A great quartet

The Trinity of India's national independence movement, started in the first decade of this century, was Bal-Pal-Lal. The harmonious blend of these three great names as of their minds and hearts still gives a thrill of joy and gratitude to the memory of the Nation.

The character and the personality of Bal Gangadhar Tilak were equally responsible for his success. This son of Maharashtra instilled into his Indian brothers character, strength, vigour and self-respect which, he thought, would wield a tremendous influence on the future generation. He was one of the voices that never faltered. Also he was one of the voices that could unite and build. He looked down upon conceit and hypocrisy even when they were part of a deliberate plot or plan. His speeches were exquisitely racy and absorbingly significant.

"… a name to be remembered so long as the country has pride in its past and hope for its future." In these few words of appreciation from Sri Aurobindo's immortal pen the world can form an idea of the contribution of Tilak to his Motherland.

Idleness is an unpardonable error. It gives birth to foolishness. And foolishness aptly shows us the way to destruction. We had managed to lose the power of Vision that resided ever within us. Alas, others had to come and make us conscious of it. Tilak's incisive utterance runs:

"We have been very idle. We have grown so stupid owing to our idleness that we are required to be told by foreigners that our treasuries conceal gold and not iron."

Bengal Partition, October 16, 1905 — Tilak was convinced like every right thinking man that those who meekly tolerate wrongs are as much to be blamed as the doers thereof. He asked the Bengalis to muster courage and fight against the injustices committed by the British Government. He inspired them to raise a shout of protest and to condemn the misdeeds of the British.

"You must make a permanent cause of grievance. Store up the grievances till they are removed. Partition grievances will be the edifice for the generation of India. Do not give up this partition grievance, for the whole of India is at your back. It is a cornerstone and I envy the people of Bengal for laying this cornerstone."

A thing never to be forgotten is the bold utterance made by Bipin Chandra Pal about the Partition of Bengal.

Lord Curzon passed his gubernatorial pen, cut the Province of Bengal in twain. Bengal remained one, and all that his attempt did was to create a deathless determination in the people to continue to be one to the end of their life. (Hear, hear)… No, gentlemen, the partition has failed. Mr. Morley says it is a "settled fact." History declares that it is a "settled failure" (Cheers) and I think "settled failure" is as good an expression as "settled fact." (Hear, hear). Now that partition has failed we do not care whether the Partition goes or whether it remains.

As the country can never dare to forget Tilak, even so with the "Surat split." Unfortunately, many people are under the wrong impression that this sorry split was all due to divergence in ideals. No, it was just because of difference of opinion as to the method of work which was to be carried out to gain the one common ideal of Swaraj. Tilak sincerely hoped that his Indian brothers would forget before long this deplorable event. To quote him:

"The difference being one of method and not of ideal it would surely be forgotten as time rolls on, and the keenness of it would surely be lessened every year till we meet again on a common platform."

Needless to say, after the Surat Congress Tilak became an object of contempt to many. They called him the deliberate breaker of the Congress. But, according to Sri Aurobindo, "To no one was the catastrophe so great a blow as to Mr. Tilak." If we at all want to understand Tilak rightly then we have no other choice than to listen to the following significant words of Sri Aurobindo:

"He (Tilak) did not love the do-nothingness of that assembly, but he valued it both as a great national fact and for its unrealised possibilities, and hoped to make of it a central organisation for practical work. To destroy an existing and useful institution was alien to his way of seeing and would not have entered into his ideas or his wishes."

At a time when our Motherland was swooning under the yoke of subjugation imposed by the British, the profusely inspired voice of Tilak, the Father of Indian Unrest, was heard: "Home rule is my birthright." And his voice was propagated from that very moment to eternity.

The greatness of Bipin Chandra Pal was many-sided. He was a patriot to his fingertips, a dauntless and progressive thinker, a man with a prophetic vision, a great literary figure, the possessor of a trumpet voice. He will, no doubt, be remembered longest as an orator. A ceaseless stream of eloquence ran direct from his heart to inspire and conquer the hearts of his countrymen. Unique as an orator, Pal was far greater as a lover of his Motherland. His heart bled for the suffering and slumbering nation. His speeches were nothing short of an overwhelming distribution of energy and it was often that this energy was successfully communicated to the public like an electric charge. His fiery speeches proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that in spite of physical prostration for a few centuries, India was still surcharged with an inner indomitable will that would one day enable her to stand in the vanguard of knowledge and power.

