Our Political Ideal (translation)

 (1905-1906: On Nationalism, pp.  79-84)

Niriiho naashnute mahat

When a movement of national resurgence is begun in any country or by any people, a large and noble political ideal is needed for the purpose. Had the great spirit that was Rousseau not proclaimed the egalitarian principle, the impassioned aspirations of the French Revolution could not have awakened a half-dead France and flooded the whole of Europe. Had America not been eager to secure the inborn rights of every human being, the United States would never have come into existence. If Mazzini, like a Rishi, had not infused exalted hopes and noble ideals into the heart of modem Italy, that fallen people could never have broken the chains of perennial servitude. Low-pitched and narrow ideals, small hopes and aims, petty caution and cowardice as well as short-sighted, faint-hearted leadership all these paltry things can never be the right materials for building the strength of a nation. No people has ever risen to the heights of great ness equipped with such poor materials. Our politicians should always keep in mind the saying from the Mahabharata: niriiho naashnute mahat, "the unaspiring shall never enjoy greatness."

Childishness and the Habit of Servility

For the last century, since our confrontation with Western civilisation began, we have been constantly discussing national progress and the attainment of political rights. In practice, however, we have not progressed but declined. Far from gaining political rights, our political and economic life, our arts and sciences, intellectual faculties and religious spirit have all become fettered. We look to others for our food, for the clothes we wear, for our education, political rights, intellectual development and thought-systems. There is no end to our gratitude to the English for the few toys they have given us. When a people is dependent on others in both mind and body, railways, telegraph, electricity, municipalities, universities, National Congress, etc., all the discoveries of Science and all the paraphernalia of Western political life, all are merely toys. However many rights Lord Ripon and Mr. Morley may grant us, our national life will only be harmed by it, not benefited. These too are nothing but toys. Only what is won by one's own effort is a right, not what others give as charity. Therefore, these are not real rights, we have no permanent claim on them; today Ripon has given them, tomorrow Curzon will snatch them away. And we will wail aloud at a thousand meetings and congresses, "Oh, our toys are gone! What a terrible injustice!" Childishness is a principal feature of our present-day political life. The habit of servility is another. We are slaves even if we get high posts: the Civilian Judge, Municipal Commissioner, District Board Chairman, member of University Syndicate, member of Legislative Council, all are wearing chains and acting on a stage. But we have become so petty that we are not ashamed to boast of those chains being made of gold or silver! Servility has permeated our entire life like a thick fog. What is heartening is that after dreaming for so long, we have now opened our eyes and begun to realise our abject condition. This subservience to others in every sphere is no longer tolerable. Throughout the country the idea is gradually spreading that, we must, by whatever means, win independence in our education, economy and political life. This is the hope of the future. This is the sign that we have awakened and will listen no more to the old lullabies. We will heed no obstacle and stop at no one's command. We will surely arise.

The Pettiness of the National Congress

Why has the endeavour of a century achieved such meagre results? Japan has succeeded within thirty years in becoming a great nation equal to the Western powers, but we remain plunged in the same darkness as before. What is the cause of this disparity? It is nothing but the pettiness and inadequacy of our political ideal. We get this impression of pettiness even when we examine closely the aims of the National Congress which is considered the culmination of our political life.

The Slave's Impertinence

What are the aims of the National Congress? Many people are circulating the following in the name of the National Congress and its objectives. They say, "The English rulers are governing the country very well. But being foreigners, they cannot understand the Indian mentality. For this reason there are slight defects in their administration. We shall help them in their task of governing us by placing the appeals of the Indian people before them each year. In this way the British administration will become perfect." Our rulers, however, do not accept this unsolicited offer of help; rather they rebuff it as the impudence of slaves and the impertinence of immature minds. Every year the Congress appears uninvited before our rulers to offer its help, and each time it comes back with a load of insults on its head. But even this is not enough to make us lose patience. We say, "Let us go uninvited for the time being, perhaps one day the rulers will be kind enough to accept our assistance." Can any people entering the political field with such petty motives ever become a great nation on this earth which is for heroes to enjoy?

