12 May 2013

Reply to Manoj Das – by Bireshwar Choudhury (1)

Manoj Das has replied at great length to the article, “Manoj Das has Sold his Soul to the Devil” by Sricharan Singh. The fact that his reply is interminably long and touches upon all the major controversies he was involved in, shows that the arrow shot by Sricharan Singh has found its target. This is exactly what Sricharan wanted to do, having no other method to counter the proud professor. Right now, Manoj Das and the Trustees backed by wealth and power are all-powerful and have the administrative power of the Ashram in their hands, so what else can poor Sricharan Singh do except condemn Manoj Das for his outright betrayal of Sri Aurobindo!

Manoj Das has requested the editors of this site to publish his long exercise in verbosity. We have consented to his request only after giving our own point of view on the issues raised by him. He has also suggested that Sricharan Singh should do some introspection. I can only say that it is time that Manoj Das himself introspects a little instead of repeating the same old arguments like a parrot in his self-defence. I quote below passages from his letter (in italics and with indentation); these are followed by my comments (in Roman and without indentation).

Dear Editors,

Trusting your legend that your forum is  committed to objective, academic, respectful and honest discussions, I send this submission to you, hopeful that you will publish this to justify the announcement. I would have ignored the provocation referred to below had the provocateurs not started distrusting it as independent leaflets.

Please refer to the provocation bearing the title “Professor Manoj Das has sold his soul to the Devil”. Only those who are Devil’s confidants or are members of Devil’s inner circle, could know about this secret transaction. Since the author(s) of the article, “Sricharan Singh” and/or those scholars who constitute this identity belong to that privileged class, they also know that their lord had awarded the highest imaginable punishment to me. Hence they should spare themselves the exercise of inventing and heaping on this unfortunate soul more and more lies, distortions and exaggerations as punishment. They do not presume to improve upon the Devil’s action against me! (Manoj Das)

The article bearing “Professor Manoj Das has Sold his Soul to the Devil” is not merely a provocation. It is the truth, whatever Manoj Das may say in his own defence. To make Sricharan Singh’s statement more understandable in the terms generally used by us, replace “sold his soul to the Devil” by “came under the grip of a hostile force”. How else can you explain Manoj Das’s support to the filthy denigration of Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram by Peter Heehs? Therefore all the sarcasm about “the Devil’s inner circle” and “this secret transaction” is good repartee, but the basic fact of him being under the sway of a hostile force remains unaltered, and will remain so until he realises his folly!

But I do not wish to confuse readers with sarcasm or vague assertions. I was shocked at the level to which this “Singh” had stooped. I wish he had the courage to reveal his verifiable identity; I could have then asked him to prove his accusations against me, face to face.  However, I will put the facts straightaway for those of your readers who truly look for truth. A disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, I am an optimist. I believe that even among those who constitute the entity “Singh”, there are individuals who are only temporarily misguided. I place the facts in good faith. Readers may accept them or reject them. (Manoj Das)

Sricharan Singh has one serious disadvantage, that of not being able to reveal “his verifiable identity”. (Does that really matter? One should be more concerned with what Sricharan says than who he is or who he is not!)  In any case, there are good reasons for not revealing himself.  For, if he did so in the present circumstances, with the Trustees bent on revenge and retribution, he would either be roasted alive (tandoori style) or chopped into small bits, steam cooked & deep fried, and finally served with the appropriate garnishing to the Trustees at the DisGrace Office. Manoj Das will then have the good fortune of licking his chops with adequate inner and outer satisfaction. All the big show of courage and demand for transparency by Manoj Das is therefore totally out of place in the current situation. Moreover, the Ashram Trust, for whom the learned professor works so obediently and diligently, has hardly the reputation for transparency or public accountability. In fact, I will first challenge Manoj Das to openly declare as to how much the Ashram spent on him for medical expenses – there is the rumour floating about that it was around 11 lakhs! Then I would challenge him to let the Ashram Trust declare how much it spends on legal fees and other related expenses on star hotels, flights and cars. In order to give a full account of the money spent by the Trust (both accounted and unaccounted cash), I would suggest that Manoj Das as well as the secretary of the DisGrace Office (through whom all these transactions take place) are accompanied in these ignoble errands by a non-entity like Sricharan Singh! If Manoj Das agrees to all these conditions and persuades his masters to follow suit, then surely, not only Sricharan Singh but numberless Singhs and Sahebs will reveal their identity and declare their entire allegiance to Manoj Das and his masters. But let us move on to more serious matters!

