Description of the Speech:
Babu Aurobindo Ghose rose amidst loud cheers and said that when he consented to attend the meeting, he never thought that he would make any speech. In fact, he was asked by the organisers of the meeting simply to be present there. He was told that it would be sufficient if he came and took his seat there. Now he found his name among the speakers. The Chairman of the meeting, whose invitation was always an order, had called upon him to speak.
He had two reasons as to why he ought not to speak. The first was that since he was again at liberty to address his countrymen he had made a good many speeches and he had exhausted everything that he had to say and he did not like to be always repeating the same thing from the platform. He was not an orator and what he spoke was only in the hope that some of the things he might say might go to the hearts of his countrymen and that he might see some effect of his speeches in their action. Merely to come again and again to the platform and the table was not a thing he liked. Therefore he preferred to see what his countrymen did.
Another reason was that unfortunately he was unable to address them in their mother language and therefore he always felt averse to inflict an English speech on a Bengali audience.
That evening he wished to speak only a few words because he owed an explanation to his friends. The form that his activities had taken after he had come from jail had disappointed a great many.
There was first a great friend of his own and India’s who lived in Hare Street — (laughter) — and he was very much disappointed by the form of his (the speaker’s) activities. So great was this friend’s anxiety for the Indians that that anxiety had cost him Rs. 15, 000. (A voice: “Another Rs. 7, 500 as costs.”) In his anxiety to help the Indians he followed the ancient maxim that truth meant only whatever was for the good of others. Unfortunately the judge would not take that large view of the matter. And so our friend was silently suffering. (A voice: “Passive resistance.” Laughter) His friend said that he had heard that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose had promised to devote himself to literature and religion, and it was strange that Mr. Ghose should go to Jhalakati and make speeches on Swadeshi and boycott.
He (the speaker) was devoting himself to literature and religion. He was writing as he wrote before on Swaraj and Swadeshi, and that was a form of literature. He was speaking on Swaraj and Swadeshi and that was part of his religion. (Cheers)
Another quarter he had disappointed was the police. (Laughter) He had received a message from them saying that he was opening his mouth too much. He gave an interview to a press representative and told him something mainly about the food and accommodation in the Government Hotel at Alipore. (Laughter) He was immediately informed that that was a great indiscretion on his part and that it would bring trouble on him. When he went to Jhalakati the attentions of the police pursued him. They told the Barisal people and the local merchants that if he (the speaker) was taken there the District Conference would be stopped. They got the answer that that was not in the people’s hands, but the coming of Aurobindo Ghose was in their hands and Aurobindo Babu would come whatever the consequences to the Conference. And the Conference did take place. After his return he was again informed that he was qualifying for deportation — his fault was that he was appearing too much in public meetings. Some of the best loved workers in the country had already been deported and the first reason alleged was that they had been financing assassination and troubling the peace of the country. When the Government in Parliament were heckled out of that position, it escaped as if by accident from one of the members that one very important reason for the deportation was that the deportees had taken part in the Swadeshi agitation. This was borne out by the suggestion he had received, and it seemed that it was by supporting the Swadeshi that they laid themselves open to deportation. Now, he had an unfortunate temper and it was that he did not like to be intimidated. Intimidation only made him persist in doing his duty more obstinately, and if he spoke today, it was partly because of that friendly suggestion.
There were other friends who were nearer to us than those he had mentioned, but they also were dissatisfied with his activities. There was, for instance, a friend in Madras (The Indian Patriot) who invited him to give up politics and become a Sannyasi. This anxiety for his spiritual welfare somewhat surprised him at the time, but he was yet more surprised by the persistence of his friend’s anxiety. One reason for suggesting inactivity to him was that he was imperilling his safety. That was a very singular reason to put before a public man for shirking his duty.
