INDIAN COUNCIL OF PHILOSOPHICAL RESEARCH
RETHINKING OF SWARAJYA.
(In the light of Sri Aurobindo)
Chairman, Auroville Foundation
24-25th January, 2000
Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre Lodhi Road, New Delhi
As we look back in order to look ahead, we are seized with a sense of dissatisfaction despite lists of achievements and accomplishments that can be presented to us since we attained independence in 1947. We recall those glorious years of the first decade of the 20th century when the message of Nationalism had begun to spread in the country with electric rapidity. We recall how at that time the programmes of Village Samitis, passive resistance, boycott, arbitration, national education and Swadeshi movement were formulated and implemented with rare courage and heroism, and we wonder where that courage and heroism can be detected today. We recall how the soul of the nation had begun to stir the hearts of the people under the inspiring gospel of Swarajya, despite repressive measures of the British Rulers and powerful resistance from the loyalists and even from the distinguished leaders of the Congress who were attached to Moderatism. The movement that had started in Bengal and put forward Swarajya as the ideal in 1905, had created in three brief years, a mighty power that could inspire great sacrifices and indomitable persistence in the face of persecution. Do we find that ideal of Swarajya and its unaccomplished agenda vibrating and inspiring our people today?
It was at that time that Sri Aurobindo had written in Bande Mataram the following words:
"Swaraj is the alchemic stone, the Parash-Pathar, and we have it in our hands. It will turn to gold everything we touch. Village Samitis are good, not for the sake of village samitis but for the sake of Swaraj. Boycott is good, not for the sake of Boycott but for the sake of Swaraj. Swadeshi is good, not for the sake of Swadeshi but for the sake of Swaraj. Arbitration is good, not for the sake of arbitration but for the sake of Swaraj. If we forget Swaraj and win anything else we shall be like the seeker whose belt was turned indeed to gold but the stone of alchemy was lost to him for ever."
 Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Volume I, p.699
Let us bring back to our mind with clarity and definiteness the ideal of Swarajya, so that we can fruitfully rethink and prepare a new agenda for ourselves. The ideal of Swarajya was clearly defined by the Nationalists as nothing less than independence whether within the Empire, if that be possible, or outside it. They had opposed the moderates who desired self-government within the British Empire, but were willing to wait for it indefinitely. They had announced that the nation could not and ought not to wait, but must stir itself immediately if it was not to perish as a nation. They disagreed with the loyalists who believed that Indians had not the capacities or qualities necessary for freedom and that even if they succeeded in developing the necessary fitness, they would do better for themselves and mankind by remaining as a province of the British Empire. The moderates, who believed that the nation was too weak and disunited to aim at freedom were not convinced that India had in the measurable future the means or strength to win independence or keep it if won. They, therefore, had put forward Colonial Self-Government as their aim and were unwilling to attempt any methods we presuppose strength and cohesion in the nation. The Nationalists, on the other hand, held that Indians were as capable of freedom as any subject nation could be and their difficulties were the results of servitude and could only be removed by the struggle for freedom. They held that the choice not between autonomy and provincial Home Rule or between freedom and dependence, but between freedom and national decay and death. They further held that the past history of the country and the prevailing circumstances were of such a kind that the great unifying tendencies which were till then baffled by insuperable obstacles had at last found the right condition for success. They believed that the fated hour for Indian unification and freedom had arrived. They urged that India should strive to be free, that she could be free and she would, by the impulse of her past and the-then prevailing circumstances would inevitably be driven to the attempt and the attaining of national self-realisation.
The ideal of Swarajya meant absolute autonomy from foreign rule. It underlined the right of every nation to develop its own life by its own energies according to its own nature and ideals. It rejected the claim of aliens to force upon India a civilisation inferior to the Indian civilisation or to keep Indians out of their inheritance on the untenable ground of a superior fitness.
The ideal of Swarajya did not involve hatred of any other nation. It rejected bureaucratic administration so as to make it democratic; it opposed the alien government in order to make it indigenous; it resisted the foreign control in order to retain its Indianness. It declared that the ideal of Swarajya had its basis in universal love and brotherhood and it looked beyond unity of the nation and envisaged the ultimate unity of mankind. The unity that it envisaged had to be a unity of brothers, not the unity of the master and the serf, of devourer and devoured.