About Peter’s book: At the early stage of the controversy I  was under the impression that some people had persuaded his publishers to issue a revised edition of his book and that is why I pointed out elements that could be eliminated or recast. But before long I understood that the book was only a pretext and the anti-book champions had motives that were not only dubious but ominous. (Manoj Das)

What were the dubious and ominous motives of the anti-book champions? – A take-over at the most of the present Ashram administration by them? But how is this possible? A Govt take-over of the Ashram, be it temporary or permanent, is going to be neutral and not be in favour of anybody. It is most likely to put a more democratic system in place with a Govt supervisor acting as the final arbiter. So in a way everybody loses, the anti-book as well as the pro-book lobby. The only big gain will be that at least Sri Aurobindo’s name will be henceforth protected and that active steps will be taken to ensure that, as opposed to the Ashram Trust’s deliberate inaction and active support of Peter Heehs from behind. If the Trustees cannot guard the reputation of their own Guru in a spiritual institution dedicated to Him, they have committed a fundamental breach of trust, not only morally and spiritually, but also legally. This is what the Scheme Suit is about. Five people went to the Court against the Ashram Trust in August 2010 saying that there has been a fundamental violation of the objectives of the Ashram Trust as framed by the Mother herself. The Trustees have been very quick to rely on the Trust Deed when it comes to explaining their present positions of power, but they seem to forget that they have been entrusted with (I quote from the Trust Deed) “the exclusive purpose of helping the devotees towards their educational and spiritual upliftment in conformity with the ideal and teaching of Sri Aurobindo.” No amount of pseudo secular talk, as has been recently ventilated by the Trustees in defence of their lapses, can change this fundamental objective. Note also that (I again quote from the Trust Deed) “Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the home of persons who are the followers and disciples of Sri Aurobindo having faith in his philosophy and yoga”. Having said this, nothing need be further said, and certainly one need not be ashamed of “having faith” in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and yoga. Right now, it is the reverse: the Ashram Trust is ashamed of protecting Sri Aurobindo’s public image because it damages the Trust’s secular credentials and it feels proud of protecting Peter Heehs’s reputation at the expense of Sri Aurobindo denigration in his own Ashram!

The book could hardly be a factor to arouse the sentiments of people who had not read the book and  to make them sit in Dharna against the Trust and once they sat, to place a huge placard listing so many imaginary lapses of the Ashram Trust thereby creating an impression that the Dharna-participants were also supporting the allegations. They (mostly visitors) understood nothing of them. A few who woke up to the deception being perpetrated on them withdrew and regretted their passive co-operation with the Dharna-makers.

So far as I am concerned I had gathered enough knowledge of such contemptible tricks in my pre-Ashram days because of my involvement in politics. But I never expected such tricks to be enacted in the Ashram. I stood aghast and am still surprised that people claiming to be devotees of the Mother could initiate such a move. My feeling is, there is a general drop in the level of collective consciousness. I have said this and I say this now. Needless to say, the collective consciousness excludes neither me nor you. (Manoj Das)

If the book could hardly be a factor to arouse the sentiments of people, how did Manoj Das himself find 90 objectionable passages in it? And how does he assume that the people who sat in the dharna did not read it? Is Manoj Das the only educated person in India? Coming to the oft quoted argument of “Why object to a book which you have not read?”, the reply is very simple: “One need not read the entire book to condemn it.” One can read only the objectionable parts, and it is these highly objectionable passages that went around creating outrage and furore among the disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Outrage against a hostile attack on what is considered sacred and beautiful at the core of one’s being is certainly not an immature reaction, as the Managing Trustee of the Ashram thinks and for which he reprimands all those who have thus reacted. In fact, he reacted more angrily against these spontaneous reactions than the protestors did against the book – the numerous show cause notices he issued to inmates and the summary evictions of senior teachers from the School are clear proof of it. It is his reaction that should be judged immature than the right reaction of those who have legitimately protested against the book. Finally, why would the dharna-participants come out on the street, causing so much embarrassment to themselves and at the risk of annoying all those who don’t agree with them? It is certainly not very pleasant to demonstrate one’s grievances in public. If, in spite of these disagreements, they have chosen to take this extreme step, it should be taken as a clear indication that something is seriously wrong with the Ashram administration. And if in spite of all the political experience that Manoj Das has had in his pre-Ashram days, he still does not see the writing on the wall, then he has certainly failed both as a politician and a writer, leave alone his failure as a disciple in protecting the name of his Guru.  

