8 Oct 2008

Page 199: Fanatical, dangerous, mad

Several innocent-sounding quotations are used by Peter throughout the book to build his thesis of mental imbalance. One such in passing:

Page 199: Critics of Aurobindo could be as zealous in detraction as Jitendra Lal was in praise. Annie Besant again proclaimed him dangerous, even fanatical on account of “his refusal to work with any Englishmen.” Members of government used the same terms to describe the man they were trying to imprison. Some added that they thought he was slightly off his head: “There is madness in his family,” wrote the Viceroy to the secretary of the state, “and he probably has a bee in his bonnet.” Minto seems to have picked up this notion from R.C. Dutt, a onetime friend of Aurobindo’s, who had been asked for information by the political agent of Baroda. “Arabindo’s mother was off her mind,” Dutt volunteered, “and Arabindo himself was eccentric.” Other Moderates spoke privately in terms similar to Dutt’s. Publicly they charged Aurobindo with being an impractical dreamer, an “impatient idealist. About this epithet Aurobindo wrote….”

The passage appears in the book while describing a period when Sri Aurobindo’s fame had peaked. Numerous examples of his growing fame are listed in the previous paragraph, although most of them include a contrary twist through cunning selective quotation intended to weaken each example of praise (not elaborated upon here). Then comes the passage above.

The point that is not made by Peter is that all those he has quoted here criticising Sri Aurobindo as fanatical, dangerous, mad, impractical or idealistic represent British interests. He hides the fact that their comments were made in the context of Sri Aurobindo’s complete opposition to British rule and his uncompromising commitment to the total freedom of India – something which most Indians (especially the Moderates) thought idealistic, impractical and impossible, and which the British feared and considered dangerous to their interests. Annie Besant wanted to work together with Sri Aurobindo; his refusal was taken by her as a personal insult leading to the statement above. Peter has intentionally placed these quotations out of their historical context. The context is not just hidden – it is deliberately falsified.

Interestingly Peter does not mention here the famous declaration of Viceroy Lord Minto that Sri Aurobindo is the “most dangerous man in India”. But of course, mentioning this would have exposed the real political context of these criticisms.

Cunningly, Peter ends the long list of accusations with “impatient idealist” for which he immediately offers Sri Aurobindo’s defence and justification. He creates the impression in the casual reader that this alone is defensible, and the rest remains a real flaw and problem in Sri Aurobindo’s character. This defence of the most trivial of the charges is use by Peter to appear balanced and appreciative of Sri Aurobindo, even as he gets away with promoting false accusations from selective quotations out of context.

This is a cunning strategy widely used in this book – Peter makes a series of accusations from the mouth of detractors, sometimes out of context, then he offers a few words of defence or appreciation on some minor points to cover up his own bias. He never quotes the much greater body of information and quotations in defence of Sri Aurobindo, preferring instead to dismiss it all as hagiography and subjective! Peter’s intention to misrepresent and defame Sri Aurobindo is easily exposed by this and many other such examples.

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