Swarajya was not to be limited to mere political freedom; the concept was that of freedom vast and entire, freedom of the individual, freedom of the community, freedom of the nation, spiritual freedom, social freedom, political freedom. It was underlined that social freedom can only be born where the soul of man is large, free and generous, not a slave to petty aims and thoughts. It was also realised that social freedom cannot be a result of social machinery but of the freedom of the human intellect and the inevitability of the human soul. It was pointed out that if political freedom is absent, the community has no great ends to follow and the individual is confined within a narrow circuit in which superiority of caste, wealth or class is the only ambition which he can cherish. Similarly, it was pointed out that spiritual freedom can never be the law of many in the absence of political freedom. It was urged that compassion to all creatures is the compassion of the sainthood, and the perfect Yogin is he who is engaged in the welfare of all, sarvabhutahite rahtah; the perfect Yogin does not forget that God is not only in himself but in all the creatures, and for those who have not the strength, spiritual freedom in political servitude is a sheer impossibility. Sri Aurobindo, while describing the contents of Swarajaya had written:
"By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal."
This is not the occasion to recount the difficulties that had to be surmounted in pursuing the ideal of Swarajya. It took long many years for the Congress itself to adopt the ideal of Swarajya as the nationalists conceived it, and even then the comprehensiveness of the ideal was never fully adopted. This was unfortunate, and in the meantime due to certain policies which were followed by the Congress and by the British Rulers, the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity was never tackled with clear vision and firm handling. As a result, when freedom was attained in 1947, a big price had to be paid by way of partition of the country, and even the political freedom came to be cast in the form of democracy as understood and practised in the West.
At the time when we are rethinking of Swarajya, we need to bring back to our mind the fullness of the ideal and to point out that if India is floundering today, it is because we have not utilised political freedom as a means to the greater ends that were and are imperative if India is to bring out her potentialities which are relevant to the cause of what may be called her true renaissance and to the services she can render to the entire humanity. For India has not only to be free politically but even economically, socially, and spiritually; political freedom is not enough, India has also to be united; India has also to utilise her political freedom to attain her true greatness.
 Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Volume I, page 701
Sri Aurobindo has made a detailed study of the problems that have to be confronted and resolved if India is to be reborn in the true sense in which the word renaissance conveys to us. Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that Indian Renaissance can become a thing of many possibilities both to herself and the world; for the possibilities involved in the re-arising of her force are in many respects those of genius unlike any other and India's genius is very different from the mentality and spirit that have so far governed the modern world. Sri Aurobindo had foreseen that India's Renaissance will enable her to keep her essential spirit, to keep her characteristic soul, but there will be a great change in our body. As he points out:
"The shaping for itself of a new body, of new philosophical, artistic, literary, cultural, political, social forms by the same soul rejuvenescent will, I should think, be the type of the Indian renascence, − forms not contradictory of the truths of life, which the old expressed, but rather expressive of those truths restated, cured of defect, completed."
In this context, Sri Aurobindo has indicated three lines on which India needs to develop herself. In the first place, the most essential work that has to be accomplished is that of the recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness. The second line of development would be to bring about the flowering of its spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge. And the third line would be to deal with modern problems with originality, derived from the light of Indian spirit and to endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of her spiritualised society.
One of the important problems to which Sri Aurobindo has drawn our attention is that of the true unity of India. In his message of 15th August 1947, he underlined this theme in the following words:
 Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Volume 14, page 399
"India today is free but she has not achieved unity the old communal division into Hindus and Muslims seems now to have hardened into a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that this settled fact will not be accepted as settled for ever or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. India's internal development and prosperity may be impeded, her position among the nations weakened, her destiny impaired or even frustrated. This must not be; the partition must go. Let us hope that that may come about naturally, by an increasing recognition of the necessity not only of peace and concord but of common action, by the practice of common action and the creation of means for that purpose. In this way unity may finally come about under whatever form — the exact form may have a pragmatic but not a fundamental importance. But by whatever means, in whatever way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved, for it is necessary for the greatness of India's future."
Another important problem to which Sri Aurobindo has referred is that of Indian culture and external influence. He pointed out that any attempt to remain exactly what we were before European invasion or to ignore in future the claims of a modern environment and necessity is foredoomed to an obvious failure. He urged that we must necessarily take into account all the modern world around us and get full knowledge of it, for otherwise we cannot live. Sri Aurobindo speaks of a double action, a self-development from within which is the greatest intimate power of being and by which it is itself, reception of impacts from outside which aims at accumulation of one's own individuality and making into material of self-growth and self-power. He saw clearly that the two operations are not mutually exclusive, nor is the second harmful to the first except when the inner genius is too weak to deal victoriously with its environmental world. As he points out:
"The man who most finds and lives from the inner self, can most embrace the universal and become one with it; the svarat, independent, self-possessed and self-ruler, can most be the samrat, possessor and shaper of the world in which he lives, can most too grow one with all in the Atman. That is the truth this developing existence teaches us, and it is one of the greatest secrets of the old Indian spiritual knowledge."
