Salutaions to Swadeshi and Swaraj

Salutaions to Swadeshi and Swaraj
Manoj Das

Repression comes, reform lingers,

And we linger on the shore,

And the Moderates wither

And the Nationalist is more and more!

— -A doggerel popular in the first

decade of the 20th Century,

cited by historian R. C. Majumdar.

Partition of Bengal: the Motive and the Move

We celebrate a historic event for two reasons: (a) to ascertain its contribution to the society or humanity; to see how far the experience distilled from the sequence of incidents preceding and following the main event has been well-utilised (even though experience is often like a comb that falls into our hands when we had already grown bald); and (b) to pay tribute to those who championed the cause that went with the event and made exemplary sacrifices for it.

Lord Curzon planned and gave effect to the partition of Bengal in 1905, ostentatiously to facilitate administration. In the post-independence period, when India had created several smaller states out of some big ones, we can very well ask what was terribly wrong with Curzon’s policy.

What appears worse retrospectively and extremely ironical, East Bengal, of which Curzon made only a separate state, became a wing of a new nation carved out of India and later a sovereign nation by itself!

It is not easy to enter the spirit of a period in the past – and particularly that of a situation prevailing 100 years ago – because the events and ideas dominating the 20th century, after its first two decades, have radically changed our attitudes, outlooks and philosophies to an extent that no other century in recorded history had ever done. It is also unfair to measure the values and idealism behind a movement through a mind conditioned by developments that were unthought-of, even though the forces moulding our outlook today may have been prepared by the very values of a time past that appears almost alien to us now.

At the dawn of the 20th Century administration did not mean what it is today. The people’s expectations from their rulers were humble. Queen Victoria died in January 1901 and the people of Kolkata were entertained to 25 booms from canons at Fort William to announce the Edward VII’s ascension to the throne. It was not an announcement of any change, but that of quiet continuity – of a rule that desired to carry on its business quietly, but ready to flex muscles when and wherever any unrest was noticed.

But there were individuals among the ruling class who never accepted Joseph Chamberlain’s merry announcement in 1904: “The day of Empire had come!”

In fact, even though the Sepoy Mutiny had ended happily for the rulers, it had left several British thinkers in a state of gloom. One of them was John Bright believed to be the most powerful orator of his time who, on the 4th of June 1858, asked the House of Commons: “How long does England propose to govern India? Nobody can answer that question. But be it 50 or 100 or 500 years, does any man with the smallest glimmering of common sense believe that so great a country, with its 20 different nationalities and its 20 different languages, can ever be bound up and consolidated into one compact and enduring empire’s confine? I believe such a thing to be utterly impossible.” (Beverley Nichols: Verdict on India.)

There is a reason for my referring to this passage that would grow obvious if we study the following dialogue between Jinnah and Beverley Nichols in December 1943, after the former had read it out to the latter:

“Jinnah: What Bright said then is true today… In fact, it’s far more true – though, of course, the emphasis is not so much on the 20 nationalities as on the two, the Muslim and the Hindu. And why is it more true? Why hasn’t time brought us together? Because the Muslims are awake… because they’ve learnt, through bitter experience, the sort of treatment they may expect from the Hindus in a “United India”. A “United India” means a Hindu-dominated India. It means that and nothing else. Any other meaning you attempt to impose on it is mythical. ‘India’ is a British creation… it is merely a single administrative unit governed by a bureaucracy under the sanction of the sword. That is all. It is a paper creation; it has no basis in flesh and blood.

nichols: The ironical thing is that your critics say that Pakistan itself is a British creation – that it is an example of our genius for applying the principle of ‘divide and rule’.

Jinnah (with some heat): The man who makes such a suggestion must have a very poor opinion of British intelligence, apart from his opinion of my own integrity. The one thing which keeps the British in India is the false idea of a United India, as preached by Gandhi. A United India, I repeat, is a British creation – a myth, and a very dangerous myth, which will cause endless strife. As long as the strife exists, the British have an excuse for remaining. For once in a way, “divide and rule” does not apply.

nichols: What you want is “divide and quit”?

Jinnah: You have put it very neatly.

