Bande Mataram, as Sri Aurobindo observed, “was never prosecuted for her editorial articles.” In fact, there were complaints against highly rated messaging from her.
Aurobindo’s editorials and articles in Mataram Band, which he wrote almost daily between 1907 and 1908, are a broad outline and outline of his early political activism, trajectory, and thought. They provide the reader with an idea of the nationalist political discourse of the time, and also of the evolution of the nationalist movement, especially the initial phase. Often referred to as the pre-Gandhi phase, this was a time of political developments that laid the foundations on which the nationalist movement would later expand.
Mataram Band It came into action at a time when the advanced group within Congress, or the ‘New Party’ as Sri Aurobindo called it, was struggling to gain political control and ascendancy against the party’s old guard, known as the Moderates. As one of the main leaders of the ‘New Party’, Sri Aurobindo felt the need for an English daily newspaper through which the ideas and policies of the new nationalist group could be spread among the educated sections of Bengal and the rest of India.
George Curzon had partitioned Bengal in 1905. It was, as Sri Aurobindo told the British journalist and writer Henry Nevinson, “the greatest blessings that had ever befallen India” as “no other measure could have so deeply moved Indian sentiment.” national or wake it up”. so suddenly from the lethargy of previous years’. Sri Aurobindo saw Mataram Band as a vehicle through which those sentiments could be fostered and channeled throughout the country.
The first phase of India’s freedom struggle had two distinct dimensions: one was public political action and the other was secret revolutionary activities aimed at violently overthrowing the British government. Sri Aurobindo saw the need to combine both dimensions. In his short but intense period of political action, he managed, to a certain extent, to create synergy between the two. Mataram Band it emerged as the ideational platform for articulating and disseminating the political philosophy and policies of his ‘New Party’. It soon became very popular. Read throughout India, it came to be identified with the politics of Sri Aurobindo and the politics of the extremists: Bande Mataram was almost unique in journalistic history for the influence it had in converting the minds of a people and preparing them for revolution.
Sri Aurobindo’s editorials in Mataram Band, which articulate the policies and political position of the new party, were intense and well argued; and they were read and appreciated even by their political opponents and the British. The call for revolt in its columns was masterfully expressed in symbolism, the demand for non-cooperation cunningly argued, making it difficult for colonial censors to clamp down on the paper for sedition. Mataram Band, as Sri Aurobindo observed, ‘she was never prosecuted for her editorial articles’. In fact, there were complaints against her highly rated messaging from her:
“The editor of the Statesman he complained that they were too fiendishly clever, full of sedition between the lines, but legally unassailable by language prowess. The Government must have shared this opinion, because they never dared to attack the paper for its editorial or other articles, either from Sri Aurobindo or from the pen of his three editorial colleagues. There is also the fact that Sri Aurobindo never based his defense of liberty on racial hatred or charges of tyranny or misrule, but always on the nation’s inalienable right to independence. His position was that even a good government could not take the place of the national government: independence”.
SK Ratcliffe, a veteran British journalist with nationalist sympathies who had edited the Statesman for a time, described Mataram Band in a letter to manchester keeper in December 1950, decades after the newspaper closed its doors. He recalled how the paper had “struck a new and resounding note in Indian journalism.” He gave a precise description of how Mataram Band actually looked like:
“It was a full-size sheet, neatly printed on green paper, and filled with feature and feature articles written in English with a brilliance and pungency never before achieved in the Indian press. It was the most effective voice of what we then called nationalist extremism.”
the pages of Mataram Band it abounded with articles on ‘Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education’, the fourfold program on which the extremist school based its policy. After much behind-the-scenes fighting, the moderate leaders were forced to incorporate these principles into the resolutions of the 1906 annual session of Congress held in Kolkata. This was the first major political victory of the new party in Congress. In the following months, the growing involvement of Sri Aurobindo and the gradual control of Mataram Band he would see the newspaper emerge as a mouthpiece for the new group.
Bipin Chandra Pal, one of the leading figures of the ‘new school’, had started Mataram Band in 1906 with “only 500 rupees in his pocket”. Pal’s invitation to Sri Aurobindo to join the venture in support and to write a lead article every day for the paper won the latter’s consent. He wrote: ‘Sri Aurobindo saw his opportunity to initiate the public propaganda necessary for his revolutionary purpose.’ The name chosen for the new newspaper meant both devotion to the country and defiance of the British authorities.
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Although the journal was an immediate success, it soon ran into financial difficulties. Over the next few months, Sri Aurobindo “took over joint management of the magazine, edited the paper during Bipin Pal’s absence, and induced the Nationalist Party to take it over as its organ and finance it.” Sri Aurobindo’s proposal to establish Mataram Band as a limited company to ensure its financial viability, Kolkata-based industrialist with Swadeshi sympathies, Subodh Chandra Basu-Mullick, and his brother, Nirodh, supported the venture.
A close associate of Sri Aurobindo and a member of the secret revolutionary network, Subodh not only financed the newspaper and provided his office, but was also a benefactor of the national education movement. At the end of 1906, the circulation of Mataram Band “he was ever on the rise and his popularity was the envy of the pro-colonial or Anglo-Indian press.” Soon, Sri Aurobindo was virtually in full control of the newspaper’s politics until his own arrest in the Alipore bombing case of 1908.
The year 1907, when Sri Aurobindo produced most of the pieces for the paper, was also the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1857 revolt, suggesting the vortex and ferment of Indian politics at that time. His articles on Mataram Band give an idea of the problems and politics of the time.
Sri Aurobindo’s rank in Mataram Band it was phenomenal. He wrote on social and economic issues, education, self-help, self-sufficiency, agriculture, the need to return to the land, rural empowerment, village organizations, national education, communal problems, unrest and resistance, and the Swadeshi movement—educational and commercial. He was caustic about moderate politics, inveterately aggressive towards the British and his supporters in the Anglo-Indian press, discussed the need to broaden the movement, and wrote repeatedly about freedom and total liberty. he was in the columns of Mataram Band that Sri Aurobindo articulated his famous demand for absolute independence:
“Congress has been content to demand self-government such as exists in the Colonies. We of the new school would not cast our ideal one inch short of absolute Swaraj: self-government as it exists in the UK. We believe that no smaller ideal can inspire a national revival or rouse the people of India for the fierce, stubborn and formidable struggle by which only they can become a nation again.”
Gautam Chikermane is a writer and Vice President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Devdip Ganguli is a faculty member at the Sri Aurobindo Education Center in Pondicherry. The above article is an excerpt from his book, ‘Reading Sri Aurobindo’, published by Penguin.
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