Early Political Writings. 1890 - May 1908
Volume I of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library is a compilation of Sri Aurobindo's political writings and speeches of the period 1890 to May 1908. Concerned principally with India's freedom from British rule and the means of attaining it, they cover also the resurgence of Asiatic countries, the necessity of their emergence as representatives of spiritual culture, and other historical and contemporary events or issues.
Sri Aurobindo's preoccupation with India's freedom and renaissance began in his student days at Cambridge where he gave speeches at meetings of the Indian Majlis. Only a few incomplete notes on this subject are found in his manuscripts of 1890-1892.
Soon after his return to India in 1893, Sri Aurobindo contributed a series of unsigned articles to the Indu Prakash, a Marathi-English daily of Bombay, at the request of its editor, K. G. Deshpande, his Cambridge friend. The series called "New Lamps for Old" was stopped after a time because the editors were advised that, if the views expressed in their columns were continued, the Government would take action against the paper. The nine articles of this series written during the period 1893-1894 are reproduced here directly from the Indu Prakash. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee have included them in their book Sri Aurobindo's Political Thought (Calcutta 1958).
From 1894 to 1902 we do not find any political writings, published or unpublished.
From 1902 to 1906 Sri Aurobindo carried on his political work in secret. Some stray notes and unfinished articles found in his manuscripts of that period have been collected in this volume. Of the published writings of this period only Bhavani Mandir exists. This was recovered from the Government of West Bengal files and first printed in the Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual in 1956. `No Compromise', an article which was privately printed and circulated, has not been traced so far.
Only after his return to Bengal in February 1906 could Sri Aurobindo do his political work openly, unhampered by conditions imposed by his Baroda service. In March the same year, under his guidance his brother Barindra Kumar and others start ed a Bengali weekly, Yugantar. Sri Aurobindo wrote a few articles in the earlier issues of this journal and kept a general control over its conduct and policy. It openly preached revolutionary ideals of political freedom and action. We have, however, not been able to find a single copy of this journal.
On August 7, 1906 the Bande Mataram was started by Bepin Chandra Pal with Sri Aurobindo's assistance. It was in this journal that Sri Aurobindo gave full expression to his ideas on Independence as India's political goal and discussed the methods of its realisation. Of this journal no complete file is available at present. Only one file is known to be extant, that with the Prabartak Sangha of Chandernagore, and this is incomplete. The file, however, of the Bande Mataram Weekly, which began later in June 1907, is available in its entirety. As most of the important editorials, articles and comments published in the Bande Mataram Daily were reproduced in this Weekly, the period from June 1907 to September 1908 is well represented. The gaps in the file are most notable in August, November and December 1906 and January 1907. A series of articles on the Calcutta Congress of December 1906, referred to in The Doctrine of Passive Resistance, is missing.
After Bepin Chandra Pal left the Bande Mataram sometime towards the end of 1906 Sri Aurobindo became its chief editorial writer. The paper had no declared editor. (Sri Aurobindo's name was given in one issue without his knowledge but was withdrawn on his protesting against it.) Sri Aurobindo was the guiding spirit, 1 but there were other contributors of marked literary ability: Shyam Sunder Chakravarty, Bijoy Krishna Chatterjee and Hemendra Prasad Ghosh, and it would have been very difficult to attribute specific Bande Mataram editorials to Sri Aurobindo with reasonable certainty were it not that a certain number of them, admittedly small, had been identified by Sri Aurobindo himself. References and allusions in his notes2 and letters have also been confirmed by notes made by Hemendra Prasad Ghosh in his diary.
The Bande Mataram editorials and leading articles were occasionally reproduced in other papers of the time, e.g. in the Maratha of Poona, and were also translated into several Indian languages. A journal in Marathi, Vande Mataram, published by Hari Raghunath Bhagavat from the Vande Mataram Press Poona drew much of its material from its English namesake. The Vande Mataram Press also published in 1909 selections from Bande Mataram in three parts. The Swaraj Publishing House, Benares brought out in 1922 a selection from the Bande Mataram. Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee included some articles in their book Bande Mataram and Indian Nationalism (1957). They have also made a comprehensive study and identified over a hundred articles of Sri Aurobindo in their two books, Sri Aurobindo's Political Thought (1958) and Sri Aurobindo and the New Thought in Indian Politics (1964). But in these books some articles are wrongly attributed to Sri Aurobindo. That they are not by him is revealed by a file of some Bande Mataram articles read out to Sri Aurobindo for identification. Similarly On Nationalism (1965), published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, also contains two articles that are not his.
For the purposes of this volume, ail available issues of the Bande Mataram were collected in microfilm and photostat copies and their editorial contents studied.
However, even after all the clues and circumstantial evidence have been taken into account, the authorship of some of the writings included here may still be questioned. On the other hand, it may be argued that a few of the articles left out are by Sri Aurobindo. We hope future scholarship will give us a more complete collection made on a surer and ampler basis.
Sri Aurobindo's speeches were brought together in book-form in 1922 by the Prabartak Sangha of Chandernagore. They were reprinted in 1948 by the Arya Publishing House, Calcutta and issued again by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1952 and 1969. The speeches of 1907-1908 and 1909-1910 are arranged chronologically in Volumes 1 and 2.
1 R. C. Majumdar in his book History of the Freedom Movement in India has quoted the following passage from J. L. Banerji's tribute to Sri Aurobindo.
"Whoever the actual contributor to the Bande Mataram might be – the soul, the genius of the paper was Arabinda. The pen might be that of Shyam Sundar or whoever else...but the voice was the voice of Arabinda Ghose...."
2 See Centenary Volume No. 26, page 28: "Shyam Sunder (Chakravarty) caught up something like Sri Aurobindo's way of writing and later on many took his articles for Sri Aurobindo's."