Verdict on India

The years that had passed between the Mutiny and the emergence of Jinnah had been the period when the idea that the key to a lasting British rule in India lay in a society divided – and nothing could be more powerful and deadly as a means to perpetuate this division than religion, had been brewing in many a brain. For, the most remarkable characteristic of the Mutiny had been the unity among the Hindus and the Muslims, an articulate aristocrat Azimullah pleading the case of Nana Sahib in London and Hindu rulers depending on Muslim generals, and vice versa. Examples can be multiplied.

Curzon did nothing more than apply this simple divisive strategy in practice in a different pretext. In fact, whenever convenient, he did not hesitate to hammer the point home, as he did in Dacca in the course of his tour of Eastern Bengal in 1904, before the Partition had been notified: “…the proposed transfer would make Dacca the centre, and possibly the capital of a new and self-sufficing administration… which would invest the Mohammedans in Eastern Bengal with a unity which they have not enjoyed since the days of the old Mussalman Viceroys and Kings…” (Ajit K. Neogy: Partition of Bengal.)

But there were voices among the British who totally disapproved of the move. The Statesman wrote in July 1904: “…objects of the scheme are, briefly, first, to destroy the collective power of the Bengali people, secondly, to overthrow the political ascendancy of Calcutta, and thirdly, to foster in East Bengal the growth of a Mohammedan power which it is hoped will have the effect of keeping in check the rapidly growing strength of the educated Hindu community.” (Ibid.)

A big obstacle for Curzon was the attitude of the Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, who at first branded the Governor General’s proposal a “Beastly arrangement” but, surprisingly, became its staunch champion before long. The key to the mystery probably lay in the government sanctioning him as loan of £100,000. However, his brother, Nawabzada Khwaja Artikullah, declared at the 1906 Congress session that the Muslims in East Bengal did not want partition and “the real fact is that it is only a few leading Mohammedans who for their own purpose supported the measure”.

In fact, most of the Muslim leaders who were respected by both the communities, opposed the Partition. Among them were Moulvi Abul Hossain, Abul Kasem, A. Rasool, Liyakat Hossain, and Ismail Hossain Sirazi.

An Undeclared War

In order to appreciate the value of the public participation in the movement against the partition we must visualise the Kolkata of 1905. A dozen politicos could not just stage a rasta roko and in a few minutes find an audience of thousands stranded on both sides of the road in numerous automobiles to be obliged to bear with leader’s harangue broadcast through a microphone. There were no public transport buses, cabs, three-wheelers or motorcycles to be paralysed by a roko. There was no microphone. Radio was still a dream. The first tram had begun its magic voyage, covering a small distance. People had to walk miles to attend a public meeting and those from the suburbs and villages would often spend the night on the pavements. Even then, largely attended meetings were held daily, the biggest of these being on 8 August 1905, at the Town Hall, where a sea of people thronged around it.

Workers and the clerical staff of numerous factories and jute mills observed a strike on the very day after the Partition was officially announced on the 1st of September 1905. Muslim and Hindu workers exchanged rakhis in several industrial establishments, to the chagrin of their British management.

As R. C. Majumdar stated, “…it was incipient rebellion — an undeclared war between Government and the people.”

The right moment for Swadeshi had arrived, for the government would not undo Partition unless the gross interest of the British commerce was affected. The boycott of British goods, as an ideal, caught the people’s fascination. At certain places, such as Barisal, the fervour for boycott was total – so much so that the cobblers refused to mend shoes of foreign make and washermen refused to wash Lancashire linen.

