14 Dec 2013

Response to the Auroville Today Report on Ashram Affairs (2) – by Sridharan

I come now to the second part of the article on Ashram affairs in the Auroville Today issue of October 2013. The writer quotes one Mr Govardhan Dave in support of his own pre-determined ideas on the present state of affairs in Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Auroville Today: The attacks, obviously, have no longer anything to do with the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. “One can reasonably assert that it is not the controversial book of Peter Heehs, but the move to remodel the constitution of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust that constitutes the hostile attack on Her Work,” wrote Govardhan Dave, a senior and scholarly disciple of Sri Aurobindo who was in close touch with Ambalal Purani and considered to be M.P. Pandit’s right hand man in Gujarat.

A word on Mr Govardhan Dave’s background would not be out of place here. Mr. Dave’s claim of being the right hand man of M.P. Pandit in Gujarat and the left-hand man of A.B. Purani amounts to practically nothing. Dave is presently embroiled in a court case over the possession of a School in Gujarat. The Sri Aurobindo Society had actually stepped in to offer financial aid when the School managed by Dave was running in loss, but it withdrew when the court case filed by the latter threatened to entangle it further. Finally, it is clear that the Auroville Today editor is simply using Dave to fire from behind his shoulder rather than take him as an authority on the internal affairs of the Ashram, which he is certainly not. The first posting on Dave’s site is in fact dated December 2012 whereas the movement against the Trust had started long back in August 2008, first with regard to Peter Heehs, and then in other matters relating to the general administration of the Ashram Trust in August 2012, when an enquiry on the Ashram Trustees was sought from the Puducherry Collector. So where was Dave all these years and why did he not pronounce his opinions earlier? I wonder if he is at all familiar with the present state of affairs in Sri Aurobindo Ashram!

Auroville Today: In his long article “A Factual Analysis on the Present Controversy” he concludes that the promoters and monitors of this agitation intend to replace the present management of this Ashram by what they call a broad-based and democratic organizational setup. “They propose to involve in this setup the participation of the devotees who are associated with the Sri Aurobindo Society and its Branches and Centres all over the world, besides the Ashramites, all Aurobindonians, mysteriously excluding the participation of Aurovilians in this venture.”

He then explains that “The Mother, in her mission to make even the managerial and organizational work a part of Yogic Discipline, had initiated in the Ashram a new mode of administration of its affairs oriented towards promoting inner governance that would be receptive to the guidance of Higher Consciousness. …The immediate consequence of this apparently innocent proposal [to make the present management of the Ashram more democratic, eds.] would be to shelve arbitrarily the experiment initiated by the Mother and revert to the organizational setup having its faith in the mode of external governance and in the well-set mechanisms. This would amount to disowning the Mother.

Is there anything wrong about the intention to replace the present management of Sri Aurobindo Ashram by a broad-based and democratic organisational setup? And how does this constitute a hostile attack on the Mother’s work? Dave’s explanation of how the demand for democratisation would amount to disowning the Mother and eventually lead to a religion is ludicrous! Would the Mother approve of the highly arbitrary and dictatorial decisions of the present Managing Trustee? Would She approve of the eviction of penniless Ashramites from the Ashram, the summary dismissals of long-standing teachers from the Ashram School, the frequent cover-ups of molestation cases and theft and large scale mismanagement of public money? Would She approve of hundreds of court cases pending in the Court against the Ashram Trust? Would She approve of the Police being brought to Ashram premises in order to frighten the inmates into submission? The Trustees have actually taken advantage of the total lack of procedures (in the vacuum created by the absence of the Mother) to become sole arbitrary decision makers of the Ashram. In the case of the Mother, this lack of formal procedures worked well because of her divine wisdom and divine solicitude. In the case of the present Trustees, it has failed because of their human fallibility! Therefore to continue the present lack of system is most dangerous, especially when those in power start behaving like undisputed owners of private fiefdoms. Rules and procedures, reference to committees internal and external, giving a fair chance to aggrieved parties, public accountability, are all necessary to keep in check the whims and fancies of those who are in power, and their automatic tendency towards favouritism, nepotism and obstinate egoism. I agree that it is natural to err in this respect, and that perhaps the Trustees are the best of the bad in the present circumstances, but that cannot be made a justification to allow their errors to continue when a few normal common sense procedures will prevent them from misusing their positions! Briefly put, in the absence of higher sense, one should take recourse to common sense!

Auroville Today: Secondly, the prescription of broad-based democratic setup would open the gates for the rule of the mobs under the glamorous garb of Democracy, which is at the root of the evils that we are presently suffering in our country and even in the world at large.