Another reason for his Madras friend’s advice was that he (the speaker) was speaking against the reforms. It appeared that he (the speaker) was guilty of a great error in throwing a doubt on the reality of the reforms. Whenever any offer was made to the country by the officials, it was a habit of his to look at it a little closely. It was a part of English politeness, and also a principle of their commerce that when a present was given or an article sold it was put in a very beautiful case and its appearance made very attractive. But his long residence in England had led him to know that there were a kind of goods, called Brummagem goods, and that was a synonym for shoddy. He looked into the reforms and they seemed to him to belong to that class. Then there was another point. He was a little jealous of gifts from that quarter because the interests of the people and the officials were not the same. The position was such that if reforms gave any increase and enlargement of the people’s rights or rather a beginning in that direction — for at present the people had no real right or share in the government — any beginning of the kind meant a shrinking of bureaucratic powers. It was not likely that the officials would readily give up any power to which they cling. Therefore when reform was offered he always asked himself how far that was a real beginning of self-government or how far it was something given to them to draw their attention from their real path to salvation. It seemed to him that the reforms give them not the slightest real share in the government of the country, but instead they would merely throw an apple of fresh discord among them. They would only be a cause of fresh strife and want of unity. Those who are led away by the reforms would not only diminish the powers of this country but lead others into the wrong path.
Only two or three days ago, his fears were confirmed. Certain utterances had come from one from whom they were least expected — one who had served and made sacrifices for the country. He said that those who spread the gospel of Swaraj were madmen outside the lunatic asylum and those who preached passive resistance as a means of gaining Swaraj were liars who did not speak out their real thoughts to save their skin; he invited the country to denounce them as enemies of the country and of its progress and justified all that the Government had done by saying that the only attitude the Government could take was stern and heartless repression.
Well, if it were true that only fear made them take to passive resistance, if they flinched now from the boycott because some had been deported, if they ceased to proclaim the ideal of Swaraj, if they ceased to preach the boycott, then only it would be true that they had adopted an ideal that they could not reach and proclaimed means of reaching it in which they did not believe, because they were anxious to save their skin.
He had heard many warnings recently that those who persisted in public agitation would be deported. For himself, and he was not a model of courage, residence for the best part of a year in a solitary cell had been an experience which took away all the terrors of deportation. (Cheers) If he had ever had any fears, the kindness of the authorities in giving him that experience had cured him of them. (Laughter) He had found that with the ideal of Swaraj to uphold and the mantra of “Bande Mataram” in the heart, there was nothing so very terrible in jail or deportation. That was the first thing he would like to impress on them as the result of his experience. Imprisonment in a righteous cause was not so terrible as it seemed, suffering was not so difficult to bear as our anticipations made it out. The prize to which they aspired was the greatest to which a nation could aspire and if a price was asked of them, they ought not to shrink from paying it.
He was not afraid of deportations and imprisonment but he was afraid of the hand which patted them on the back and the voice that soothed. The mixed policy of repression and kindness was the thing he feared most. The whip was still there uplifted though it was not just now falling upon them, but the other hand was held out to stroke the head and soothe. This offer of conciliation in one hand and the pressure of repression in the other might have the effect of slackening their efforts and bewildering their intelligence. They must not forget that nine of their most devoted workers were rotting in British jails under the name of deportation. What was the meaning of conciliation when men like Aswini Kumar Dutta, Krishna Kumar Mitra and others were taken away from them and not restored? What kind of conciliation was this which was offered us while this great wrong remained unremedied? Who could trust such a conciliation?