But vested interests succeeded in creating chasms between the communities, as is obvious from the following letter written by G. K. Gokhale to Sir William Wedderburn, a great friend of India who, after retiring from the ICS, presided over two sessions of the Indian National Congress: “The anti-Partition agitation which is confined mostly to the Hindus is naturally resented by the officials… The wild talk in which some of the more irresponsible speakers on the Hindu side have been indulging on the subject of independence or Swarajya without British control as they call it, is also naturally setting the officials against the Hindu community. Then the denunciations in the Calcutta press, often based on inaccurate information or unfair inferences, are a further source of irritation to the officials. Lastly, the aggressive preaching of the boycott and the resort to picketing in some districts have been provoking for the last year and more the silent wrath of the Government. All these things have combined to create a bitterly anti-Hindu atmosphere in official regions and there is no doubt that the officials have allowed the impression to spread (and have even openly encouraged it) that the Hindus were in their bad books and that the Mohammedan community was the special object of their favour and patronage. There is also no doubt that when the present disturbances first began, there was a marked tendency to wink at Mohammedan rowdyism and leave the Hindus more or less to their own fate. I think these facts could be established before a Commission of Inquiry if one were granted. The supineness of the Executive in dealing with the situation even when it became clear that Mohammedan rowdies were getting altogether out of hand on all sides has made a painful impression in the country and unless a searching inquiry is made into how this temporary breakdown of the Government machinery took place, the harm that has been done will not be remedied. Mr. Morley stated the other day in the House that these disturbances were due to Mohammedan resentment of the boycott preached by Hindus. I am sorry to say that this is on the whole a very unfair statement of the case. It is true that the boycott campaign of the Anti-Partitionists has contributed its share to the difficulties of the present situation, though that campaign has given far more offence to the Government and the European community than to the Mohammedans, who, so far as the weaving class is concerned, have even gained to some extent by it. The boycott of Liverpool salt has no doubt inflicted a serious hardship on poor people and as the bulk the Mohammedans in the Eastern Province are very poor, they have in my opinion a just grievance there. But this by itself would never have led to a breach of the peace if the impression had not prevailed in the Province, especially among the more ignorant and fanatical sections of the Mohammedans, that the Government would be behind them in any injury they might inflict upon the Hindus.” (Gokhale Papers, File No.203, National Archives.)

The divisive forces worked determinedly. Sir Bampfylde Fuller, the first and the last Lt. Governor of East Bengal, could not check his temptation to go down as a master of prosody when he tried to present a serious political agenda through a bit of uncanny simile. He announced that he had two wives, the Hindu and the Muslim. But the Muslim was his favourite!

As Sir Surendranath Banerjea observed in his A Nation in the Making, “The Civil Service took their cue from him; and his administration was conducted upon lines in the closest conformity with the policy which he had so facetiously announced.”

Along with a nationwide awakening against subjugation to a foreign power, some sort of a jinx, too, seemed to be operating, the evil influence of which made well-meaning efforts to appear communal. Bal Gangadhar Tilak organised festivities highlighting the greatness of national heritage. But the reaction was not always happy.

“By nature and temperament, Tilak was never an anti-Muslim and the entire idea of celebrating the Shivaji Festival was not to alienate or even to irritate the Mohammedans. He strongly believed that with the change of time the Mohammedans and Hindus were in the same boat as far as the political condition was concerned. But the very mention of the name of Shivaji, who had fought against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, was bound to have an adverse effect on the minds of the Muslims… Instead of interpreting the deeds of Shivaji in the modern light in order to exploit his name for future political gains, the politically unconscious and illiterate Muslim was bound to read the proceedings of Shivaji Festival along communal lines. This was an opportunity for the alien regime to colour Tilak’s endeavours for national independence as a deliberate attempt to foster communal animosity and raise a bogey of separate nationhood.” (Dr Sukhbir Caudhary: Growth of Nationalism in India.)

The end of the means?

We have seen Gokhale’s observations on the Anti-Partition movement and Swadeshi. Among those who were directing the movement, there were two distinct schools of thought. For the first, reuniting Bengal was the end; for the other, the movement was only the means for a far greater goal.

One was represented by Sir Surendranath. This is how he saw the raison d’être of the movement. “We felt that we had been insulted, humiliated and tricked. We felt that the whole of our future was at stake, and that it was a deliberate blow aimed at the growing solidarity and self-consciousness of the Bengalee-speaking population. Originally intended to meet administrative requirements, we felt that it had drawn to itself a political flavour and complexion, and, if allowed to be passed, it would be fatal to our political progress and to that close union between Hindus and Mohammedans upon which the prospects of Indian advancement so largely depended. For it was openly and officially given out that Eastern Bengal and Assam was to be a Mohammedan province, and that credal distinctions were to be recognised as the basis of the new policy to be adopted in the new province. (A Nation in Making.)

While saying so, Banerjea made it clear that the only purpose of the movement was to unify Bengal again and that there was nothing anti-British beyond this limited goal.