Permanent Opposition

Some people, again, describe the National Congress as "His Majesty's permanent opposition." Just as in the British Parliament during a Conservative Government the Liberal Party constitutes the opposition, so we too in this country form permanently such an opposition to the British rulers. It is this sort of permanent opposition that is said to be our ideal. We have learned a few catchwords from our English preceptors and this is merely another one of those. For example, there is no constitution and yet we conduct so-called constitutional agitation. Similarly, there is no Parliament and yet a futile imitation of Parliament is accepted as our ideal. A permanent opposition would mean a useless opposition. The aim of the opposition in Parliament is to remove the present rulers and govern in their place, and to introduce policies of its own devising instead of the existing ones. The National Congress has neither the power nor the ability to adopt this aim as its objective; but no one, unless he is quite mad, would embark consciously upon a course that has no hope of success. Therefore this ideal is absolutely worthless and irrelevant.


Small National Interests

Had all our leaders been satisfied with such utterly trifling and worthless aims, the National Congress would not have lasted even a day. But there are also people of another kind in the Congress who can rise a little higher than this. Their ideals consist of small national interests such as Simultaneous Examinations, admission of our elected representatives into the Legislative Councils, granting most of the high-paying posts to Indians in order to reduce the Home Charges, and so on. We say that all the demands of the Congress are justified. But we ask whether these petty interests can ever constitute a political ideal large enough to stir the whole of India with enthusiasm? Will they ever have the power to send a great wave of national feeling surging through the country?

Black Slaves and Applause for Oratory

The number of Indians in the Civil Service is to be increased. What will the country gain by that? The three hundred mil lion people of this country remain the slaves they were. Even if those who enter the Civil Service become lords of their own people, they will still be slaves of the foreigner and obliged to harm their countrymen whenever they are ordered to do so. It means nothing but that the bureaucracy will get a few black slaves to assist in the sacred task of keeping the Indian people sunk in servitude. Or if our elected representatives are admitted into the Legislative Councils, how will that help either? Certain individuals may thereby get the chance to display their oratory and political acumen and be applauded by the rulers and the public, but it will not do the country a drop of good. And why should it? Do we think that if we become big foremen in these factories of servitude, the factory owners will leave their business and go away? This strange reasoning simply shows our political inexperience.

The Remedy for Poverty

As a result of the preoccupation with all these petty interests, a wrong path has been taken and the real tasks of the country are neglected. Take India's terrible poverty, for instance. We admit that if Home Charges were reduced, poverty would be alleviated somewhat. But alleviating poverty a little is not our goal, our goal is the complete elimination of poverty. There are two ways to get rid of poverty: with regard to agriculture to enact a Permanent Settlement for the whole of India, and with regard to commerce to adopt a protective trade policy. Under these circumstances the first duty of the Congress should have been to pursue single-mindedly, before anything else, the fulfilment of these two demands. But our rulers will never listen to these demands. Therefore the alternative is self-reliance. Campaign all over the country for the boycott of British trade and explain to the crores of Indian farmers the reason for their sad plight and the way out of it. Let us see how long the bureaucracy can ignore the firm resolve of a great people. But the National Congress shudders at the mention of boycott, nor does it want any proposal concerning Swadeshi to be moved lest the soft hearts of the English be hurt.

Enthusiasm for a High Ideal

The ideal of the Congress is merely to keep the chains of servitude intact, but reduce the proportion of iron in them while increasing the proportions of gold and silver. If our political life could have been developed adequately with a few peace- and-comfort-loving middle-class people, this would have been enough for the purpose. But if a nation is to be restored to life, we have to go beyond this petty and inconsequential ideal. For the sake of such an ideal has anyone ever forgotten himself in the fervour of patriotism and made a real self-sacrifice or, ignoring all threats and temptations, hastened forwards on the path of his duty? On the other hand, when the enchanting image of our Mother was once shown to us, at the sight of her face and the sound of her name we all went wild, joyfully renounced our selfish interests to work for the country, and began going to jail in droves with smiling faces. Is even this not enough to bring our leaders to their senses? Even after this will they not realise in which direction the skies are brightening as the sun of India's new life prepares to rise?

Cut the Golden Chain

We must break the spell of the golden chain. Refusing to imitate the English and rejecting their leadership, we must find the right means to attain our objective in accordance with our national temperament and the condition of the country. We must breathe new life into resurgent India by placing a great ideal before it. This alone is the path of liberation, otherwise there will be nothing but bondage.