I should add here that the anti-book lobby resorted to dharna when all other methods failed. Prior to the two dharnas held in January and February 2012, two groups of senior Ashramites met Manoj Das Gupta and tried to solve the matter internally and amicably. The first group of three senior persons who met the Managing Trustee were Kittu Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan and late Sumita Kandpal (all former students of the Ashram School who came to the Ashram in the forties, the last happened to be a retired Collector). Long conversations took place and formal letters were exchanged but to no avail, because of Manoj Das Gupta’s intransigence. In fact, the attempt at reconciliation came to an abrupt end with the Trust literally giving a legal threat in its last letter to the three senior Ashramites. The second group that met the Managing Trustee was a group of four senior ladies, again all former students of the Ashram School. No positive result emerged from the discussions that followed. The impression that you get from various reports of these talks is that Manoj Das Gupta cleverly keeps his opponents busy talking while he does not change a wee bit, and does exactly what he wants to do – supporting Peter Heehs in his denigration of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother!

I stood aghast and am still surprised that people claiming to be devotees of the Mother could initiate such a move. My feeling is, there is a general drop in the level of collective consciousness. I have said this and I say this now. Needless to say, the collective consciousness excludes neither me nor you. (Manoj Das)

This passage, which I quote again for the reader’s convenience, is full of conceit and drama.  I can only imagine Manoj Das, the unsuccessful politician, on the podium flailing his arms about and appealing to the emotions of the uneducated masses. One of the main causes of the administrative problems of the Ashram is precisely this holier-than-thou attitude of the Ashram authorities. They resort to these high-sounding words in order to put on a show of saintliness. But they are the first ones to break the rules and do exactly what they were so shocked about in others. For example, as Sricharan has already noted, when the inmates started a signature campaign against Peter Heehs’s book in 2009, the Trustees beat about their chests in anguish and cried aloud to the Heavens in classic Greek style, “Oh, what evil days have befallen the Ashram!” But when they themselves promoted a signature campaign of the inmates in 2012 in order to protect themselves in the Puducherry Collector’s enquiry, they threatened and coerced the inmates to sign a petition addressed to him saying that all was A 1 at the Ashram.  

How can Manoj Das so confidently attribute the dharna to a drop in the general level of the collective consciousness when he himself is part of the general fall? His disdain for those who participated in the dharna may be equally wrong by his own frank confession in the last sentence, which says that the drop in the collective consciousness does not exclude him. So what exactly is the status of Manoj Das? Is he high in the heavens like the unblemished Sun or low in the mud of human nature which has affected everybody? Or is it neither here nor there, like Trishanku hanging in mid-air?

I certainly believe that no institution can be called an Ashram unless it runs either by the Guru or the Will left by the Guru. This is not only an unalterable principle at work behind a genuine Ashram, but also a matter of sheer common sense.  Hence, I am afraid, those who are contesting the Mother’s Will are preys of some dark forces. (Manoj Das)

The Trust Deed is not a Will left by the Guru! First of all, there is nothing spiritual in it: had it been a spiritual will, we all would have had deep reverence for it. The Mother did not nominate any spiritual head after Her for the kind information of Manoj Das, the Trustees and all the devotees, disciples, sympathisers and admirers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother! Sri Aurobindo nominated the Mother as the spiritual head of the Ashram, but the Mother did not nominate anybody, not even Nolini-da for whom we have so much respect! This is the crux of all the present problems of Ashram life – there is neither the Guru nor any mature spiritual head who can command respect from everybody. There are only defective and revengeful human beings at the helm of the present administration! If Manoj Das thinks it is “sheer common sense” to bow down obsequiously to such Trustees, it is certainly not spiritual reasons that motivate him. It is because of this abject sycophancy that Sricharan Singh wrote the highly comic but true piece on Manoj Das selling his soul to the Devil. Let me finish however this paragraph in the typical style of Manoj Das by putting myself on the safe side of public accountability with a little bit of self-criticism, “But I am afraid we are all prey to some dark forces.” Now we can safely accuse each other of being possessed by the Devil!

