Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sri Aurobindo was never for a moment an advocate of Hindu nationalism

Special Article FERVENT JINGOISM Sri Aurobindo as the grand architect of composite Indian nationalism By HARIDAS MUKHERJEE The Statesman Saturday, 9 February 2008
THE sturdy spirit of Indian nationalism which Sri Aurobindo incarnated in himself and to which Bande Mataram gave fearless expression (1906-08) has suffered palpable distortion at the hands of vested interests in subsequent times. Although the Hindus formed and still form the overwhelming majority of the Indian population, Sri Aurobindo was never for a moment an advocate of Hindu nationalism.
When Lala Lajpat Rai spoke of “Hindu nationalism as a necessary preliminary to a greater Indian nationality', Sri Aurobindo totally disapproved of the great Lalaji's stand. “Not that”, wrote Sri Aurobindo, “we are blind to facts, not that we (ie, the nationalist party) do not recognise Hindu-Mohammedan rivalry as a legacy of the past enhanced and not diminished by British ascendancy, a thing that has to be faced and worked out either by mutual concession or by a struggle between nationalism and separatism. But we do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions.”
He went on to write, “Hindu nationalism had a meaning in the times of Shivaji and Ramdas, because India was then a world to itself and the existence of two geographical units entirely Hindu, Maharashtra and Rajputana, provided it with a basis... But under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole ... the country, the Swadesh, which must be the base and fundament of our nationality, is India, a country where Mohammedan and Hindu live intermingled and side by side... Our ideal, therefore, is an Indian nationalism, largely Hindu in its spirit and traditions... but wide enough also to include the Moslem and his culture and traditions and absorb them into itself” (Karmayogin, 6 November 1909).
Even before this, Sri Aurobindo as the grand architect of composite Indian nationalism pleaded with passion, “Nationalism depends for its success on the awakening and organising of the whole strength of the nation; it is therefore vitally important for nationalism that the politically backward classes should be awakened and brought into the current of political life; the great mass of orthodox Hinduism which was hardly even touched by the old Congress movement, the great slumbering mass of Islam which has remained politically inert throughout the last century, the shopkeepers, the artisan class, the immense body of illiterate and ignorant peasantry, the submerged classes, even the wild tribes and races still outside the pale of Hindu civilisation, nationalism can afford to neglect and omit none.” (Bande Mataram, 17 December 1907).
Thus, in Sri Aurobindo's political thinking the first article of faith was not the promotion of Hindu nationalism, but that of composite Indian nationalism, embracing the Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other communities. Those who think that Sri Aurobindo, a passionate lover of Hindu culture and traditions as he was, was anti-Muslim in his political outlook are entirely mistaken. Years before the birth of the Indian National Congress (1885) when the Indian Association was founded in 1876, its first builders like Surendra Nath Banerjea adumbrated the ideal of composite Indian nationalism.
No great political leader of the Swadeshi period, far less Sri Aurobindo, advocated the ideal of Hindu nationalism. Bipin Chandra Pal whom Sri Aurobindo called “one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism”, was another passionate protagonist of the cause of composite Indian nationalism (vide New Delhi, 12 August 1901). In its very first issue, Pal formulated his concept of Indian nationalism as “neither Hindu nor Mahomedan nor even British, but is made up of the varied and valuable materials supplied in successive stages of its evolution, by the three great world civilisations...”
Although Sri Aurobindo represented in himself, in his anti-imperialist struggle, virile manliness or shakti-yoga of the Kshatriya tradition, there was no trace of religious bigotry, fanaticism and sectarianism in his blood. If he had preached any religion, it was only the religion of patriotism, the religion of complete self-abandonment to the service of the Mother. He saw the vision of the Mother in the country who has given to the Muslims “a permanent place in her bosom”.
But he was prudent enough to observe in the same breath, “of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Mohammedan unity cannot be effected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down, in the heart and in the mind, for where the causes of disunion are, there the remedies must be sought... We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Musulman brother... but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter of a selfish weakness and cowardice” (Karmayogin, 19 June 1909). He believed that “strength conciliates the strong” and that weakness merely breeds contempt. His study of history and politics has taught him that the unity of language, race or religion is not an essential preliminary for the growth of a common nationality, as is seen in the history of England, France, Germany, Switzerland and so on.
Turning to the Indian scene, Sri Aurobindo commented thus: “As for the religious difficulty, it is an old bogey. We do not deny the difficulty created by the divisions between the Mohammedans and Hindus, but it is idle to say that the difficulty is insuperable. If the spirit of nationalism conquered the much fiercer intolerance of the religious struggles in Europe after the reformation, it is not irrational to hope as much for India in the 20th century.” (Vide Bande Mataram, Pondicherry, 1973, p 526).
Later, when the idea of the two-nation theory was mooted on the ostensible plea that the Hindus and Muslims represented two distinct nationalities, the latter in India being the “descendants of foreigners”, Sri Aurobindo found no historical sanction for this “new-fangled notion”. “More than 90 per cent of the Indian Mussalmans are descendants of converted Hindus and belong as much to the Indian nation as the Hindus themselves. This process of conversion has continued all along; Jinnah is himself a descendant of a Hindu, converted in fairly recent times, named Jinahbhai...,” (Sri Aurobindo on Himself, Pondicherry, 1972, p 46).
Clarifying the stand of the nationalists (then called the Extremists by the Moderates) with regard to the question of separate Muslim representation as envisaged in Morley's Reform Scheme (1909), Sri Aurobindo made the firm and unequivocal observation: “The Reform Scheme... will cast all India into the melting pot and complete the work of the Partition. Our own attitude is clear... We still have no part or lot in reforms which give no popular majority, no substantive control, no opportunity for Indian capacity and statesmanship, no seed of democratic expansion. We will not for a moment accept separate electorates or separate representation, not because we are opposed to a large Mohammedan influence in popular assemblies when they come but because we will be no party to a distinction which recognises Hindu and Mohammedan as permanently separate political units and thus precludes the growth of a single and indivisible Indian nation.”
It is the spirit of Indianity, the living awareness that all the children of the soil are Indians first, Hindus or Muslims afterwards, that alone can bind them together, in spite of religious and socio-cultural divergences, into a common nationality. “True national unity”, said Sri Aurobindo, “is the unity of self-dedication to the country, when the liberty and greatness of our motherland is the paramount consideration to which all others must be subordinated”.
If present-day India has miserably failed to develop real secular politics, it is not the Britishers but the Indians themselves who are blame. Those leaders in whom the people have so long reposed their trust for freedom, democratic values and secularism, have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, for they are, as Radhakrishnan once painfully observed, “more anxious to build themselves than to build the nation.” The writer is former Professor and Head of the Department of History, Presidency College. He is currently Saradananda Professor of Indology at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Gol Park, Kolkata

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