Let them not forget what they had set out to do when they declared the boycott. They had determined to undo the Partition of Bengal. The Partition still remained. So long as that remained, should they listen to the soothing voice? Should they give up the boycott or slacken the boycott? They had determined to revive the industries of their country. They had determined to save their countrymen from chronic starvation, but that had not yet been accomplished. Should they leave the boycott or slacken the boycott while it remained unaccomplished? Would the reforms save the country from that chronic starvation? When famine came the Government opened relief works as soon as its local officials could bring themselves to acknowledge that there was a famine in the land. That saved a number of lives, but it did not save us from the misery, the mortality, the thousands of ruined homes. That did not strike at the root of the chronic starvation and famine; Swadeshi and boycott alone could strike at the root. So long as the exploitation of the country by foreign trade remained, would they injure their country by giving up or slackening the boycott? Would they be faithful to the country if under such circumstances they were ready to listen to the soothing voice? If they did that, it would be because they could not bear the sufferings and pay the price of raising up their country and they would prove themselves unworthy of the freedom to which they aspired. The time was a critical one and when the question was once more put to them they must always be ready to answer.
The 7th of August was very near. It was the birthday of the boycott, the birthday of the new spirit in India.
It was not much they had to do. Only once more to utter the sacred mantra of “Bande Mataram”, once more to declare that India was not lifeless, that Bengal was faithful to the vow she had made. He waited to see what would happen on that date in Bengal, whether they would attend in their hundreds or in their thousands or in their tens of thousands. It was Bengal on which the burden of the struggle fell because she first had preached the Gospel and she first had had the courage to bear suffering for the Gospel. Therefore God had given them the privilege to bear the greater part of the suffering. By so doing He had shown a great love towards Bengal. The fate of India was with the Bengalis. As they answered the question put to them, the future would be determined. It was not the first time the question had been put or the last time it would be put, for it was not the crisis of a moment but a protracted struggle. The question was with them always and every moment their responsibility for answering it in the right sense remained with them. But especially on such a day as the 7th of August the responsibility was great. He waited to see what would be the answer to the question.
But even if the response were less than he expected, even if the demoralisation he had heard of were real and there were a shrinkage in the numbers that attended, that would not discourage him.
So long as in this country there were a few who had the courage of their faith, so long as there were even a few who were ready to proclaim their faith and live it, there was no fear for the ultimate triumph of the faithful.
It is described in the Christian Bible how the cult of the true faith was almost extinguished by persecution and all Israel turned from Jehovah to foreign idols, and even the chief prophet of the faith thought himself alone and hid his head. God called to him to go forth and strive with the priests of Baal. “Always,” He said, “in the nation I have chosen there are some who confess me and now too in this nation there are seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So always in this Bengal which God had chosen there would always be several thousands who would be true to the faith and never bow the knee to false gods. If the voices that proclaimed it were silenced, if the organisers were taken away, others would rise in their place; if those were taken, still others would come, if few, yet faithful. Some would always be left who would not be afraid to utter the name of their Mother. Some would still preserve the faith and preach the Gospel; theirs was the blood of Raktabij. (Laughter and cheers) For their action sprang from no passing or material interest but from something that was imperishable and perennial. It was something which the fire could not burn and the sword could not kill, the winds of repression could not wither and all the waters could not drown. For all that there was a great importance in the nation’s response on the 7th of August. On bur action now it depended whether salvation came swiftly or were put off and the struggle and suffering prolonged for decades.
On their fidelity to Swadeshi, to boycott, to passive resistance rested the hope of a peaceful and spiritual salvation. On that it depended whether India would give the example unprecedented in history of a revolution worked out by moral force and peaceful pressure. For on the 7th August the strength of the nation would be measured, not the numerical strength, but the moral strength which was greater than anything physical. He appealed to the audience to see that no one of the thousands assembled remained absent on that day.
They must remember that it was a day of worship and consecration, when the Mother looked upon her assembled children. She would ask on this 7th of August how many were faithful to her and whether after her centuries of affliction she had still years of suffering to endure, or by the love and strength of her children might expect the approaching hour of her felicity. If they were unfaithful now let them remember to whom they would be unfaithful, — to themselves, to their vows, to the future of their country, to God, to their Mother.
Delivered at Kumartuli Park, Calcutta, on 11 July 1909. Text published in the Bengalee on 13 July 1909