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Sri Aurobindo, The Forgotten Giant Of India’s Independance

A biography of British statesman Sir Stafford Cripps has just been brought out by Penguin Books. Sir Stafford Cripps was one of the towering figures in British public life in the 1930s and 1940s and was responsible more than anyone else for shaping the settlement which led to Indian independence.

Of course, Sir Stafford Cripps is particularly remembered in India for his mission in 1943, when he came to propose to Nehru and Gandhi that if India collaborated to the Allies war effort against the Nazis, she would be granted full Dominion status under the Commonwealth (like Canada or Australia) at the end of the war, which means in effect that India would have won her independence without bloodshed and that Partition and its bloody aftermath would not have happened. Unfortunately, although Nehru was very much tempted by the proposal, Gandhi, in the name of the sacrosanct non-violence refused it, with the terrible consequences that we know today.

It is sad that there is no mention in Cripp’s biography of Sri Aurobindo’s role in the 1943 mission. For when the Second World War broke out, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother came out openly on the side of the Allies, because they felt Hitler represented the forces of darkness. He who had fought the British earlier now put his full support and spiritual help behind them for their victory. Though Sri Aurobindo had retired from the political scene, when the Cripps Mission came, he broke his silence and sent an emissary to ask the Indian leaders to accept the proposals. Unfortunately for India, that advise for not heeded, although K.M. Munshi, then a senior cabinet minister in the Indian Government, remarked later: “Sri Aurobindo saw into the heart of things…. His perception of the political situation in India was always correct. When the World War came in 1939…it was he of the unerring eye who said that the triumph of England and France was the triumph of the divine forces over the demoniac forces…. He spoke again when Sir Stafford Cripps came with his first proposal: He said, `India should accept it.’ We rejected the advice… but today we realise that if the first proposal had been accepted, there would have been no partition, no refugees, and no Kashmir problem.”

Sri Aurobindo’s message is more relevant than ever to India today, but unhappily, his name is hardly ever mentioned. Yet, in the early 1900’s Sri Aurobindo was one of the first nationalist leaders to realise that passive resistance, constitutional agitation “a La Congress”, was not the right path to achieve an independent India. In the true spirit of a yogi, he re-enacted the Baghavad Gita’s great message: that violence is sometimes necessary, if it flows from Dharma -and Dharma then was the liberation of India. Thus he began contacting revolutionary groups in Maharashtra and Bengal and tried to co-ordinate their action. At Sri Aurobindo’s initiative, P. Mitter, Surendranath Tagore and Sister Nivedita formed the first Secret Council for revolutionary activities in Bengal. But action was accompanied by inner vision: “While others look upon their country as an inert piece of matter, forests, hills and rivers, I look upon my country as the Mother. What would a son do if a demon sat on her mother’s breast and started sucking her blood?..I know I have the strength to deliver this fallen race. It is not physical strength- I am not going to fight, but with the strength of knowledge”.

It was at this time that B.C. Pal launched the famous English daily, Bande Mataram; Sri Aurobindo joined it and soon became its editor. Day after day, he jotted down his vision and tried to instill fire and courage in the nation through the pages of Bande Mataram : “Nationalism is not a mere political programme; nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed which you shall have to live…. Then there will be a blessing on our work and this great nation will rise again and become once more what it was in the days of spiritual greatness”. But Sri Aurobindo had to fight against the Congress Moderates, who, it must be remembered came out openly for complete independence only in 1929, of whom he said: “There is a certain section of India which regards Nationalism as madness and they say Nationalism will ruin the country.. They are men who live in the pure intellect and they look at things purely from the intellectual point of view”….

Sri Aurobindo was very clear in what was demanded of a leader of India: “What India needs at the moment is the aggressive virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation, fearless resistance, courageous attack”. But if the Moderates dismissed Sri Aurobindo as a “mystic”, Lord Minto, then Viceroy of India, made no such mistake, calling him, “the most dangerous man we have to deal with at present”. Thus Sri Aurobindo was arrested on May 2d 1908, following a failed assassination attempt on a British judge by a nationalist belonging to his brother’s secret society.

Sri Aurobindo spent a year in jail, which proved to be the turning point of his life as he went through the whole gamut of spiritual realisations. When he came out, the nationalist movement had nearly collapsed and he set about giving it a fresh impetus, launching a new English weekly, the Karmayogin, as well as a Bengali weekly, Dharma. This following is an extract from his famous Uttarpara speech, where he speaks of his spiritual experiences in jail: “When it is said that India shall rise, it is the Santana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Santana Dharma that shall be great… But what is the Hindu religion? It is the Hindu religion only, because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal…. Santana Dharma IS nationalism”…

In mid-February 1910, news reached that the British had again decided to arrest Sri Aurobindo and close down the offices of the Karmayogin. By that time Sri Aurobindo had the vision that India was free, for the external events are always preceded by an occult happening, sometimes long before they become “fait accompli”. Sri Aurobindo then received an “Adesh”, an inspiration, that he must go to Pondichery, then under French rule. He settled there, with a few disciples, the number of whom slowly swelled, until it became known as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He wrote all his masterpieces and devoted the remaining of his life to bringing down what he called the “supramental manifestation on the earth”. The great Sage passed away on 5 December 1950. But today, his words still echo from the high peaks of the Himalayas to the rocks of Kanyakumari: “this great nation will rise again and become once more what it was in the days of spiritual greatness”.

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