A word on the Trust Deed of Sri Aurobindo Ashram: We have published several articles on this site on the deficiencies of the Trust Deed for the present times. I will repeat nevertheless the most salient points for the sake of our readers. The Trust Deed was signed by the Mother in 1955 shortly after Pondicherry joined the Indian Union in November 1954. It was urgently drafted for the simple reason of safeguarding the properties of the Ashram, which could have been confiscated by the Indian Govt. The Trust Deed was framed in such a way that it gave full powers to the Mother, spiritually and administratively, that is, in matters concerning the admission and expulsion of inmates as well as the management of the properties of the Ashram. But the other four Trustees were granted only the powers to manage the properties and finances of the Ashram; they were not assigned the power to expel or induct inmates into the Ashram. This power the Mother reserved for herself in Clause 7 of the Trust Deed and never transferred to the other Trustees. Why did she not do it? Because the Trust Deed was not envisaged for the possible physical absence of the Mother! Why did she not think about the possibility of her passing away? We do not know. The only speculation I can offer is that the Mother was seeking to overcome Death with the supramental power and she had almost succeeded in this superhuman endeavour – according to Her Agenda, Her supramental body was ready in the subtle physical plane. In such a cosmic battle with universal forces, you can hardly expect Her to think of who is going to be the future head of Sri Aurobindo Ashram! Even this, she did take care, as far as the management of the material properties of the Ashram was concerned. But she did not seem to have bothered about, or at least, did not find an alternative spiritual head in her place as far as the management of her disciples was concerned. If, in spite of these facts, Manoj Das still thinks that the Trustees should be anointed Gurus in place of the Mother, then so be it, and let us fall (along with him) at the feet of Manoj Das Gupta!

I guess that some among them do not understand the consequence of their action. I have no hatred for them and I would not use epithets “Sricharan Singh” imagines I use. Hateful epithets have been used against me in Odia (one of which you have quoted) by a gentleman, but you cannot show a single such abusive word used by me against anybody. I was shocked not because I was abused in that manner, but because that gentleman could degrade himself so low as to be able to write such mean things – that his own hand collaborated!

I will naturally support the Trust, inside or outside the court, in its struggle to safeguard the Mother’s Will and save the fundamental principles of the Ashram. I have no interest in pleasing “Gupta Manoj” as you wish your readers to believe. In no way can he help me “to achieve power, prestige, awards and monetary gain”. They are achievable in a different sphere into which “Gupta Manoj” has no access. 

My interest is the sanctity of the Mother’s Will and the dignity of the Ashram, against which some people have gone to court. They have also run to local govt. officials, carrying with them a motley mob, under the stewardship of a local politico. They go on spreading unspeakable scandals through various means – tens of thousands of copies of defamatory  leaflets, websites, wandering emissaries, so on and so forth, spending huge amounts of money received from  mysterious sources.

How much I wish that they made a little introspection while taking recourse to such steps – the very purpose of their living in the Ashram. (Manoj Das)

This is pure gas! The distress expressed here is fake emotional appeal, but the “unspeakable scandals” are unfortunately true. Name any scandal and we can reel out the facts of the case, be it sexual molestation of ladies or sexual harassment leading to suicide, forgery or illegal land deals, medical neglect leading to death, legal harassment, or threat to life. Not to mention the biggest crime of all in a spiritual institution – that of dumping one’s own Gurus! If all these crimes are supposed to be taken casually or pretentiously ignored or denied outright, then there is something seriously wrong with the Ashram authorities. Either the tolerance level to such crime is being normalised at the Ashram, which should set the alarm bells ringing, or that the inmates have become so helpless and dependent upon the authorities that they do not dare to protest. In both the cases, the day may not be far off when the Pondicherry Govt might intervene and forcibly shut down the Ashram because of its anti-social character. And when that happens, there will be no time left for introspection which Manoj Das so earnestly recommends to all those who don’t agree with him! 

[See next posting for the second part of Bireshwar Choudhury's reply]


  1. Comment by Ritwik Bannerji:

    Ref the revision of the Lives of Sri Aurobindo:

    What Prof. Das wants to say is that Heehs's great research work was primarily meant for the American or Western audience and that it needed some revision for the ease of an Indian or Eastern audience. So an Indian scholar (Prof. Das) had to sort out some 90 mistakes, sorry 90 requirements, in that "great work" and modify it to fit in with the Indian and Eastern ethos. This is great! An Indian version of the original American and Western "classic" prepared and served by an eminent Indian scholar for an Indian audience! It is the height of shamelessness, that is all we can say about it.

  2. Comment by Ritwik Bannerji:

    Dear editors,

    We came to know recently that a new trustee is selected/selected/appointed in the Ashram to replace one who resigned from his post as a trustee a few months ago. Is there no clear-cut well-known procedure which can claim to be transparent to the inmates of the Ashram and the public? Obviously there should be nothing secretive about it in a public charitable trust in India. There seems be an obvious desideratum in such a hush-hush business of the Ashram which holds our attention.