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Nationalist Organisation

sri_aurobindo__1915

(A hundred years ago, India was like a raft in a rocky sea in the middle of a storm — a storm of change and resurgence. No one could say what was about to happen but everyone felt the current and many were the great soldiers who were responsible for it. Sri Aurobindo’s words have always carried a force and truth that is hard to ignore or not be affected by. His thoughts expressed in context to a particular situation often have a deeper insight which relates to the future. We are proud and happy to share with you a flashback from the past, written exactly a century ago, and relevant in some measure even today.)

The time has now come when it is imperative in the interests of the Nationalist party that its forces should be organised for united deliberation and effective work. A great deal depends on the care and foresight with which the character and methods of the organisation are elaborated at the beginning, for any mistake now may mean trouble and temporary disorganisation hereafter. It is not the easy problem of providing instruments for the working of a set of political ideas in a country where political thought has always been clear and definite and no repressive laws or police harassment can be directed against the dissemination of just political ideals and lawful political activities. We have to face the jealousy, suspicion and hostility of an all-powerful vested interest which it is our avowed object to replace by Indian agencies, the opposition, not always over-nice in its methods, of a rich and influential section of our own countrymen, and the vagueness of thought and indecisiveness of action common to the great bulk of our people even when they have been deeply touched by Nationalist sentiment and ideals. To form a centre of order, clear, full and powerful thought, swift effectiveness, free and orderly deliberation, disciplined and well-planned action must be the object of any organisation that we shall form. Two sets of qualities which ought not to be but often are conflicting, are needed for success: resolute courage and a frank and faithful adherence to principle on the one side and wariness and policy on the other.

The first mistake we have to avoid is the tendency to perpetuate or imitate old institutions or lines of action which are growing out of date. The Nationalist party is a young and progressive force born of tendencies, aims and necessities which were foreign to the nineteenth century, and, being a party of the future and not of the immediate past, it must look, in all it does and creates, not to the past but to the future. There are still in the party the relics of the old desire to raise up a rival Congress and assert our claim to be part legatees of the institution which came to a violent end at Surat. Our claim stands and, if a real Congress is again erected, it must be with the Nationalists within it and not excluded. The strength of the demand in the country for a United Congress is a sufficient vindication of the claim. But if we try still farther to enforce it by holding a rival session and calling it the Congress, we shall take an ill-advised step calculated to weaken us instead of developing our strength. A technical justification may be advanced by inviting men of all shades of opinion to such a session, but as a matter of fact none are likely to attend a session summoned by pronounced Nationalists unless they are pronounced Nationalists themselves. A United Congress can be effectively summoned only if we are able to effect a combination of Nationalists, advanced Moderates and that large section of opinion which, without having pronounced views, are eager to revive a public body in which all opinions can meet and work together for the good of the country. Such a combination would soon reduce Sir Pherozshah’s Rump Congress to the lifeless and meagre phantasm which it must in any case become with the lapse of time and the open development of the Mehta-Morley alliance. But to create another Rump Congress on the Nationalist side would be to confound confusion yet worse without any compensating gain. It would moreover throw on the shoulders of the Nationalists a portion of the blame for perpetuating the split, which now rests entirely on the other side.

If a Nationalist Rump Congress is inadvisable and inconsistent with the dignity of the Nationalist party and its aversion to mere catchwords and shams, an imitation of the forms and working of the old Congress is also inadvisable. We were never satisfied with those forms and that working. The three days’ show, the excessively festal aspect of the occasion, the monstrous preponderance of speech and resolution-passing over action and work, the want of true democratic rule and order, the weary waste of formal oratory without any practical use or object, the incapacity of the assembly for grappling with the real problems of our national existence and progress, the anxiety to avoid public discussion which is the life-breath of democratic politics, these and many other defects made the Congress in our view an instrument ill-made, wasteful of money and energy and the centre of a false conception of political deliberation and action.

If we imitate the Congress, we shall contract all the faults of the Congress. Neither can we get any help from the proceedings of the Nationalist Conference which met at Surat; for that was a loose and informal body which only considered certain immediate questions and emergencies arising out of the Surat session. Yet a centre of deliberation and the consideration of past progress and future policy is essential to the building of the Nationalist party into an effective force conscious of and controlling its mission and activities. We shall indicate briefly the main principles on which we think the organisation of such a body should be based.

The first question is of the scope and object of the institution. In the first place, we must avoid the mistake of making it a festival or a show occasion intended to excite enthusiasm and propagate sentiment. That was a function which the Indian National Congress had, perhaps inevitably, to perform, but a body which tries to be at once a deliberative assembly and a national festival, must inevitably tend to establish the theatrical and holiday character at the expense of the practical and deliberative. National festivals and days of ceremony are the best means of creating enthusiasm and sentiment; that is the function of occasions like the 7th August and the 16th October, the Shivaji Utsav and similar celebrations. We must resolutely eschew all vestiges of the old festival aspect of our political bodies and make our assembly a severely practical and matter of-fact body. Secondly, we must clearly recognise that a body meeting once a year cannot be an effective centre of actual yearlong work; it can only be an instrument for deliberation and the determination of policy and a centre of reference for whose consideration and adjudgment the actually accomplished work of the year may, in its main features and the sum of its fulfilment, be submitted. The practical work must be done by quite different organisations, provincial and local, carrying out the policy fixed by the deliberative body but differently constituted; for, as the object of an executive body is entirely different from the object of a deliberative body, so its constitution, rules and procedure must be entirely different. In fact our All-India body must be not a Congress or Conference even, but a Council, and since in spite of Shakespeare and Sj. Baikunthanath Sen, there is much in a name and it largely helps to determine our attitude towards the thing, let us call our body not the Nationalist Congress, Convention or Conference, but the Nationalist Council.

