Manoj Das is the proverbial professor who has sold his soul to the Devil. So his staunch defence of the corrupt Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram does not come as a surprise. He will keep on perorating praise for them because of very selfish ends such as getting the Ashram Trust to pay for his costly medical treatment – he has recently undergone knee replacement surgery and radiation therapy in corporate hospitals unlike the other inmates of the Ashram who are sent to Government Hospitals for medical treatment. He is also the official spokesperson of the Ashram Trust from which he derives enormous benefit from the point of view of publicity, which he cleverly uses to climb the ladder of literary fame. We have recently come to know that many of his stories have been actually picked up from various anthologies, so he does not even deserve the awards that have been bestowed on him.
But compared to the damning report of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust by Seshadri Chari in the Organiser, which is the mouthpiece of the RSS, Manoj Das fails to impress you even from his own point of view. What he produces is the usual verbose rhetoric without any substance in the style of the Well-Wishers of the Ashram. His rejoinder is full of general statements, emotional appeals to God or the Nation and idyllic descriptions of the Ashram by which he cleverly avoids answering the main issues or dismisses them with outright lies. For example, this is what he writes regarding the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs:
Manoj Das: Coming to the book in question, I am not at all concerned here with Wendy Doniger or Jeffrey Kripal, whom the author has mischievously and perversely clubbed with Peter Heehs. Peter Heehs cannot by any means be equated with these persons.
Manoj Das changes his opinions as a chameleon changes its colour. In June 2010 he wrote the following to Sraddhalu Ranade:
Manoj Das: As you can remember very well, my agony on Peter’s book was no less than yours or anybody else’s and I went through the entire book listing out more than ninety objectionable observations or factual lapses.
The following is Sraddhalu Ranade’s reply to him on this particular point.
Sraddhalu Ranade: Yes, I remember how disturbed you were in September/October 2008. As a former Trustee you exercised your privilege with the Ashram Trust by calling for a special meeting in which Manoj Das Gupta, Dilip Dutta, Matriprasad and Vijay Poddar were present (as best as I recall), wherein you read out to them the numerous passages that you described as “highly objectionable”, “factually wrong” and “harmful to the Ashram”. You explained to them why it was necessary to urgently and publicly dissociate the Ashram from the book and take immediate steps to withdraw the book. After the meeting Dilip Dutta exclaimed to people at the Dispensary, “Every page of the book has poison in it!” Based on their reactions and promises, you came back from this meeting convinced that the Ashram Trust would take immediate action.
Subsequently a special meeting of the Trust Board was called one afternoon. MDG informed the Board that he would not be party to the decision-making process but would accept whatever the Board decided, and then left. After a brief discussion, the entire Board unanimously resolved to a) publicly dissociate from the book, b) take immediate steps to stop the book, and c) expel Peter Heehs (PH) from the Ashram. Dilip Dutta came back to the Dispensary and gave this news to all present. By evening the news had spread like wildfire and the entire Ashram community was relieved that after two months of pain and pleading, at last the Trustees had exercised their conscience. Next morning when Manoj Das Gupta (MDG) heard of the Board’s decision from an Ashramite he shouted in anger, “I will not accept this decision!” He rushed over to Dilip Dutta and prevailed upon the entire Trust Board to withdraw its unanimous decision. News of this was a most painful shock to the entire Ashram community, plunging it in despair.
I remember meeting you after this event. You were flabbergasted and flailed your hands in helplessness and incomprehension. I suggested that you should write a commentary exposing the numerous perverse passages of the book for the benefit of the Ashram community and the public at large. Coming from a scholar such as you, the write-up would have changed the course of subsequent events. But at that time you refused saying, “I cannot take a public stand on this matter anymore. I hope you understand.” I nodded, only partly understanding. I understood that you had chosen to place your loyalty to MDG above all else. But I could not understand how a scholar such as you could betray your loyalty to Sri Aurobindo. After all, is not your scholarship His gift to you, and meant to be fulfilled in His service?
I requested you to give me the notes you had prepared, so that at least I could share them with the public under your guidance. You declined to help, and would not even give me your notes because they were in your handwriting. Finally after much pleading you gave me limited time in which you hurriedly dictated references to the first 30 objectionable passages, and then abruptly closed the meeting saying you had no more time. We have since not met with regard to this matter.
Manoj-da (Das), your subsequent public silence on this issue has actually been “dignified”. Unlike MDG who chose to take sides to support and protect PH in his continuing misuse of the Ashram’s Trust and his abuse of Sri Aurobindo, you genuinely kept out of all public pronouncements and actions, with the exception of one article in Auroville Today in which you mildly expressed your discomfort with certain trends in modern writing. Your continuing silence on PH’s abuse of Sri Aurobindo is a matter between you and Sri Aurobindo, and I am not concerned with it.
What does surprise me though, is the inconsistency of your standards. Recall that in 1994 a young boy was not admitted by Pranab-da to membership of the PED (because of rules framed by the Ashram Trust in the first place). You were so upset that you resigned from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Board. This painfully contrasts with your present stand when for the last two years Sri Aurobindo has been abused and wronged in a “highly objectionable” manner “harmful to the Ashram” by your own admission, yet you choose to maintain silence only because MDG finds it unacceptable to protect Sri Aurobindo’s reputation!
Manoj-da (Das), there need be no conflict of loyalties in this matter. If you only make public your scholarly comments on these objectionable passages from the book and do nothing else, you can serve Sri Aurobindo and still retain your personal loyalty to MDG or other Trustees. Unless of course exposing PH’s “factual lapses” involves conflict of interests with the present Trustees.
But I suppose all this is history now and Manoj Das would not like to be reminded of his past virtues in the context of his present sins!