The other view originated from Sri Aurobindo (then Aurobindo Ghosh). Even while he was the Professor of English and French at the Maharaja’s College, Baroda, he greatly influenced the movement paying visits to Bengal and through his faithful and powerful emissaries. Hence no wonder that he should become the paramount leader of the radical elements among the nationalists in a short time after his shifting to Kolkata, in 1906. As the eminent Bengali author Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, who had been a witness to the eventful time, wrote: “It can be asserted without any doubt that Aurobindo was the Brahma of the movement — detached and silent! But the sparks fanning out of his pen initiated to the fiery cause whomsoever they touched.” (Translated from Bharater Jatiya Andoloner Prabhab in Bengali.)

Sri Aurobindo came over to Kolkata to head the National College, founded with resources donated by Raja Subodh Mullick — a project of the Swadeshi agenda. (In fact, a large crowd hailed Subodh Mullick as “Raja” when his munificence was announced and the appellation stuck to his name forever – probably the only case of its kind.) But at Bipin Chandra Pal’s request Sri Aurobindo took charge of the Bande Mataram, a newspaper that was, in the words of S. K. Ratcliffe who was then Editor of The Statesman, “full of leading and special articles written in English with brilliance and pungency not hitherto attained in the Indian Press…the most effective voice of what we then called national extremism.”

For Sri Aurobindo, the Partition was an opportunity to mobilise the people against colonial rule. In the 1 May 1908 issue of the Bande Mataram, he was unambiguous about it. “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 first leader to demand unqualified freedom, “…to Aurobindo is due the chief credit for the triumphal emergence of Extremist Party, and the virtual extinction of the Moderate Party which was to follow,” says R. C. Majumdar. With an array of facts, the other eminent historian Tara Chand asserts: “His love of India was for him the utterly unreserved abandonment of the worshipper to God…He had a lofty sense of national dignity and reacted strongly against unmanly conduct. His courage was magnificent. He could attack fearlessly his own countrymen when he considered them wrong and he was ruthless, almost fierce, in his denunciation of the anti-Indian measures of the government. But he did not allow his indignation to betray him into saying anything unbecoming or vulgar, or overstep the bounds of law, as distinguished from the executive decrees of haughty administration.” (History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol.III)

No wonder that with the Partition of Bengal as the background, the Calcutta Congress of 1906, under Dadabhai Naoroji’s presidentship, would be obliged to pass for the first time the drastic resolutions demanding Swaraj and upholding the ideas of Swadeshi, Boycott and national Education. This was possible because of the untiring efforts of Sri Aurobindo, supported by other leaders of the Nationalist group – Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Khaparde and Khare. The leaders of the Conservative group, known as Moderates, Sir Firozeshah Mehta, Gokhale and Surendranath Banarjea, were all opposed to the resolution. Naoroji was first undecided. But he was, for the time being, won over by the Nationalists and he influenced the dissenters to veer round to the new spirit.

The Momentous Split

Desperate Moderates planned a powerful scheme to thwart the programme of the Nationalists at the next Congress, the venue of which was shifted from Nagpur to Surat – because Surat, the old guard believed, had a sizeable number of their supporters.

Which group would command the majority was uncertain. But in this city dominated by the Moderates, they could mobilize delegates numbering 1,300 while the Nationalists could manage up to 1,100. It was known that the Moderate leaders had prepared a new constitution for the Congress that would render it practically impossible for the Nationalists to command a majority for any annual session for years to come. The younger Nationalists, especially from Maharashtra, were determined to prevent this by any means.

The session began before an audience numbering more than 10,000. The president-elect, Dr. Rash Behari Ghose, followed by other celebrities, ascended the platform amid cheers from a section. Dewan Bahadur Ambalal Desai formally proposed Dr. Ghose for the chair. At first, what was heard was only a murmur of dissent. But no sooner had Sir Surendranath stood up to second the proposal than a thundering chorus of protest broke out. His words were drowned in the ear-splitting din. The greatest orator of the then Bengal, the Pied Piper of many a mammoth rally, had the jolt of his life.