Pal failed to see eye to eye with the Congress at the beginning of the present century. The timid political agitation that was carried out by the Congress was, in his opinion, another name for begging. Hence he called the Congress "a begging institution." In this respect Sri Aurobindo too could not side with the Congress that stood for a policy of petition, nay, prayer.

It is worth remembering how Tilak differed from Pal:

"All talk about future progress, about the establishment of Responsible Government in the Province and afterwards in the Central Government is a very good talk with which I fully sympathise but which I am not prepared to demand as the first step of the introduction of Home Rule in India. That is the difference between myself and Mr. Bipin Chandra Pal. He wants the whole hog at once. I say, it would be granted to you by stages: demand the first step so that the introduction of the second step would be much more easy than it is at present."

Pal was definite in his assertion that India was to work out a new history for herself. It was next to impossible to form a self-government within the British Government, because the empire would undoubtedly be against the spirit of self-respect and self-reliance of the Indian people. On the other hand, he wanted a free and independent United States of India.

Pal was considered to be the most dangerous man in India by Lord Minto, then Governor-General of India. On April 2, 1907, he could not help writing a letter to Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India in London: "I do not think we should allow Bipin Chandra Pal to stump the country preaching sedition as he has been doing." And soon after this he proposed "the deportation of Bipin Chandra Pal on the ground that his behaviour has been monstrous."

Pal's triumphant call to patriotism reached every heart, rich and poor, wise and unwise. It is an undeniable fact that patriotism is the true love of one's own country. Pal adds something to it. He says: "Love's test is sacrifice." His final conclusion is: "Agitation is not, in any sense, a test of true patriotism. That test is self-help and self-sacrifice."

Indeed, one of his self-sacrifices captures our attention and draws admiration from all his countrymen. But for him Aurobindo, his dearest colleague, would have been thrown into jail. He cheerfully accepted six month's rigorous imprisonment just to keep his cherished friend Aurobindo at large.

Pal thundered against those who were in favour of tabooing politics from our schools and universities. He reminded his opponents of the facts that in the Oxford and Cambridge Unions they discuss politics, and in the school they bring up brigades. He observed: "Do they sing the National Anthem in the public schools in England?

"Rule Britannia! rule the waves,
  Britons never shall be slaves."

Is it tabooed in any public school in England? If not, how can you say that singing Bande Mataram is not consistent with the advancement of the real culture and education among the people of this country?" (Shouts of "Bande Mataram"_) And he made bold to say that if the student community were consumed with the incantation-fire of _Bande Mataram, then the education of students would no longer remain a problem. To quote him: "If this is done, you will solve the problem of education in India such as it has not as yet been solved by the British-controlled universities and officialised agencies of public institution in this country." Like his closest colleague Aurobindo, he too felt the mantric spirit of Bande Mataram in the depths of his heart. To them, Bande Mataram was not a mere sound, but a living force; not even a word, but a fiery inspiration, nay, the vision of an apocalypse.

What is a nation after all? According to Bipin Chandra Pal, a nation is not simply a collection of individuals. His firm conviction is that "a nation is an organism; it has organic life, and like all organisms a nation has an end unto itself, which is different from the ends that regulate the activities of other similar organisms, other similar nations." And Sri Aurobindo reveals the truth that lies behind the rise of India. "She does not rise as others do, for herself or when she is strong, to trample on the weak. She is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be free."

In his unique Uttarpara Speech Sri Aurobindo's lofty appreciation of Bipin Chandra Pal runs: "He is one of the mightiest prophets of Nationalism." No other characterisation of Bipin Chandra Pal's life could be more apposite than this.

Lala Lajpat Rai — "The Lion of the Punjab." How tremendously he fought, how terribly he suffered after he had thrown himself headlong into the battlefield of freedom! It was the profoundest fellow-feeling and not common self-interest that moved his patriotic heart. In this connection let us recollect Sri Aurobindo's prophetic utterance about patriotism: "Our ideal of patriotism proceeds on the basis of love and brotherhood beyond the unity of the nation and envisages the ultimate unity of mankind."

Politics was not the sole field of Rai. Strangely enough, he played a magnificent role in social reform and the Arya Samaj movement at Lahore. In this he was heartily helped by the young devoted patriots of the province.

Like Pal, he too was definite in his assertion that independence could be achieved only by our own efforts, and that to depend on British generosity would be to cry in the wilderness. He had little sympathy with Gandhiji's non-cooperation. He knew what fighting means. He was a stranger to satyagraha. Also, he failed to be at one with Gandhiji's view of life, that is to say, he did not expect much from mere simplicity in life. What he wanted was "a zest for real life." He was a religious Hindu to the marrow both by temperament and self-training.

To our country's cause he consecrated his whole life, his everything. He was highly inspired by the soul-stirring teachings of Swami Vivekananda. On the one hand, he was the hero of heroes; on the other, he was a Nation-builder. He was terribly hurt when he saw the English-knowing Indian aping his master in all his manners. What he found worse was that the English-knowing Indian cheerfully detested Indian life and took pride in being out-and-out anglicised.

It is worth remembering how Tilak felt for Rai at the time of his deportation:

"Lala Lajpat Rai… had done nothing that was not lawful, and yet the whole official hierarchy conspired and acted like one man to deport him. I cannot imagine a clearer sign that the greatness of the British Government is doomed, and that decay and demoralisation have set in." Further, he advised the young men of the Punjab to cast aside fear and not to sink into despondency. "You must imitate your ruler only in one thing, namely, in maintaining an unfailing succession of public workers. If one Lala Lajpat Rai is sent abroad, another ought to be found to take his place as readily as a junior Collector steps into the shoes of a senior."

And on that occasion, how Sri Aurobindo with his indomitable will inspired the people of the Punjab is not only striking but also highly elevating. It was far into the night. Sri Aurobindo was asleep. One of his co-workers came in and gave him the news of Lala Lajpat's deportation. While searching for paper to write on, he found a piece of packing paper within his reach. He in no time wrote out the following words for publication in his Bande Mataram on the morrow:

"Men of the Punjab! Race of the lion! Show these men who would stamp you into the dust that for one Lajpat they have taken away, a hundred Lajpats will arise in his place."

"Swaraj is my birthright," so said Tilak.

"Swaraj," said Rai, "is our war-cry, our all-inspiring and all-absorbing aim in life."

According to Sri Aurobindo, "Swaraj means fulfilment of our national life."

Again, we are not to forget that Rai was a very competent authority on education. His book, The Problem of National Education in India, throws considerable light on the true aims and ideals that ought to govern India's vision in every sphere of life. It is indeed a book of boldness and precision.

Rai was eminent in several walks of life. Verily his was a life that knew not how to shock or belittle any human being.

I now venture to ask my readers to observe how Bal-Pal-Lal looked upon Sri Aurobindo, to whom came naturally the understanding of both East and West. No hyperbole, to meet him was to feel the presence of something that could be described as the very essence of culture and refinement.

Tilak's lofty appreciation of Sri Aurobindo runs in this wise:

"None is equal to Aravinda in self-sacrifice, knowledge and sincerity… It is a dispensation of benign Providence that persons like Aravinda have been drawn to the national work… He writes from divine inspiration, sattwic intelligence, and unshakeable determination."

Pal, who was one of his closest colleagues, cherished an unimaginable admiration for Sri Aurobindo. "Youngest in age among those who stand in the forefront of the nationalist propaganda in India, but in endowment, education and character, perhaps superior to them all — Aravinda seems distinctly marked out by Providence to play in the future of this movement a part not given to any of his colleagues and contemporaries … His only care is for his country… the Mother as he always calls her… Nationalism… at its best, a concern of the intellect with some, at the lowest, a political cry and aspiration with others… is with Aravinda a supreme passion of his soul."

Long after Sri Aurobindo bade farewell to politics — to be precise, on January 5, 1925 — Lala Lajpat Rai came to meet him at Pondicherry. There was an exchange of free ideas on current politics. To quote his genuine appreciation of Sri Aurobindo which he wrote long ago: "In intellectual acumen and in scholastic accomplishments, he is perhaps superior to Har Dayal, but above all, he is deeply religious and spiritual. "

While Bal-Pal-Lal have left their impress on India's history, Sri Aurobindo is still at work unseen, and will be so till Mother India is well set on her peerless pedestal.

According to Sri Aurobindo, true independence is that which would make man one with his Creator, an independence that would make the earth a habitation of the Infinite.

This independence is far from realised, no doubt, but its realisation is as inevitable as the fact that today precedes tomorrow.