If the body is to be a Council, its dimensions must be of such a character as to be manageable and allow of effective discussion in the short time at our disposal. A spectacular Congress or Conference gains by numbers, a Council is hampered by them. Therefore the maximum number of delegates must be fixed and apportioned to the different parts of the nation according to their numbers. Secondly, in the proceedings themselves all elements of useless ornament and redundance must be purged out, such as the long Presidential Speech, the Reception Committee Chairman’s speech and the division of the proceedings into the secret and effective Subjects Committee sittings and the public display of oratory in the full assembly. The first two features are obviously useless for our purpose and a mere waste of valuable time. With the disappearance of the spectacular aspect usually associated with our public bodies, the reason for the mere display of oratory also disappears. The only other utility of the double sitting is that the full assembly forms a Court of Appeal from the decision of the Subjects Committee and an opportunity to the minority for publicly dissenting from any decision by a majority which they might otherwise be supposed to have endorsed. The necessity for the first function arises from the imperfectly representative character of the Subjects Committee, as it is at present elected; the necessity for the second function from the absence of publicity in its proceedings. If the whole Council sits as Subjects Committee, the necessity for the Court of Appeal or the public assertion of dissent will not occur. The only justification for the existence of the Subjects Committee in our present political bodies is their unwieldy proportions, the only reason for its secrecy the attempt to conceal all difficulties in the way of coming to a unanimous conclusion; and neither of these reasons will have any existence in a Nationalist Council.

The subjects can be fixed by a small executive body existing throughout the year, which will be in charge of all questions that may arise in connection with the Council, subject to approval or censure by the Council itself at its annual meeting. The resolutions on these subjects can be formed in the Council and additional resolutions can be brought forward, if the Council approves. All unnecessary oratory should be avoided and resolutions formulating policy of a standing character can be first got out of the way by a formal motion of them from the Chair. After this preliminary, the Council can go into Committee to consider, approve or amend the report of progress made by the Secretaries for the past year, and, on the second day, resolutions demanding debate and deliberation may be discussed in full Council. The next question is the procedure and constitution. We desire no autocratic President, no oligarchy of ex-Presidents and long-established officials, no looseness of procedure putting a premium on party trickery and unfair rulings. The only body of officials will be two general secretaries and two secretaries for each province, forming the executive body of the Council, who will be for the most part recorders of provincial work and summoners of the Council and will have no power to direct or control its procedure. Instead of an autocratic and influential President we should have a Chairman who will not intervene in the discussion with his views, but confine himself to guiding the deliberations as an administrator of fixed rules of procedure which he will not have the power to depart from, modify or amplify. He must therefore be, like the Speaker of the House of Commons, not an active and prominent leader who cannot be spared from the discussion, but a man of some position in the party whose probity and fairness can be universally trusted.

The last question is that of the electorate. We throw out the suggestion that, in the first place, we should cease to be bound by the British provincial units which are the creation of historical circumstances connected with the gradual conquest of India by the English traders, and have no correspondence with the natural divisions of the people, and should adopt divisions which will be favourable to the working out of the Nationalist policy. And since the main work of the party will have to be done through the vernacular, the most natural and convenient divisions will be those of the half dozen or more great literary languages, minor or dialectal tongues of inferior vitality being thrown under the great vernaculars to which they geographically or by kinship belong. It was the programme of the Nationalist party in Bengal to create a register of voters throughout the country, who could form a real electorate. Such a conception would have been impracticable in the old days when the people at large took no active part in politics; it was fast approaching the region of practicability when the repressions broke the natural course of our national development and introduced elements of arbitrary interference from above and a feeble and sporadic Terrorist reaction from below, the after-swell of which still disturbs the country. Sj. Bipin Chandra Pal has written advocating the creation of a register of Nationalists, as a basis for organisation. This is, no doubt, the only sound basis for a thoroughly democratic organisation, but so long as the after-swell lasts and the tempest may return, so long as police misrule does not give way to the complete restoration of law and order, a register of Nationalists would only be a register of victims for investigators of the Lalmohan and Mazarul Haq type to harass with arrests, house-searches, binding down under securities, prosecutions with no evidence or tainted evidence, and the other weapons which Criminal Procedure and Penal Code supply, and against which there can be no sufficient redress under an autocratic regime not responsible to any popular body, leaning on the police rather than on the people and master of the judiciary. In these circumstances we can only create convenient limited electorates for the election of our council delegates, awaiting a more favourable condition of things for democratising the base of our structure.

On these principles we can establish a deliberative body which will give shape, centrality and consistency to Nationalist propaganda and work all over the country. We invite the attention of the leading Nationalist workers throughout India to our suggestion. The proposal has been made to hold a meeting of Nationalists at Calcutta at which a definite scheme and rules may be submitted and, as far as possible, adopted in action so that the work may not be delayed. No United Congress is possible this year, and if or when it comes, the existence of our body which is avowedly a party organisation will not interfere with our joining it.

Sri Aurobindo