Let us turn to Henry Nevinson, the author of The New Spirit in India, for his first-hand account of the event: “Waving their arms, their scarves, their sticks and umbrellas, a solid mass of delegates and spectators on the right of the Chair sprang to their feet and shouted without a moment’s pause… the whole ten thousand were on their feet, shouting for order, shouting for tumult. Mr. Malvi (Chairman of the Reception Committee) still half in the chair, rang his brass Benares bell and rang in vain. Surendranath sprang upon the very table itself. Even a voice like his was but a whisper in the din. Again and again he shouted, unheard as silence. He sat down and for a moment the storm was lulled. The voices of the leaders were audible, consulting in agitated tones – Dr. Ghose shrill, impatient and perturbed with anger; Mr. Gokhale distressed, anxious, harassed with vain negotiation and sleepless nights. Already one caught the word ‘suspension’. ‘If they will not hear Surendranath, whom will they hear?’ said one. ‘It is an insult to the Congress,’ said another. ‘An insult to Bengal,’ cried a third. Again Surendranath sprang on the table, and again the assembly roared with clamour. Again the Chairman rang his Benares bell, and again in vain. In an inaudible voice, like a sob, he declared the sitting suspended.”

The session resumed the next day and so did the confrontation. Surendranath exhorted the audience to maintain calm and Motilal Nehru spoke briefly to the same effect before Dr. Ghose occupied the chair. The president had hardly begun reading his address when Tilak stood up. He had given notice for an amendment and he must move it. “You cannot move an adjournment of the Congress,” cried Mr. Malvi. “I declare you out of order,” the “president” added.

“I wish to move an amendment to the election of president and you are not in the Chair,” replied Mr. Tilak.

“I declare you out of order!” shouted Dr. Ghose.

“You have not been elected. I appeal to the delegates,” retorted Tilak.

Once again let us look up the inimitable Nevinson: “Uproar drowned the rest. With folded hands Mr. Tilak faced the audience. On either side of him young Moderates sprang to their feet, wildly gesticulating vengeance. Shaking their fists and yelling to the Chair, they clamoured to hurl him down the step of the platform. Behind him Dr. Ghose mounted the table, and, ringing an unheard bell, harangued the storm in shrill, agitated, unintelligible denunciations. Restraining the rage of the Moderates, inseminating peace if ever man inseminated, Mr. Gokhale, sweet-natured even in extremes, stood beside his old opponent, flinging out both arms to protect him from the threatened onset. But Mr. Tilak asked for no protection. He stood there with folded arms, defiant, calling on violence to do its worst, calling on violence to move him, for he would move for nothing else in hell or heaven. In front, the white-clad audience roared like a tumultuous sea.

“Suddenly something flew through the air – a shoe! – a Mahratta shoe, reddish leather, pointed toe, sole studded with lead! It struck Srendranath Banerjea on the cheek; it cannoned off upon Sir Ferozeshah Mehta. It flew, it fell, and, as at a given signal, white waves of turbaned man surged up the escarpment of the platform. Leaping, climbing, hissing the breath of fury, brandishing long sticks, they came, striking any head that looked to them Moderate, and in another moment, between brown legs standing upon the green-baize table, I caught glimpses of the Indian National Congress dissolving in chaos. Like Goethe at the battle of Valmy, I could have said that today marks the beginning of a new era, and you can say that you were present at it.”

Nevinson was not totally wrong. It was indeed the beginning of a new era. (“The Congress is Dead – Long Live the Congress” was the headline in Surendranath’s daily, The Bengalee.) Next day the Nationalists held their conference in a large courtyard – and they streamed in as “silent crowds”. Nevinson observes, “Grave and silent, I think without saying a single word, Mr. Aurobindo Ghose took the Chair and sat unmoved, with far-off eyes, as one who gazes at futurity. In clear, short sentences, without eloquence or passion, Mr. Tilak spoke till the stars shone out and someone kindled a lantern at his side.”

Nevinson travelled with the delegates by train. He records that each station rang with the shout: “Down with the Moderates!” Sri Aurobindo and Tilak were hailed as the harbingers of a new age.

Lt-Governor Fuller, accused of inefficiency, had to go. Curzon too resigned and left for home because of some difference with the authorities in London. Sri Aurobindo was implicated in what is famous as the Alipore Conspiracy Case and spent a year in jail, in solitary confinement, for the greater part of that time, but setting out on a splendid spiritual odyssey in his consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo’s trial, conducted in the court of Mr. Beachcroft who was his classmate at Cambridge and only second to him in academic excellence, had several serious moments when the brilliant defence lawyer, C. R. Das (later the celebrated Deshbandhu) or the prosecution lawyer, Mr. Norton, a barrister specially brought from London for the purpose, argued or probed the witnesses. But here is a lighter moment when a policeman is being examined by Mr. Das. Lighter, but it presents the popular perception of the politics of the Moderates.

