Continued from Part 1
The Democratic Ideals and Our Independence Day
Surely a date of momentous implications for the values of civilisation has been chosen by India to celebrate her independence. Why did she select this particular date? There seems to have been no conscious assessment of whatever import it bore by the year 1947 in which the last British soldier left Indian soil. But behind the conscious thought of individuals there is the working of that invisible yet potent being which is the national soul or genius.
Every country has such a soul and every true patriot feels directly or indirectly its presence. In terms of the wide yet demarcated body of land in which one takes birth and grows and dies, in terms of the large mass of people who are bound together by geographical limits, in terms of a long history behind that mass, in terms of a culture subtly single in the midst of all variety of province and language—in diverse terms separate or combined is felt the national soul. And always a personification is made of it, a great presiding spirit is envisaged, a Mother-being that is the true secret life of the country’s collectivity as well as physical expanse.
No matter how rationalistic we may be, the moment we are patriots the heart in us intuits this Mother-being and with the dream of its more-than-human loveliness and on the supporting breath of its super-animation we move to the exertions and the heroisms that ordinarily lie far beyond our powers.
When a country’s collectivity is disposed to occult insight the national soul is most clearly grasped by the patriot heart: thus in Ireland and in India we find the intensest response to the superhuman presence constituting the nation. Especially in India with her endless history of rishi and yogi and bhakta and avatar, patriotism is at its roots a religious fervour.
And the most creative of its many forms has been the one with which it started on its career of revolt against British rule—the one which found its most puissant expression in the upsurge of Bengal during the partition of this province by Lord Curzon and which went to its fiery work with that open acknowledgment of the national soul, the worshipping cry of Bande Mataram, “I bow to you, O Mother.”
This cry rang throughout the many decades of the country’s toil for freedom and even now when superficial purposes have sought officially to replace Bankim Chandra’s inspired anthem, replete with the very essence of Indianness, by the more deliberate more cosmopolitan composition, Jana Gana Mana, the outleaping apostrophe to the Goddess that is India has not lost its appeal—still in a myriad bosoms the flame of occult recognition burns—through the officially secular mind itself of those in charge of the government the Mother, though often obstructed, works secretly her will.
In the instance of a country like India the outwardly unconscious choice of a date like August 15 for the Independence Day must be traced to no fortuitous concourse of atoms in the brains of her Ministers but to the deep design of her national soul.
Don’t miss: Sri Aurobindo and August 15
Also see: Nation and Nationalism – Sri Aurobindo in Bande Mataram
How shall we state this design?
On the data already mentioned, we should say that India is meant to be the arch-representative of the ideals with which the modern age broke on the world. Liberty, equality, fraternity—these are intended to be embodied most vividly by India. They have never been materialised in the full sense because either their true order has not quite been understood or else, if it has been understood, the ultimate connotation of them has been elusive.
The French Revolution and its Napoleonic consolidation laid the stress on liberty. Indeed this was not unnatural, for it was liberty that was most denied in the days before the taking of the Bastille. The fall of the Bastille, the throwing open of the doors of the State prison symbolised the animating principle of the whole terrific movement which swept away the “divine right” of kings and the shackles of feudalism. That is why up to now the Revolution is celebrated on July 14.
But, in the sphere of social life, liberty, though precious and indispensable, does not always make for either equality or fraternity. The only equality and fraternity it automatically goes with are a common status in the eyes of the law—at least in general. For the rest, it may bring in an immense latitude for competition and a chance for the best-placed, the strongest, the most skilful, the least scrupulous to get the upper hand.
The remedy sought for this latitude is economic equality, and democracy which is government based on the individual’s freedom of action as well as of thought has been opposed by collectivism which is government founded on equal association in labour and a common profit-sharing.
Collectivism may not be altogether reprehensible in theory but in practice it becomes a rule by force, an iron levelling-down, a rigid regimentation: liberty suffers enormously and a dictatorship is created steam-rollering both social and intellectual life. Fraternity suffers too, for where liberty is not guaranteed there is always the Secret Police and no man can trust his neighbour and all live in fear and suspicion.
If a choice is to be made between the dangers of democracy and those of collectivism, the former are far preferable since the mind is left free by them and the mind’s freedom is a greater progressive force than the artificially secured welfare of the body. Besides, as we observe strikingly in America, such welfare is not impossible to democracy, what is needed is planned economy and not necessarily collectivism.
Also, a degree of fraternity can be and often is brought about, for the principle of liberty is not in itself averse to but, if properly developed, consonant with the principle of “live and let live”—tolerance, kindliness, mutual respect, diversified harmony.
Again, by allowing the mind of man to go unfettered, it gives lebensraum not only to the cult of altruistic humanism and to idealistic art and philosophy but also to the religious, the spiritual, the mystical drive towards realising a single Selfhood of the cosmos or a single Fatherhood of the world and, as a result, a spontaneous compassion that takes all universe into its embrace and establishes a natural link of love, as if the entire creation were one family of brothers.
It is because democracy is not exclusive, as a collectivist dictatorship is, of such possibilities of inner and outer growth that the formula of the French Revolution, for all its shortcomings, is a valuable step in human history. And those countries that have erected their political and social order on some form or other of its teachings are the true friends of India and, despite their remnants of colonialism, their fight today against Communist tyranny is her fight as well.
Her hitting upon August 15 as her Independence Day is a sign from beyond the outer surface of her life, a pointer from her national soul, that her place is in the vanguard of democracy and that her mission is to fulfil what the democratic peoples of the West are still fumbling after.
Continued in Part 3…
Also read: Part 1
~ Cover image: original image by Margaret Phanes,; cover design by Rishabh Sharma
~ Other design: Beloo Mehra