First of all, the mob does not come to spiritual institutions; it is only the spiritual elite, the psychically awakened who come to settle in the Ashram. (At present, it is the Trustees who are opening the gates to the mob! Admissions of new inmates are made without any regard whatsoever to their spiritual inclinations. Any so-called devotee, who fawns on the Trustees or happens to be a relative of one of their favourites, is immediately admitted whereas genuine cases are either neglected or discouraged.)

Secondly, a democratic setup need not necessarily mean full scale electoral politics. Several systems can be adopted which do not involve the entire community of devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In fact, it would be impractical not to do so, considering the fact that the beneficiaries of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, according to the preamble of its Trust Deed, are all “the followers and disciples of Sri Aurobindo having faith in his philosophy and yoga”, without reference to any specific location. There is also the division between the inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry (who are supposed to be practising Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga and abiding by the rules of sadhana) and those devotees and disciples living outside (who may or may not practise the sadhana with the same rigor). The present scenario is such that the line between the two has practically faded away. But still, the distinction has to be maintained to retain the original purpose of the Ashram. Also the problems of the inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who depend on the Ashram Trust for their daily necessities, and the problems of the larger body of devotees and disciples who do not, may not always match. All these various considerations have to be taken into account in deciding upon a new system for the Ashram Trust.

Finally, which political system does Dave believe in? If democracy is at the root of all evil and suffering, what does he want to replace it with? Dictatorship? Oligarchy? One party rule? Or total anarchy? His outright condemnation of democracy exposes his ignorance of politics rather than any understanding of it.

Auroville Today: Finally, it would lead to institutionalizing the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, which might culminate into developing a well-knit Religion in his name and brand, a Religion that would fall in line with some of the existing Religions in the world,” argued Dave, and concluded, “It is exactly what should not happen as far as Mother’s work is concerned.”

This is flabbergasting logic! How would democracy lead to the “institutionalising of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo”? It would rather free the teachings from being institutionalised, because systematisation can only be done by a powerful lobby, which can overrule the opinions of others by sheer force of authority. Democratisation would actually throw up plural and even contradictory opinions resulting in a state of confusion than in a well built system agreeable to all. In fact, religious institutions survive by a strict hierarchy and unquestioning obedience to one’s superiors, which is contrary to democratic values. So it is lack of democracy that will lead to institutionalisation and thereby to the formation of a religion! Dave’s mind seems to be thus working in reverse gear!

Auroville Today: This is also the view of a group called “The Well-Wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram”, consisting of long-standing devotees in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India and abroad. In a Notice published in the newspaper ‘The Hindu’ on August, 3rd, 2013, they informed the public that “over the past several months some vested interests (a handful of disgruntled inmates supported by outsiders) are trying to seize control of Sri Aurobindo Ashram by launching a vicious and malafide campaign against it … It is our firm belief that these vested interests are trying to take control of the Ashram for their personal gain. We strongly condemn such selfish motives and actions and extend our full support to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its office bearers.”

The accusation of “a handful of disgruntled inmates trying to seize control of Sri Aurobindo Ashram for their personal gain” has so often been repeated, without any further elaboration, that I better answer it. The group of inmates and devotees who have gone against the present Trustees are asking the Govt. to intervene and appoint an interim or permanent Administrator for Sri Aurobindo Ashram. They have never sought to appoint themselves in the place of the Trustees! If the Administrator comes, he is going to deal with all conflicting parties equally and impartially, which is precisely the role he should play as a third party. If the Well-Wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram have the “the firm belief that vested interests are trying to take control of the Ashram for their personal gain”, then I too have my doubts about their own vested interests in this matter. Are they not serving their own interests in protecting the interests of the Trustees? Could it actually be (as I have explained earlier) the all-important concern of a few foreigners for their own visas, foreigners who are firmly backing Manoj Das Gupta because he did not withdraw the Ashram’s guarantee for Peter Heehs’s visa, and therefore will guarantee their own visas too? Until the other day, Aurovillians were cursing the Ashram as a decrepit institution and looking down upon it. From where has this new-found respect for it suddenly come? Since when has Manoj Das Gupta become a paragon of virtue and an example of liberal values? It is quite obvious that this overnight support for him wells from the selfish interest of a few foreigners, who are more concerned about their own visas than the spiritual future of Sri Aurobindo Ashram! The name “Well-Wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram” should therefore be changed to “Well-Wishers of Peter Heehs” with Richard Hartz & Co. formally heading the propaganda wing of this vicious internet blog!

Finally, I might as well remind these foreigners, whom I suspect to be anonymously writing in the Well-Wishers’ forum, that they are not supposed to be indulging in the internal politics of other countries where they have been granted visas for the practice of Yoga. It is true that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother belong to everybody, and that everybody has a right to criticise, but there is a certain limitation on foreigners residing in India just as there is with Indians residing abroad.

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