12 Jun 2016

Sri Aurobindo's Response to K.R. Kripalani's Article on the Swadeshi Movement

Did you enjoy the article “Fifty Years of Growth” by K. R. Kripalani in the Visva-Bharati?[i] Fifty years of growth refers by the way to the Congress. About the Swadeshi period he writes: “Along time was to elapse before we were to appreciate the infinite possibilities of the muddy waters at hand. In the meantime something startlingly romantic happened. . . .

“The fountain [of undefiled water] was cut by the fiery shafts of Tilak, Vivekananda, and Aurobindo, among others. They gave to Indian Nationalism its fiery basis in India’s ancient cultural glory and its modern mission. . . . It is always more beautiful and more inspiring to contemplate the Idea  and be drunk with it than to face the actual facts and touch the running sores. . . .

“But this spirit, fiery and beautiful as it was, was fraught with grave dangers. The glory that it invoked and the passion that it aroused were so intensely Hindu that Muslims were automatically left out. Not that they were deliberately excluded. . . . However that may be, it seems now not unlikely that had the influence of Tilak and Aurobindo lasted in its original intensity, we might have had two Indias today— a Hindu-istan and a Pak-istan, both overlaying and undermining each other. . . .

“However that be, the fact remains that the conditions of our country being what they were, the beneficial effects of Tilak’s and of Aurobindo’s political personalities were soon exhausted, and might, if prolonged, have proved dangerous, if Gandhiji had not come on the scene. . . .”

Subject, politics,—taboo. Writer Kripalani a “romantic” and “idealistic” visionary without hold on realities, living only in academic ideas—so not worth commenting. All the present Congress lot seem to be men who live in ideas only, mostly secondhand, borrowed from Europe (Socialism, Communism etc.), borrowed from Gandhi, borrowed from tradition or borrowed from anywhere; Kripalani looks down on the old Moderates for being in a different way exactly what he himself is—only they were classics and not romantics. So what is the use of reading their “histories”? However quite privately and within brackets[ii] I will enlighten you on one or two points.

     (1) The Swadeshi movement was idealist on one side (no great movement can go without an ideal), but it was perfectly practical in its aims and methods. We were quite aware of the poverty of India and its fallen condition, but we did not try to cure the poverty by Khaddar and Hindi prachar. We advocated the creation of an industrial India and made the movement a Swadeshi movement in order to give that new birth a field and favourable conditions — cottage industries were not omitted in our view, but there were no fads. The Swadeshi movement created the following very practical effects:

(a) It destroyed the Moderate reformist politics and spread the revolutionary mentality (as Jawaharlal now calls it) and the ideal of independence.

(b) It laid the foundations of an industrial India (not of course wholly industrial, that was not our intention) which is however slowly growing today.

(c) It brought in the commercial classes and the whole educated middle class into the political field—and not the middle class only, while Moderatism had touched only a small fringe.

(d) It had not time to bring in the peasantry, but it had begun the work and Gandhi only carried it farther on by his flashy and unsound but exciting methods.

(e) It laid down a method of agitation which Gandhi took up and continued with three or four startling additions, Khaddar, Hindiism, Satyagraha = getting beaten with joy, Khilafat, Harijan etc. All these had an advertisement value, a power of poking up things which was certainly livelier than anything we put into it. Whether the effects of these things have been good is a more doubtful question.

(2) As a matter of fact the final effects of Gandhi’s movement have been

(a) A tremendous fissure between the Hindus and Mahomedans which is going to be kept permanent by communal representation.

(b) A widening fissure between caste Hindus and Harijans, to be made permanent in the same way.

(c) A great confusion in Indian politics which leaves it a huge mass of division, warring tendencies, no clear guide or compass anywhere.

(d) A new constitution which puts the conservative class in power to serve as a means of maintaining British domination or at least as an intolerable brake on progress—also divides India into five or six Indias, Hindu, Moslem, Pariah, Christian, Sikh etc.

(e) A big fiasco [iii] of the Non-Cooperation movement which is throwing politics back on one side to reformism, on the other to a blatant and insincere Socialism.

That, I think, is the sum and substance of the matter.

As for the Hindu-Moslem affair, I saw no reason why the greatness of India’s past or her spirituality should be thrown into the waste-paper basket in order to conciliate the Moslems who would not at all be conciliated by such a stupidity. What has created the Hindu-Moslem split was not Swadeshi, but the acceptance of the communal principle by the Congress, (here Tilak made his great blunder), and the farther attempt by the Khilafat movement to conciliate them and bring them in on wrong lines. The recognition of that communal principle at Lucknow made them permanently a separate political entity in India which ought never to have happened; the Khilafat affair made that separate political entity an organised separate political power. It was not Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, Swaraj (our platform) which made this tremendous division, how could it? Tilak whom the Kripalani man blames along with me for it, is responsible not by that, but by his support of the Lucknow affair—for the rest, Gandhi did it with the help of his Ali brothers.

There you are. On a tabooed subject—it is, I think, enough. Not at all for circulation you understand and quite confidential.

14 April 1936

(CWSA, Vol. 35, Sri Aurobindo on Himself and the Ashram, pp. 18-21)


[i] K. R. Kripalani, “Fifty Years of Growth”, The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, vol. I, part IV, New Series (February April 1936), pp. 5360.

[ii] Sri Aurobindo put brackets at the beginning and end of this reply to indicate that it was not to be circulated in the Ashram at that time. Ed.

[iii] I am referring to my prophecy made at the beginning of the Non-Cooperation movement, “It will end in a great confusion or in a great fiasco.” I was not a correct prophet, as I have pointed out before. It should have run, “It will end in a great confusion and a great fiasco.” But after all I was not speaking from the supramental which alone can be infallible.

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