21 Jun 2011

Govind's Reply to Ajit & Co ref Partition of India

[Here is Govind’s reply to Ajit Reddy, Arindam Das, Bulu and Gautam Chatterjee on whether Sri Aurobindo and his colleagues can be held partly responsible for the Partition of India. Ajit & Co’s defence of Peter Heehs is produced below for reference.]

So many words and so little sense! How depressing it is that in a forum of people from the Mother's school we have ex-students, acting as sadhaks of Rich Carlson, who seems to have penned this little write up word-for-word, defending a nakedly hostile and evidently false claim that Sri Aurobindo is in any way to be blamed for the partition that happened nearly 40 years after He left active politics. Such a claim can only be made by one who is either ignorant of history or one who is deliberately in the business of hurling grossly distorting speculative accusations against Sri Aurobindo. Since the former is not a possibility, no doubt the latter is the category to which our scholarly calumniator and his gaggle of supporters here belong.

First and foremost this includes the false assumption that nationalists, Sri Aurobindo included, who wanted a united India did not do enough to pander to or appease those Muslims who wanted to partition India. Even a cursory look at Gandhi's subsequent politics for the next four decades shows that he went all the way to the other extreme to appease and to please. If the slightly watered down charge is made that Sri Aurobindo did not pay enough attention to Muslim sensibilities or to the "problem" itself, then again a look at Gandhi gives the lie to that accusation since he made Hindu-Muslim unity the cornerstone of his movement. The evident fact of the matter is that despite Gandhi, who went all the way to win Muslim minds and hearts, the urge for partition among Muslims did not die, nor was he able to stymie British efforts to separate out the Muslims as a countervailing force to the nationalists. It is today generally accepted that all the moves that Gandhi made to win over Muslims, such as supporting the Khilafat movement, in fact boomeranged against him.

Also, the British supported anyone hostile to India's freedom and unity, like Ambedkar for example. Let us not leave out from this whirlpool of fissiparous forces and tendencies the 500 or so princely states, many if not most of which wanted to retain independence. These too the British used to keep India divided and in fact left India divided. Considering all this, it is a virtual miracle that something like a united and free India exists today.

So it is not just that little could have been done way back in 1907. All that was done in the decades subsequently also did nothing to prevent the tragedy.

Also, forget about anticipating it in 1907, till the very last second partition was considered avoidable. It was Jinnah's intransigence, aided by the British, during final negotiations, and the Congress leadership's decision to cave in to his demands that finally sealed India's fate.

Thus, leaving aside questions of spirituality and loyalty to the Master, even from a historical perspective, we can see that to lay any blame on Sri Aurobindo is nothing short of literary crime. If partition could not be foreseen till the last moment and forestalled by all the efforts that were put in to foster Hindu-Muslim unity subsequently, where is the justification for blaming Sri Aurobindo's actions or inaction way back in 1907, to tar him with the same brush as anti-India forces like Jinnah, the Muslim League and the British Empire? There is none and all this is pure, speculative garbage that is being hurled at Sri Aurobindo. There is no saying what would have happened had Sri Aurobindo continued to participate actively in India's politics at the time. Even after He left active politics He continued to work for India's unity. For example it is a well known fact that, despite being engaged 24x7 in sadhana for the world, He made several attempts to convince the Congress to accept the Cripps proposal, which might have obviated the prospect of partition. Combine this with what Srikant-bhai has said and it can very well be claimed that partition would not have happened had Sri Aurobindo continued to lead actively India's freedom movement. In that case, are we then to blame Him for leaving politics and choosing to focus instead on bringing down the Supramental Force on earth with the Mother? What utter nonsense!

These people sitting in the relative comfort of their hearths and homes, conveniently ignore the fact Who it is that they are passing judgment on. One...

who hast done so much for us, who
hast worked, struggled, suffered, hoped,
endured so much, before Thee who hast willed
all, attempted all, prepared, acheived all
for us, before Thee we bow down and implore
that we may never forget, even for a moment,
all we owe to Thee.

There may still be those left in some doubt as to the stupidity, the arrogance and the naked disloyalty that is at the heart of this enterprise. There is a lot more to say about the rest of the irrational rubbish in the write-up below, but more should not be needed. If even this is not enough, then more will do no good.

I cede the floor to my self-surrendering, "non-devotee", Sri Aurobindo-judging / blaming opponents.

Ajit & Co's Defence of Peter Heehs
Dear all,

The recent accusation on SYG that Peter has blamed Sri Aurobindo for Hindu-Muslim divide and the partition of the country has perhaps raised many a doubt in people's mind. We thought we could throw some light on the issue based on what is actually written in the book.

A word of caution. Unlike those who claim to have read the book multiple times to understand the words and context, we confess that we have read the book only once. The accusations are actually occasions for us to re-visit some of the passages in the book. We have presented here four passages from the book that we think deals with the issue. We don't claim by any means to be exhaustive on the topic and anyone who has come across other passages are welcome to put them out, of course in the right context.

