The first part of this book is a compilation from Sri Aurobindo's writings and speeches that show his contribution to the Indian freedom movement. It covers such topics as Sri Aurobindo's vision of India as the Motherland, his concept of a "new Nationalism", 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. The second part contains comments by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the young revolutionaries associated with Sri Aurobindo, or inspired by him. It also includes profiles of seventeen revolutionaries, with reminiscences of some of them. Old photographs and supplementary notes and text add historical interest.
This work under review is broadly divided into two parts. Part One entitled A Vision of Free India incorporates the following course of events : Sri Aurobindo on Mother India, New Nationalism, Advice to the Young, His Plan to Free India, His ‘Last Political Will and Testament', His Life in Prison, Sanatana Dharma, Sri Aurobindo in the Eyes of the Nation, His Reasons for Leaving Politics and His Five Dreams. Part Two under the caption The Young Revolutionaries of Bengal concentrates on Sri Aurobindo on the Young Revolutionaries of Bengal, The Mother on India's Revolutionaries and The Maniktala Secret Society. Appendices of the volume focus on the Alipore Bomb Trial, The Emblem of Yugantar and Sri Aurobindo's Message to Sir Stafford Cripps. Bibliography is quite exhaustive and the references to the Texts are very useful. The terms "are defined as far as possible in Sri Aurobindo's own words" in the Glossary. The compilers and editors very efficiently introduced the subject by throwing enough light on Sri Aurobindo's role in Indian freedom struggle during the period 1902-1910.
Without thoroughly understanding the importance of the articles and statements of Sri Aurobindo, the papers of Alipore and Midnapore Bomb Cases and other relevant documents, some scholars and politicians have characterised this phase of Indian revolutionary movement simply as ‘Hindu Nationalism', and underestimated Sri Aurobindo's role as a prominent figure of that time. Some of them even draw a line of distinction between B.G. Tilak on the one hand and Sri Aurobindo on the other. For using ‘Hindu symbols' and ‘Aryan ideals' to rouse up people against the alien domination they have placed Sri Aurobindo in the ‘communal camp', but they have shown a reluctance to place Tilak in the same camp, on the ground that the use of ‘Hindu political idiom' by him was very different from that of Sri Aurobindo. They have completely ignored the fact that Bengal and Maharashtra, led by Sri Aurobindo and Tilak respectively, moved together to guide the nation in the same direction. It is also proved from official documents that neither the Bengal revolutionaries nor their counterparts from Maharashtra suffered from a parochial outlook : they rather fostered the spirit of Indianism. It was Sri Aurobindo who, in 1893, stated that "the real strength of the National Congress lay in the masses – the proletariat." No other leader before him coined the word ‘proletariat' in this sense.
Drawing inspiration from the fountains of religion Sri Aurobindo made "a plan to prepare the country for an armed rebellion" and thereby to found a new independent India for three hundred million Indians comprising the Hindus, Muslims and other sections of Indian population. Long before the adoption of a resolution by the Indian National Congress on complete independence, the revolutionaries of this period, led by Sri Aurobindo, for the first time defined the word swaraj
in terms of complete independence. This concept was quite contrary to the Moderate idea of colonial self-government to be realised by a slow process of reform. Sri Aurobindo also adopted and applied new techniques, such as ‘the method of passive resistance', ‘boycott' and swadeshi
in conducting the movement.
Tilak was arrested and deported in 1908 for sympathising with the Bengal revolutionaries after the Muzaffarpur incident and the unprecedented upsurge of the workers of Bombay Mills, which was hailed by V. I. Lenin as a turning point in the Indian political struggle, was connected with the trial of Tilak. Sri Aurobindo's efforts to maintain contacts with the Labour Parties of Europe vindicated his position as a thoroughgoing anti-colonialist during this time.
Even a prominent political figure like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his earlier days failed to understand the significance of this movement and characterized it simply as ‘Hindu Nationalism'. He, however, as Prime Minister of India in 1962, frankly confessed that the ground prepared by Sri Aurobindo greatly helped Mahatama Gandhi to launch powerful movements in the country at a later period. The critics of Sri Aurobindo in the recent period completely ignore the points stated above and their views remain merely subjective observations on his role in the national struggle for freedom. It would, therefore, be historically inaccurate to characterise the political ideas of Sri Aurobindo as ‘non-secular' though they contained a certain ‘Hindu tinge'. It should not be forgotten that the tradition set up by him during the period under review was carried on in the years ahead by other leaders inspite of Sri Aurobindo's departure from the political scene in 1910. How can we underestimate the fact that his efforts made a deep imprint on India's struggle for freedom?
I have no doubt that this well-documented work would remove the prevailing misgivings in the academic circle regarding Sri Aurobindo's role in the anti-colonial struggle. The scholars would certainly welcome it as an important source material for studying the first phase of the nationalist-revolutionary movement in India. Both the editors and the publisher deserve our heartiest congratulations for bringing out such an excellent work.
Dr. Amalendu De
Professor of History