Sri Aurobindo finds that the present moment is opportune for arriving at a synthesis of the East and the West. He points out that the West is itself labouring to outgrow the limitations of its own conception and precisely by a rapid infusion of the ideas of the East, which are now freely streaming into Western thought, poetry, art, ideas of life. This infiltration does not aim at overturning the Western culture, but aims at transforming, enlightening and aggrandising its best values and to add new elements which have too long been ignored or forgotten. He, however, warns that India should not allow her cultural independence to be paralysed, for it would be singular if, "While Europe is thus intelligently enlarging herself in the new light she has been able to seize and admitting the truths of the spirit and the aim at a divine change in man and his life, we in India are to take up the cast-off clothes of European thought and life and to struggle along in the old rut of her wheels, always taking up today what she had cast off yesterday."
Even in respect of political and sociological ideals, Sri Aurobindo perceives a new realisation in the West, which will compel reconsideration of democratic, capitalistic and socialistic institutions which have endeavoured to apply the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity but failed to do so. In this light, India has to consider these principles in the light of her own genius and attempt to create a new social, economic and political order where these principles can be practically implemented in their harmony and synthesis.
And, first, India has to consider whether the parliamentary democracy which it has borrowed from the West can be so remedied that the political power gets vested in the entirety of the people and not merely in some who are mighty on account of their money power and their power to manipulate situations by means that are unethical. Sri Aurobindo has suggested that there were many experiments in the past Indian history in the field of polity, and if these experiments were allowed to arrive at maturity, India could have developed a system that could have been an alternative to the modern methods of political
democracy. At a time today when India is thinking of the need to change its Constitution, it would be appropriate for us to ensure that only those who combine honesty and capability can come to wield the political power.
 Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Volume 14, page 431
It is, however, necessary to underline that the success of new structures and procedures will depend upon the kind of education that we shall provide to the children, youths and to the public in general. Sri Aurobindo had already written a series of articles on National Education in 1909 and published them in the Karmayogin. The aims and methods of National Education that he had outlined are directly relevant to our present needs.
Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that the one important and favourable development which has taken place in the modern world is the affirmation of the right of all individuals as members of the society to the full life and full development of which they are individually capable. As he points out:
"It is now fixed that social development and well-being mean the development and well-being of all the individuals in the society and not merely a flourishing of the community in the mass which resolves itself really into the splendour and power of one or two classes."
In addition, Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that a deeper truth which modern individualism has discovered, is that the individual is not merely a social unit, that his existence, his soul, a being, who has to fulfil his own individual truth and law as well as his natural or assigned part in the truth and law of the collective existence. Sri Aurobindo pointed out that right and claim to live and grow are not founded solely on his social work and function, that he is something in himself, as this is an idea, a truth, which is intellectually recognised and given its significance by Europe, agrees at its root with profoundest and highest spiritual conception of Asia and has a large part to play in the moulding of the future.
 Sri Aurobindo, Collective Works, Centenary Edition, Volume 15, page 20
Sri Aurobindo has spoken of the coming of the subjective age and has warned against false subjectivism as distinguished from true subjectivism. He wants India to grasp the distinction between the true and false subjectivism so that she can avoid the perils of those experiments which gave rise to fascist and totalitarian theories and practice in the West in the recent history. Sri Aurobindo has, after considering the right relationship between the individual and the society, formulated the ideal law of social development, and considering the goals that India can serve because of her genius and past history, it would be for her to give practical formulation of that ideal law. It appears that it is the tasks that flow from this practical formulation that would give the right content of Swarajya for India today.
Let me conclude by quoting from Sri Aurobindo, that ideal law of social development:
"Thus the law for the individual is to perfect his individuality by free development from within, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development in others. His law is to harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate and to pour himself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for the community or nation is equally to perfect its corporate existence by a free development from within, aiding and taking full advantage of that of the individual, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development of other communities and nations. Its law is to harmonise its life with that of the human aggregate and to pour itself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for humanity is to pursue its upward evolution towards the finding and expression of the Divine in the type of mankind, taking full advantage of the free development and gains of all individuals and nations and groupings of men, to work towards the day when mankind may be really and not only ideally one divine family, but even then, when it has succeeded in unifying itself, to respect, aid and be aided by the free growth and activity of its individuals and constituent aggregates."
 Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Volume 15, pp. 63-64