Das: Up to what standard did you read?

Witness: I read up to the Entrance-failure. (Laughter)

Judge: Up to the standard of Entrance-failure. (Renewed laughter)

Das: Who are Moderates?

Witness: Moderates are those who are always on the side of the Government.

Das: Extremists?

Witness: Extremists are those who attend meetings.

Das: At Nagpore Moderates do not attend meetings?

Witness: No.

Judge: Perhaps there are none! (Laughter.)

The Most Dangerous Man behind Swadeshi

Mr. Norton resented that “Aurobindo was treated with the reverence of a king wherever he had gone. As a matter of fact, he was regarded as the leader not merely of Bengal but of the whole country”.

No wonder that Sri Aurobindo’s acquittal should worry Lord Minto, who succeeded Curzon as the Governor-General. “He is the most dangerous man we have to deal with at present and he has great influence with the student class,” he wrote to Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India.

While Minto was trying to convince Morley about the justification of somehow deporting Sri Aurobindo, the latter had quietly left for the French Colony of Pondicherry. He had seen India’s freedom as inevitable. Now he must move to pastures new — in quest of the passage to man’s freedom from “inconscience” and elevation to a higher phase in evolution – for articulating what was his inner realization: the prospect of man’s transformation into a new race.The one academic historian who saw Sri Aurobindo vis-à-vis the struggle for freedom in a new light was Tara Chand: For Sri Aurobindo, says the historian, “the Indian struggle for independence was essentially an expression of the urge of the spirit for self-realisation. The spirit had a dual aspect – collectively as the nation and severally as its components the individuals…”

Sri Aurobindo had figured in the House of Commons more than once even before the memorable debate on him in 1910. For example, on 5 August 1909, Mr. J. D. Rees asserted that although deporting without trial was autocratic, Sri Aurobindo had to be deported as he commanded a great sway over the youth. “In order to make the people of the East realize that their rulers had power, it was essential to use it autocratically in grave and critical situations.”

On 7 April 1910, Sir Ramsay Macdonald, then the leader of the Labour Party, referring to a news in The Times (London) that a warrant had been issued against Sri Aurobindo for an article in the Karmayogin, demanded to know its content. But the Under Secretary of State, Mr. Montagu, said that his own knowledge too was limited to the news in The Times. Sir Ramsay repeated his question a week later, again only to meet with a confession of ignorance on the part of the Treasury Bench. There were heated exchanges between Sir Ramsay and Mr. Rees — the latter too eager to bring Sri Aurobindo “to justice”.

But it was on the 28 August that Sir Ramsay Macdonald made his grand speech outlining the life and the political philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. It was probably for the first ever time that an Indian leader was prominently projected, and by no less a person than the most eminent parliamentarian of the day and the future Prime Minister of Britain. (It is surprising and sad that the Indian chroniclers of our freedom movement have never referred to this memorable debate.)

Since the government could not produce a copy of the so called seditious article, Sir Ramsay himself flashed a copy of the Karmayogin and read the important parts of the article, challenging the Government to show where sedition lay. He asserted, “Surely, to any man who reads this article as it was meant to be read, the meaning is perfectly clear and Mr. Aurobindo Ghose, as is perfectly well known by those who have followed his action and his writings, sincerely believes that the nationalist movement of which he is the head for the time being at any rate, or was till quite recently, is the one guarantee that there shall be no violence done in India and he blames the officials who have suppressed the free expression of the nationalist sentiment for the unfortunate circumstances which have led to murder and death and executions which everyone deplores.”

Mr. Keir Hardie, the Founder of the Labour Party, also spoke at length in support of Sir Ramsay.

In the Course of his speech, Sir Ramsay disclosed that he had met Sri Aurobindo in India and was convinced that Sri Aurobindo “would not be very much longer in the affairs of the world.”

