THE usual ‘progressive’ academic and political habit is to ‘sanitise’ beyond recognition and common reach some of our most powerful nationalist thinkers and visionaries. It suits a de-culturised mind to attempt to confine these national lighthouses within ideological creases that these power-minds themselves had opposed or sought to deconstruct during their lifetimes. In fact the act of supressio veri and suggestio falsi seems to have become a habit with a section – academic and official – when it comes to these icons. If they have adopted a non-conformist line, if they have thrown an ideological challenge, if they have acted to preserve the cultural and spiritual identity of the nation, if they have willed to strengthen and renew the Hindu ethos of the race it is then best to quarantine them, place them under a phase of ‘progressive’ observation and eventually use the ideological sanitiser for a final whitewash. The appropriative art is indeed best expressed in the process.
Limiting my prolegomenon to the above I wish to state that the same sanitising process has been applied in the case of Sri Aurobindo. There has been a concerted attempt by a section to project the revolutionary with an active interest in India’s case and in world affairs as having gradually transmuted into a ‘secularised’ thinker non-interested in Hindu and national affairs and predominantly occupied with the concepts of a world and human unity. I shall merely highlight, without entering into an elaborate argument, a series of conversations, observations and instructions of the Sage that reflect against this motivated position. These are rendered doubly interesting because of their contemporaneity. August, the month of his birth gives occasion for reflection.
Once the civil disobedience movement was called off by the Mahatma, the communal unity that he had engineered broke down displaying its artificial nature and its inability to bring about any real change of heart. The breaking down was announced by a chain of communal riots that rocked the country. Early in 1923 a series of communal clashes rocked Multan and Amritsar. While most were singing paeans to communal unity and sermonising the Hindus on further widening their accommodative space Sri Aurobindo in reference to the incident put forward a pragmatic line – in today’s ‘progressive’ parlance perhaps ‘hardline’. ‘I am sorry’, he argued, ‘they are making a fetish of this Hindu-Muslim unity…Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus. Every time the mildness of the Hindu has given way. The best solution would be to allow the Hindus to organise themselves and the Hindu-Muslim unity would take care of itself…Otherwise we are lulled into a false sense of satisfaction that we have solved a difficult problem, when in fact we have only shelved it.’ But this was of an earlier period. The concern on various issues of national interest and security especially of the Hindus were to continue even later when, as some have averred, the Sage was exclusively concerned with something ‘beyond.’
It would be interesting to refer to an episode of this later period, concerning the Hindus of Bengal, an episode that demonstrates not only the Sage’s deep concern for their plight but his practical activism on that front as well. The narration is especially relevant to the present situation in Bengal where the deadly pincer movement of extreme leftism and Islamic fundamentalism mindlessly nurtured and abetted by upcoming as well as decaying political formations has begun to pose a mighty challenge to the Hindu, his way of life, his culture, his social space and to his very existence in the province.
A disciple lamenting the plight of the Bengali Hindus in 1939 talked of a cultural conquest taking place. Was it a religious one, were Hindus ‘becoming Muslims?’ the Sage queried. It was cultural, ‘Hindu culture being replaced by Muslim. At school and colleges, books on Muslim culture are being forced on the students.’ Sri Aurobindo’s straight question was ‘Why don’t Hindus react’? The other cheek was never really an option with him – the ideologue of the revolutionary nationalists. To the suggestion that hapless lamentations must give way to concerted action his cryptic reply was ‘Quite so.’ The Sage chose, as always, not to be satisfied with suggestions, action on the mono-syllabic reply was to follow within a short period.
It came in form of his advice and guidance to one of his prominent disciple from Bengal – Tejen Mukherjee (son of the legendary Jatin Mukherjee-Bagha (Tiger) Jatin) who disillusioned with the ‘erratic Mahatma’ and disturbed with the condition of the Hindus in the province sought political guidance from his master. He was advised to join Syama Prasad Mookerjee and to strengthen the struggle for Hindu self-respect in Muslim League Bengal. It was thus under the Sage’s express guidance and the active consent of Syama Prasad that the firebrand Tejen assisted Ashutosh Lahiri of the Hindu Mahasabha in editing the ‘Hindusthan’ and ‘Kesari’ in 1941, founded the Sanatana Dharma Parishad and re-launched Sarathi, an organ started in the 1920s by CR Das, and converted it into a forum for the welfare of the Hindus in League dominated Bengal. Anil Baran Roy, CR Das’s erstwhile lieutenant in the Bengal Legislature, then a senior sadhak at the Ashram, was sufficiently moved to actively support the whole endeavour from distant Pondicherry. In carrying out their Guru Nirdesha they were vindicating their and their Guru’s position of never really abandoning Bengal and her Hindus. Present Bengal and her Hindus may still derive some directions from such activism.
The only point I wish to make while referring to the above, apart from arresting a disturbing trend of forced ‘secularisation’ of Sri Aurobindo, is to argue that most of the modern sages who provided the philosophy-action formula for Hindu regeneration and renaissance are the ones against whom the santinisation onslaught has been the severest. The reclaiming of our icons from such an insidious intellectual process is therefore of grave urgency – a reclamation that will preserve them unsullied, as directors of our national life and civilisational quest.
Taking a chronological leap for the present one comes to the Sage’s observation on Pakistan (March 1949). Made just over one and half years before his maha-samadhi (December 1950) to his disciple and editor of the newly launched (1949) Mother India – then a national political and cultural fortnightly brought out from Bombay under his guidance – the observation is not only striking but clearly supports the position that Sri Aurobindo continued to be clearly concerned about the welfare of the newly liberated state and advocated a stringent line of action in order to at least initiate relevant steps towards an eventual solution.
Having initialled his alterations to one of the editorials of the paper he quite frankly wired to its editor (KD Sethna) ‘I don’t want Pakistan to endure, made perfectly clear. Division must go – does not mean that division must be allowed to last in some form or other. Continued partition of India into two Federations one Hindu and one Muslim even if somehow connected together is no part of my idea of the Union of India.’ The Sage obviously had the advantage of an advanced vision anticipating the international muck water marsh that the country in question would eventually become. While our leaders mumble and fumble their way forward our Sages displayed greater fortitude and foresight. The necessity of a philosopher-king (statesman) has perhaps never been as greatly felt before as today.
Non-conformism and a determined concern for the Hindu identity of the nation had thus been a constant pre-occupation with Sri Aurobindo. He has been, therefore, like others of a similar will and vision, deliberately ignored and misinterpreted or distorted. But then the attitude of a resolute refusal to serve foreign ideologies and foreign masters, the refusal to accrue merit and recognition by de-Hinduising India and thus jeopardising her future has its prices to be paid. Physical freedom has not guaranteed freedom from a state of mental/intellectual servitude. It was that rock of a deeper servitude that Sri Aurobindo tirelessly sought to remove from the national psyche.