo-Saxon is the very antipodes of Indian culture. The temper of the Anglo-Saxon is the very reverse of the Indian temper. His ideals are of the earth, earthy. His institutions are without warmth, sympathy, human feeling, rigid and accurate like his machinery, meant for immediate and practical gains. The reading of democracy which he has adopted and is trying to introduce first in the colonies because the mother country is still too much shackled by the past, is the most sordid possible, centred on material aims and void of generous idealism. In such a civilisation, as part of such an Empire, India can have no future. If she is to model herself on the Anglo-Saxon type she must first kill everything in her which is her own. If she is to be a province of the British Empire, part of its life, sharing its institutions, governed by its policy, the fate of Greece under Roman dominion will surely be hers. She may share the privileges and obligations of British citizenship,– though the proud Briton who excludes the Indian from his colonies and treats him as a lower creature, will perish rather than concede such an equality,– but she will lose her Indian birthright. She will have to pass a sponge over her past and obliterate it from her life, even if she preserves the empty records of it in her schools. The degradation of a great nation, by the loss of her individuality, her past and her independent future, to the position of a subordinate satellite in a foreign system, is the ideal of the Convention. It is sheer political atheism, the negation of all that we were, are and hope to be. The return of India on her eternal self, the restoration of her splendour, greatness, triumphant Asiatic supremacy is the ideal of Nationalism. Is it doubtful which ideal will be more acceptable to the nation, that which calls on it to murder its instincts, sacrifice its future and deny its past for the advantage of an inglorious security, or that which asks it to fulfil itself by the strenuous reassertion of all that is noble and puissant in the blood it draws from such an heroic ancestry as no other nation can boast?
The ideal creates the means of attaining the ideal, if it is itself true and rooted in the destiny of the race. All that can be said for the Convention's ideal is that it saves the professor of the ideal from the wrath of the bureaucracy. Otherwise it is as grotesquely out of proportion to the strength of the people who profess it as any which the Nationalist can uphold. It has no exciting virtue of divine enthusiasm which can inspire to heroic effort and enable a fallen nation to shake off its weakness, turn cowards into heroes and selfish men into self-denying martyrs of the cause, and yet the effort it demands for realisation is as heroic as anything which the Nationalist expects from the people. The pride of race, the pride of empire, the pride of colour are the three invincible barriers which stand between it and its realisation. What force have the Conventionalists to set against these? Tears and supplications, appeals to British justice and British generosity – nothing else. They are not serious in their ideal and do not really hold it but flaunt it as a counterpoise to the Nationalist ideal so that the country may be deceived into thinking they have an aim and a policy. They have none. A false ideal is always a veil for something else, and the Convention creed is with some a veil for secret hopes of liberty which they dare not avow and with others a veil for the absence of any aim except the hope of securing a few peddling reforms in the existing system of administration.
The future is with the Nationalist ideal because there is no other. But the danger is that the false shadow of an ideal which is now being put forward as a reality will be accepted as a convenient instrument for self-protection against the anger of the bureaucracy. The temptation it holds out is one to which all new faiths are exposed, that which was the chief danger of Christianity in the days of persecution, to which, for a fleeting moment, Mahomed is said to have succumbed when harassed by the Koreish2, the temptation of securing a respite from persecution by a false profession which, masking itself as a harmless piece of diplomacy, will really be a fatal stab at the very heart of the new religion. This temptation must be religiously eschewed and the true issue boldly proclaimed if Nationalism is to fulfil its divinely-appointed mission.
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: organize
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Koraish