Only one zealous member interrupted Sir Ramsay to ask if this article had been written in Bengali and if the author was not a Bengali, to which Sir Ramsay replied, “The article is in most excellent English. Mr. Aurobindo Ghose could no more write an article in Bengali than I could.”

The last time the House of Commons heard about Sri Aurobindo on this issue was on 21 February 1911. Mr. O’Grady asked “whether the publisher of the Karmayogin was prosecuted for issuing the article by Mr. Aurobindo Ghose, for writing which a warrant was issued against Mr. Ghose, whether that trial resulted in the acquittal of the publisher on the ground that the article was not seditious, and whether the government had now withdrawn the warrants issued in connection with the article.”

This was Mr. Montagu’s reply: “The answer to the first part of my Hon. Friend’s question is Yes; to the second, Yes; and to the third, Yes.”

Lord Minto’s term as Viceroy was coming to end. But he never believed that Sri Aurobindo meant to give up politics. He wrote in his last letter to Morley, “I hand the concern of Aurobindo to you. I cannot think what your information may be about his conversion. I can only say my information was very direct indeed and his intimate friends believed him to be quite beyond reclamation.”

Lesson of the Century

The Partition of Bengal, “a settled fact”, was unsettled in 1911 through an announcement by King Edward VII, along with that of Kolkata losing the status of the nation’s capital in favour of Delhi. What did Curzon’s engineering of the partition of Bengal and the anti-Partition movement achieve? Curzon’s immediate action apparently failed, but his motive did not. The venom of communalism infused into the élan vital of the nation worked viciously and divided the country in 1947 – opening a Pandora’s box of intermittent bloodshed, multiple refugee problems, the Bangladesh war, infiltrations, the Kashmir imbroglio, a dusky atmosphere of suspicions, violence, insecurity, massive waste of men, resources, energy, so on and so forth.

The devilish consequences of partition continue their macabre boogie, but can we say it had triumphed? The answer is a resounding NO.

The very basic philosophy on which the nation was divided — the “Two Nations” theory – proved utterly wrong and pitiably false. If Muslims were one nation – as Mr. Jinnah so very uncompromisingly asserted – his Pakistan would not have been torn apart, resulting in yet another partition.

Hostile forces, sporting deceptive religious, social and political nomenclature, can infiltrate and exploit any ideal, as long as man is a creature of ignorance. We must learn the hard way that unity is a must for even our survival, not to speak of the higher goals of happiness and progress. To quote from the message of Sri Aurobindo on the occasion of 15 August 1947: “The unification of mankind is under way, though only in an imperfect initiative, organised but struggling against tremendous difficulties. But the momentum is there and, if the experience of history can be taken as a guide, it must inevitably increase until it conquers… A catastrophe may intervene and interrupt or destroy what is being done, but even then the final result is sure. For in any case the unification is a necessity in the course of Nature, an inevitable movement, and its achievement can be safely foretold… India, if she remains divided, will not herself be sure of her safety. It is therefore to the interest of all that union should take place. Only human imbecility and stupid selfishness could prevent it. Against that, it has been said, even the gods strive in vain; but it cannot stand for ever against the necessity of Nature and the Divine Will. Nationalism will then have fulfilled itself; an international spirit and outlook must grow up and international forms and institutions; even it may be such development as dual or multilateral citizenship and a voluntary fusion of cultures may appear in the process of the change and the spirit of nationalism losing its militancy may find these things perfectly compatible with the integrity of its own outlook. A new spirit of oneness will take hold of the human race.”

The immediate positive contribution of the Partition of Bengal, of course, was the Swadeshi movement which matured into the final phase of the fight for freedom of the country and achieved it. Despite all our weaknesses exposed by our freedom, it would have been a terribly embarrassing proposition for India to have stepped into the 21 Century as a Colony.

(This article is an expanded version of the keynote address delivered by the author at the Centenary celebration of the Anti-Partition Movement, organised by the Asiatic Society, at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, on the 7th of August 2004.)

(Source: “The Statesman Festival” 2004)


About Manoj Das

For thousands of men, women and children of the past two or three generations, Manoj Das has been the very synonym of light and delight, whose writings in Odia and English inspire in his countless readers faith in the purpose of life and also open up concealed horizons of confidence and compassion in humanity a dire need today.