Widely known as a great Indian philosopher and mystic, Sri Aurobindo is less well known as a patriot, politician and revolutionary. Only recently has the public come to recognise his contribution to the Indian freedom struggle. For the brief but momentous period between 1905 and 1910 he was one of India’s foremost national leaders and one of the principal architects of its freedom movement. In the course of a few years, he changed the thinking of the entire country. In response to his bold and inspiring call, India’s people began demanding purna swaraj, complete independence from foreign rule.
Part One of the book, “A Vision of Free India” , contains passages from Sri Aurobindo’s writings and speeches on the need to liberate India. They reveal his intense love for his motherland and his burning aspiration to free her from political subjugation. There is also a section in which his contemporaries give their impressions of Sri Aurobindo at that time. Part Two, “The Young Revolutionaries of Bengal”, contains profiles of the valiant young revoutionaries who were inspired by Sri Aurobindo, Along with excerpts from their reminiscences. These excerpts capture the mood of the time, when Bengal’s brightest young people were ready to do battle and even to sacrifice their lives to win freedom for the country. The book vividly recalls this time in India’s history and Sri Aurobindo’s pivotal role in awakening the spirit of a nation towards its destiny.
A prominent Nationalist leader in the first decade of this century, Sri Aurobindo was a pioneer of the revolutionary movement in Bengal and a pivotal force in awakening the country to the need for independence. In this book we have tried to indicate his contribution to the Indian Freedom Movement primarily by quoting his own words. Extracts from his writings and speeches, political and autobiographical, have been arranged in nine chapters covering various aspects of his political life and thinking. Among the subjects treated are Sri Aurobindo' of India as the Motherland, his concept of a “new Nationalism” based upon India’s rich spiritual heritage, his strategy for freeing the country from foreign rule, his experiences as an undertrial prisoner in Alipore Jail, and his reasons for leaving politics in 1910. Sri Aurobindo’s assessment of his political work is complemented by the reports of contemporaries who recorded their impressions of him; a number of these reports have been placed in a tenth chapter, which completes Part One of the book.
Part Two consists of three chapters on the young Bengali revolutionaries who were associated with Sri Aurobindo or inspired by him. Most were members of the Maniktola secret society headed by his brother Barindra. The first two chapters contain comments by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the revolutionaries, with reminiscences by some of them.
Appendix 1 provides a brief history of the Alipore Bomb Trial in which Sri Aurobindo and thirty-seven others were tried for conspiracy. Appendix 2 has a sketch of the emblem of Yugantar, the revolutionary newspaper started by Barindra. Appendix 3 – an example of Sri Aurobindo’s concern for India’s future even his later years – contains his message of 1942 to British envoy Sir Stafford Cripps, along with Cripps’ reply. A glossary of Sanskrit and other Indian words has been included at the end of the book.
Even as a youth growing up in England, Sri Aurobindo dreamed of liberating his homeland from British rule. While he was a student at King’s College, Cambridge, he delivered many revolutionary speeches. Returning to India in 1893, he wrote a series of articles for the Bombay newspaper Indu Prakash, attacking the mendicant policies of the Indian National Congress; when the editor asked him to tone down his articles, he lost interest and abandoned the series. For the next thirteen years Sri Aurobindo worked in the service of the Princely State of Baroda, first in administrative positions, then as a professor at Baroda College and finally as the College’s acting principal. ”These were”, he said, years of self-culture, of literary activity . . . and of preparation for his future work. “Towards the end of this period he began revolutionary action.
Sri Aurobindo was not a pacifist, but believed that a nation had the right to obtain its freedom by whatever means necessary. In 1899 he arranged for a dynamic young Bengali, Jatin Banerji, to receive training in the Baroda army. Two years later Banerji went to Bengal as Sri Aurobindo’s emissary to engage in revolutionary recruitment and organization. He was later assisted by Barindra, who afterwards formed his own revolutionary group. In 1902 Sri Aurobindo joined a secret society headed by a Rajput noble called Thakur Saheb and from then on spent much of his free time in revolutionary work.
During the next four years he went regularly to Bengal in an effort to coordinate the revolutionary movement there. His intention was to build up a network of centres in which training would be given in activities useful for later military action. These centres, working with others throughout the country, would eventually organise and lead a general armed insurrection against the Birtish Raj. Sri Aurobindo’s experience convinced him, however, that this strategy would be unsuccessful unless the revolutionary cadres were supported by a large public movement.
The opportunity for effective political education of the masses arose in 1905 with the partition of Bengal. The Government’s decision to divide the province into two parts shocked the whole country. The people of Bengal were indignant and outraged. For them the Partition was no merely a fresh application of the British policy of divide-and-rule, but the sundering of the soul of a people. Sri Aurobindo recognized that the time for public propaganda had come. He left his position at Baroda in June 1906 and moved to Calcutta as principal of the newly-founded Bengal National college. Soon he began writing editorials for Bande Mataram, an English daily started by Bipin Chandra Pal, and by the end of the year was the paper’s chief editor. His “first occupation”, He later stated, “was to declare openly for complete and absolute independence as the aim of political action in India and to insist on this persistently in the page of the journal”. He was, he noted, “the first politician in India who had the courage to do this in public and he was immediately successful”.
Bande Mataram soon circulated throughout th country and became a powerful force in moulding its political thought.
When Sri Aurobindo shifted to Calcutta, he also joined the New Party, a forward section of the Congress which had recently formed. He persuaded its leaders in Bengal to become an all-India Party with the great Maratha Lokmanya Tilak as its head and to challenge the supremacy of the moderate oligarchy ruling the Congress. The Goal of the new Nationalist Party was Swaraj, self-government, to be gained through a programme of self-help and non-cooperation with the Government. Its policy, largely formulated by Sri Aurobindo, included the boycott of British products and institutions, the purchase of Swadeshi (indigenous) goods, the development of Swadeshi industries, arbitration courts, colleges and schools, and the use of passive resistance when necessary.
The Government tried to curtail the growing Nationalist movement by banning meetings or breaking them up and by muzzling the newspapers. Sri Aurobindo was tried twice for sedition and acquitted both times. The first occurrence in August 1907 thrust him into prominence as one of principal leaders of the Nationalist party. In December 1907, at the annual session of the Congress at Surat, Sri Aurobindo, with Tilak, led the Nationalists into a vehement clash with the Moderates, which split the Congress in two. In May 1908 he was arrested in the Alipore Bomb Case, implicated in the activities of Barindra’s group. Thirty-eight persons stood trial, charged with conspiracy to wage war against the King. Sri Aurobindo, Whom the Government sought above all others to convict, was acquitted after spending one year in jail as an undertrial prisoner. Released in May 1909 he found the Nationalist movement broken and discouraged by severe Government repression. Most of its leaders had been imprisoned, deported or forced into exile. Almost alone he tried to revive the movement in the following months. As part of this effort he started two weekly newspapers, Karmayogin in English and Dharma in Bengali. But “a last he was compelled to recognise”, he said, “that the nation was not yet sufficiently trained to carry out his policy and programme”. Although the Nationalist movement had lapsed into a long period of depression, its impetus was not dead.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend