Monday, May 31, 2010

Sri Aurobindo never really gave up his interest in and concern for political developments

The civilisational impact of Sri Aurobindo's arrival in Pondicherry
By Anirban Ganguli
Sri Aurobindo’s arrival at Pondicherry April 4, 1910-The politics of marginalisation.
A centenary passed off quite unnoticed and un-feted nationally. The paltry exceptions were events organised by faithful adherents, a localised official firecracker function and the announcement of a weekly train. Events that seem hardly in tune with the stature and significance of the occasion. Perhaps because the personality whose action’s centenary it was never believed in perpetuating dynasties, did not care to evolve a fadistic political creed out of tune with the national temperament and requirement and more importantly adopted a radical line of action, incessantly upheld the Hindu identity and ethos of the nation and consistently refused to be politically correct that it was necessary to omit the occasion. In fact most of the early nationalist revolutionaries who were propelled to action by the vision and realisation of the country as the Mother Strength-Bharata Shakti- and did not imbibe their political creed from then fashionable western intellectual camps of the Fabians and Communists have been victims of this officially engineered selective national amnesia. Such are the manifestations of a rapidly accelerating process of denationalisation.

The personality under discussion is Sri Aurobindo and the centenary referred to is that of his arrival in
Pondicherry on April 4, 1910. The event has been variously misinterpreted/misunderstood; I shall not enter into a discussion on that aspect here. Instead I shall only point out that some - betraying an obvious leftist bias and inability to appreciate Indian spiritual traditions and processes - saw it as the effect of stress and strain and an apparent failure in political action (Sumit Sarkar, Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1973), while others perpetually locked in an ideational struggle with the Bharatiya ethos and psyche and unfamiliar with the terms and exigencies of tapasya and sadhana simply failed to understand the move (Nehru’s foreword to Karan Singh’s Prophet of Indian Nationalism, 1963). And so the post-colonial Indian establishment-academic and political-largely compartmentalised and hegemonised by these two poles of perception has systematically sought to efface the thoughts, contributions and directions of the alternate voice.

The absence of an university commemorating the youngest vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, the necessity of private effort to set up one in the name of Swami Vivekananda and the as yet unheard of step in that direction in memory of Sri Aurobindo are just some of the stark manifestations of that perennial stranglehold which seeks to regulate and demarcate discourses at all levels in this country. Be that as it may, my intention here is to read some of Sri Aurobindo’s statements and observations post his retirement to Pondicherry and to argue that these demonstrate on the one hand, as I have contested elsewhere (Opportunities given to India, 2009) that he never really gave up his interest in and concern for political developments in India and two that a number of positions that he adopted or expressed-without caring to be on the convenient side of the divide-do retain a great degree of contemporaneity anticipating forces external as well as internal at work gnawing away at the fabric of this nation. This centenary perhaps offers an appropriate occasion for a brief review.

One of the stands that he took while writing a defence of Indian culture in his philosophical review Arya [brought from Pondicherry] was that the Hindu culture [ he alternately termed it Hindu and Indian, for thought leaders of his generation, unadulterated with the secularist diction, it meant the one and the same] must put up a defence that was strong, ‘ even an aggressive defence; for only an aggressive defence’, he argued, ‘can be effective in the conditions of modern struggle’ (Sri Aurobindo, Is India civilised-1, 1918-1919). Such a defence was acutely necessitated because of a fierce struggle, which he saw, would gradually evolve, a struggle that could eventually alter the identity of this nation, its people and its civilisational ethos. As a result of such a struggle he saw the emergence of two possibilities ‘India’ may, he observed, ‘be rationalised and industrialised out of all recognition and she will be no longer India or else she will be the leader in a new world-phase’ and culturally and spiritually infiltrate the West.

Therefore Sri Aurobindo advocated an aggressive refusal to get lulled into a slavish and imitative existence and for that he saw the necessity of mobilising an aggressive defence of the Hindu mind, thought and way of life.

Now let me shift from the cultural and civilisational struggle to the grossly political and even here Sri Aurobindo’s stand starkly contrasts with the political correctness of that period (1916) and also with development of our times when proponents of denominational reservations have again renewed their fissiparous agendas. I shall not get into his long activism against minorityism (e.g. opposing the communal awards of 1909 by arguing that the provisions catered to only one minority and protected it in areas even where it was in a large majority and retained no safeguards for Hindus wherever they happen to be in a position of minority - Karmayogin, 1909.) but shall only call attention to one of his private letters and this is where the relevance is so evident to the present debate over the Raganath Misra Commission report recommending religious reservations - a recommendation that a hundred years later is forcibly leading the nation again on the beaten path towards a second balkanised existence. A look at this letter will obviously demonstrate why it is officially convenient to forget its writer and to segregate him in the confines of parliamentary statues or cultural organisations. 
"As for the Hindu-Muslim affair," wrote Sri Aurobindo in 1934 to his disciple and amanuensis Nirodbaran who wanted a line on the issue, "I saw no reason why the greatness of India’s past or her spirituality should be thrown into the waste paper basket in order to conciliate the Moslems who would not at all be conciliated by such a policy. What has created the Hindu-Moslem split was not Swadeshi, [a direct contradiction of the leftist reading or misreading of the Swadeshi period and its contribution] but the acceptance of the communal principle by the Congress-and the further attempt by the Khilafat movement to conciliate them and bring them in on wrong lines. The recognition of that communal principle at Lucknow made them permanently a separate political entity in India which ought never to have happened; the Khilafat affair made that separate political entity an organised separate political power." (SK Mitra, The Liberator, 1954). 
The other perception that Sri Aurobindo distanced himself from the Hindu identity and cause (Peter Heehs, Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism, 2008) is squarely countered in this letter-India’s spiritual past has been and remains a concretely Hindu contribution despite all talks of external interventions and assimilation.

Naturally when a concerted attempt is being made, both to consign India’s past achievements and evolution to the waste bin of history and to further fracture her polity through re-engineering a policy of denominational segregation narrowly inspired by considerations of vote-banks and of assuming power by dubious means, the writer in question above, is best forgotten or overlooked and a 4th April linked to him sought to be made nationally irrelevant. It roundly serves the purpose of those inclined to further ghettoise our national life and to eradicate its distinctly Hindu character and identity.

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