15th August 2022 is the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo. On 15 August 1947 Sri Aurobindo had declared in a message to All India Radio, Thiruchirapalli, that he had five dreams in which free India would play a significant role. What can we make out regarding its status seventy-five years down the line?
- A revolutionary movement which would create a free and united India.
As he had forecast, the communal divide that created the partition has now hardened further, raising walls within the country, and civil strife provoked by linguistic, caste and regional parochialism mar the fair face of Mother India. The language problem has been exacerbated by politicians into a formidable barrier. So much so that Indians from one region face increasing difficulties, as the years pass, to communicate with fellow-countrymen in other parts of India. The principle “for the children of the soil only” adopted by various states effectively ensures the growth of insularity and prevents the growth of familiarity with other cultures that makes for national unity. The north-east refuses to be integrated into a polity that it finds nothing in common with and a system of governance that has failed to carry it along on the path of development. Bihar, the centre of India’s greatest empires, has degenerated into a state notorious for mis-governance, leading the group of BIMARUH states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana)—an acronym coined by economist Ashis Bose) that drag the country back from progress. Bengal, once capital of India and torchbearer of the Indian renascence and the freedom movement, has declined steadily and steeply into intellectual mediocrity and moral decadence, quite decisively abandoning the spiritual. Perhaps its roots lie in the ancient myth of the hubris of Paundraka who proclaimed himself as the true Vasudeva and challenged Shri Krishna, only to be destroyed.
Sri Aurobindo had stated that the problem of the depressed classes would be solved “without schism or fissure”. Unfortunately, unscrupulous politicians with only short-term personal gains in view keep inflicting fresh wounds in the body politic, stoking the flames of linguistic and inter-caste animosity till the cauldron boils over. Moreover, as the N.N. Vohra Committee report submitted to Parliament on the Golden Jubilee of Independence stated bluntly, the perverse nexus among the politician, the criminal, the police, the executive and even the judiciary has imperilled the Indian polity, and corruption—intellectual and otherwise—has eaten into its very vitals. The highest court of the land once demanded an action-taken report on what the government had done about the recommendations made by Vohra, but strangely enough did not pursue the matter. Are the reasons self-evident? Resorting to shameless sophistry, governments unhesitatingly invest criminals with the formal authority of ministerial posts while renowned institutes of learning invite them to address their students. No statesmen remind leaders of Sri Aurobindo’s warning that the persistence of civil strife makes “even a new invasion and foreign conquest” possible. In the midst of the ever-darkening gloom, faith offers the only light. Fervently we pin all our hopes on Sri Aurobindo’s trenchant assertion, “the division must go; unity must and will be achieved…”
2.The resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia.
In the new millennium, it is a reality. The Far Eastern countries have overtaken the West in the twin fields of knowledge-engineering and money-making. The overwhelming success of tiny Japan’s business systems, now overtaken by China, has compelled the management savants of the West to study and teach the Zen and Confucian way to worldly success—in motorcycle maintenance, war or otherwise! Business concerns have compelled the USA to accord “most favoured nation” status to their sometime favourite whipping boy, the inscrutable mandarin. China itself has given a new content and form to Communism after the collapse of the Soviet block, while maintaining its totalitarianism and the unenviable world record for the largest number of executions of corrupt officials. At home, Capitalism is being vigorously pursued by both Union and State Governments.
3. A world union…multilateral citizenship, willed interchange or voluntary fusion of cultures.
After the United Nations, the European Union has shown the way and gone a step farther by introducing a common currency. Business concerns have led to the forging of regional country-blocs that will usher in a common citizenship and currency. Food, mankind’s first production of culture, is integrating widely disparate cultures through the phenomenon of fusion which is also reflected in humanity’s most sublime art-form: music. The Millennium Development Goals subscribed to by most member countries of the United Nations aim precisely at the “fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind” that Sri Aurobindo spoke of in his message. The problem is the absence of “that larger statesmanship which is not limited by the present facts and immediate possibilities but looks into the future and brings it nearer (which) may make all the difference between a slow and timid and a bold and swift development.” As a matter of fact, the word “statesman” itself appears to be as much a misnomer in India today as in most of the other countries. Otherwise we would not have to witness pogroms and the most horrific civil wars going on for years in the Middle-East, Africa, Myanmar and now in Ukraine with the powerful nations either looking the other way or doing nothing significant to put a stop to the supply of illegal arms to the combatants.
“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.” –Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”.
Indeed, T.S. Eliot seems to have been so very right in wondering,
“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”—T. S. Eliot, “The Rock”
As Sri Aurobindo put it so pithily, “only human imbecility and stupid selfishness can prevent it (the unification of nations).” Both, unfortunately, are in evidence in abundant measure. Quite uncannily, Vyasa’s description of Kali Yuga in the Harivamsha (chapter 116) fits the twenty-first century to a “T”: climate change, ponds ploughed over, drought, infertile soil, misrule, beggars proliferating, sexual depravity and education being sold.. The saving grace lies in Sri Aurobindo’s assurance, “but these cannot stand for ever against the necessity of Nature and the Divine Will.” Only, the ordinary human being, thrashing about frenziedly as he is sucked remorselessly into the depths of these Serbonian bogs, sobs aloud, “How long, O Lord, how long!”
4. The spiritual gift of India to the world.
The evidence of this is far too well known to need spelling out. The UN declaring 21st June as the International Day of Yoga is the most recent evidence. Even within the country the powerful resurgence of popular interest in the mantras of the Vedas and Upanishads and in the epics and puranas pervading the entire gamut of media and the sudden proliferation of yajnas holds forth hope that it will foster a deeper search for the spiritual truths lying behind the glitzy packaging and the fascination with ritual. There is, however, a new phenomenon that has emerged threatening to overshadow the pristine truth of India’s spirituality by a cloud of fundamentalist confusion, “red in tooth and claw”, hiding behind the transparent excuse of battling communalism. While in artha and kama, profit and pleasure, India appears to be soaring higher and higher in the spiralling gyre of development, it seems, indeed, to have lost touch with its spiritual roots. The falcon can no longer hear the falconer. In terms of dharma, things seem to be falling apart, the centre does not hold. When we look around for comfort in the fellowship of good men, what we experience instead is:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” —W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”.
5. A step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness.
Indirect evidence of the advancement in evolution is scattered around the globe in the astonishing advancements in technology in all fields, shrinking the globe to a situation where one can indeed say “the earth is flat”, in a world-wide reaching out from the heart to succour the distressed, and in the remarkable intelligence right from infancy displayed by the children of the new millennium.