Aurobindo and other Extremists are sometimes accused by liberal and leftwing historians of preparing the way for communalism by giving a Hindu slant to the movement. Similarly, the British charged in 1907 that the swadeshi movement was “an essentially Hindu movement.” Aurobindo gave the lie to this. The movement, he wrote, was not based on any religion, but was itself a “national religion” in which service to the motherland was “espoused with religious fervour and enthusiasm.” Concentrated on the anti-British struggle, he regarded other questions as secondary matters. To deal with economic, social, or moral concerns before independence was realized was “the height of ignorance and futility.”44 He could not anticipate in 1907 that the social problem of communalism would bring about the partition of the country forty years later. (The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, pp. 115-16)

Twice in November Aurobindo considered the Hindu–Muslim divide. He made it clear that he rejected separate electorates for Muslims “not because we are opposed to a large Mahomedan influence in popular assemblies when they come but because we will be no party to a distinction which recognises Hindu and Mahomedan as permanently separate political units and thus precludes the growth of a single and indivisible Indian nation.” The recently mooted “Hindu Sabha” was based on the same misconception. “We do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions,” he wrote. “Under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole.”121 (The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p. 200)

Indian nationalism arose in response to an intolerable situation: domination by foreigners who bled the land of its wealth and regarded those they called natives as members of an inferior race unfit to govern their own country. Indian nationalism had no ambitions outside its borders and no plan to eradicate its minorities; it failed, however, to solve the problem of communalism. Aurobindo regarded religious conflict as a purely social matter, refusing to see as a vital political issue. He tried, half-heartedly, to bring Muslims into the movement, but he never gave the problem the attention that hindsight shows that it deserved. But could anything said or done in 1907 have changed the outcome forty years later? Probably not. Still, partition and the bloodletting that accompanied it were the movement's principal failings, and Aurobindo and his colleagues have to take their share of the blame. (The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, pp.211-212)

Sri Aurobindo’s role in changing the course of India ’s freedom struggle is evident from contemporary sources. Before him, no one dared to speak openly of independence; twenty years later, it became the movement’s accepted goal. His focus on freedom made him give insufficient importance to social and cultural problems that continue to haunt the country, such as interreligious and intercaste conflict. But there is no contemporary evidence that his actions or words exacerbated these problems. Some of his ideas might, in fact, help to solve them – for example the idea that India ’s religious and ethnic diversity was “a great advantage for the work to be done” in the future.11 (The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, pp. 413-14)

It is clear from the above that the book discusses the issue at least four times. The statement "...have to take their share of the blame" appears towards the end of Part Three (Revolutionary) of the book. The sentence appears towards the end of this Part, as part of a long summary of Sri Aurobindo' political career. We would like to reiterate once again that picking out one or half a sentence from the book may create sensationalism but we must ask ourselves if it is the right way to approach the book.

This is what we have understood from the overall summary and the passage.

"The movement" here refers to the entire movement of Indian nationalism. The author is saying that the partition and bloodletting were Indian nationalism's principal failings. The question arises as to who was responsible for this. Clearly the freedom fighters in the first phase of the movement did not encourage this. But could they have prevented it? The author points out that it is doubtful that anything Sri Aurobindo did in 1907 could prevent it forty years later. But he also points out that Sri Aurobindo and other leaders of the time did not think it posed as a big danger as it ended up becoming and therefore they did not do as much to counteract this danger as they could have. As a result, the author implies that the responsibility for this failure should be spread over all the then nationalists, including Sri Aurobindo and his collaborators.

Finally, the author, while summing up his biography states again in the Epilogue that while one may point out that Sri Aurobindo might have given insufficient importance to social and cultural problems that led to inter-religious and inter-caste conflict at a later date it cannot be said that Sri Aurobindo's actions and words exacerbated these problems. In fact the author concludes his argument by saying "Some of his ideas might, in fact, help to solve the problem - for example the idea that India's religious and ethnic diversity was "a great advantage for the work to be done" in the future."

Now, how does one treat such arguments/opinions? For those familiar with historical arguments on both sides of the divide (Left and Right), this seems to be a balanced analysis, siding with no one side. It does not side with the Left who claim that Sri Aurobindo, through his use of Hindu symbolism antagonized the Muslims. It does not side with the Right to say that Sri Aurobindo represented Hindu nationalism. And, talking about opinions, if someone disagrees with this view he is most welcome to do so. After all, don't we live in a world of opinions?

But what about the devotee? What position does he take? It may be noted that the discussion here is on Sri Aurobindo's political career. Do we necessarily need to deify it to progress in our spiritual life? May be each one should decide for oneself. But does the right to decide for oneself give us the right to impose one's opinion on others? Certainly not.

Ajit, Arindam, Bulu & Gautam

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