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(187) The Uttarpara speech has been printed and cited innumerable times since its delivery, mostly because it was the first and the last occasion that Aurobindo spoke of his spiritual experiences in public. As such, it is an important document for scholars of mysticism. But historians, political scientists, and politicians also discuss the speech. Left-wing critics hold it up as proof that Aurobindo’s nationalism was Hindu at its core, and suggest that this bias encouraged the growth of communalism, which made the partition of the country inevitable. Right-wing enthusiasts regard the speech as an inspired expression of the imperishable Indian spirit, citing passages of the speech out of context to make it seem as if Aurobindo endorsed their programs. These readings are both partial and thus both false; Aurobindo’s “universal religion” was not limited to any particular creed. It had been given classic expression in the Upanishads and Gita, but it was also at the core of such scriptures as the Bible and the Koran. More important, “its real, most authoritative scripture is in the heart [of every individual] in which the Eternal has His dwelling.”<footnote 70> The true sanatana dharma was not a matter of belief but of spiritual experience and inner communion with the Divine.
Text of Footnote 70: “Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, p. 26.” Passage quoted here for convenience: “This sanatana dharma has many scriptures, Veda, Vedanta, Gita, Upanishad, Darshana, Purana, Tantra, nor could it reject the Bible or the Koran; but its real, most authoritative scripture is in the heart in which the Eternal has His dwelling. It is in our inner spiritual experiences that we shall find the proof and source of the world’s Scriptures, the law of knowledge, love and conduct, the basis and inspiration of Karmayoga.”
<For Heehs’s papers in historical journals refuting the Right-wing claim that Sri Aurobindo’s position was proto-Hindutva, and the Left-wing charge that his writings and speeches encouraged communalism, see Heehs’s website: http://peterheehs.net. References to his papers on these subjects may also be found on the back of Heehs’s 2008 booklet Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism, where they were listed at the request of the booklet’s editor, Dr. Mangesh Nadkarni.>
(115–116) A hundred years later, the East Bengal riots are remembered not as occasions of Hindu self-assertion, but as early examples of the communal violence — to use a term that had not yet been invented — that continues to the present day. Aurobindo and other Extremist are sometimes accused by liberal and left-wing historians of preparing the way for communalism by giving a Hindu slant to the movement.
See note in angle brackets above. For a balanced discussion of the East Bengal riots and how they are remembered today, see Suranjan Das, Communal Riots in Bengal: 1905–1947. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991).
(190) But he did not turn his back on political issues such as the Hindu-Muslim problem. In the issue of July 17, 1909 he wrote that there was “absolutely no reason why the electoral question should create bad blood between the two communities.” Union could never be achieved “by political adjustments”; it had to be “sought deeper down, in the heart and the mind, for where the causes of disunion are, there the remedies must be sought.” Sound psychology, but few Muslims were comforted by his assertion that “our Musulman brother” was an Indian as any Hindu, since “in him too Narayan dwells and to him too our Mother has given a permanent place in her bosom.” <footnote 82> Only highly cultivated men like Abul Kalam Azad could see the sense behind the Hindu imagery. Azad visited Aurobindo a few times in the Karmayogin office and was briefly in contact with one of the revolutionary groups.<footnote 83> But most Muslims stayed away from Extremist politics, which appeared to them to be dominated by Hindu interests.
Texts of footnotes 82 and 83:
82. Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, 29–31.
83. A. Azad, India Wins Freedom, 4.
(212) He tried, half-heartedly, to bring Muslims into the movement, but he never gave the problem the attention that hindsight shows that it deserved. But could anything said or done in 1907 have changed the outcome forty years later? Probably not. Still, partition and the bloodletting that accompanied it were the movement’s principal failings, and Aurobindo and his colleagues have to take their share of the blame. If not, then all the blame falls on the British and the Muslims. No serious historian could advance this view, however comforting it might be to some.