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The Ashram's Spiritual History ->The Cripps Proposals


Sri Aurobindo and The Cripps Proposals


The end of March and the beginning of April 1942 are memorable for one of the very few interventions of Sri Aurobindo in India's public affairs. World War II was in full swing and Japan had joined hands with Hitler and posed a threat to Burma and even India, both of which were then under British rule. There was considerable discontent in India and a great reluctance to join the war effort of the British Commonwealth. India could not see much difference between German Nazism and British Imperialism. Most people forgot that the latter was the gradually fading remnant of an old turn of the human political mind, which had once played a necessary role in history but had lost its raison d'etre in the modern age of national freedom, whereas the former with its dogmas of master race and absolute dictator and merciless regimentation was a current contrary to the drive of human evolution with its many-sided variation both individual and collective. /

Churchill was England's Prime Minister at the time. He had been known as a die-hard Imperialist. All of a sudden he appeared to have felt that in the war he was conducting against Hitler the cause of civilisation was at stake and that to serve it at all costs was more important than to preserve the sanctity of the British empire. He wanted India to give up her distrust of the British and throw in her lot whole-heartedly with Britain's own valiant effort to fight the barbarism that was on the march from Germany under the emblem of the Swastika. He gave ear to the advice of liberal thought in England which was in favour of conceding greater freedom to India that had been agitating for independence, especially since the days when Sri Aurobindo had become for a few years the leader of the Nationalist Movement. The well- known liberal thinker. Sir Stafford Cripps, was prominent as a spokesman of this advice. Churchill chose him to carry to India certain proposals meant to meet her basic demands and induce her to join the united front of Britain and her allies against Hitler and his associates. In connection with what came to be known as the Cripps Proposals it may be interesting to put together all the documents relating to Sri Aurobindo's intervention.

Sir Stafford, on arriving in India, issued the following Draft Declaration on behalf of the British Government: "His  Majesty's Government, having considered the anxieties ' expressed in this country and in India as to the fulfilment of promises made in regard to the future of India, have decided to lay down in precise and clear terms the steps which they propose shall be taken for the earliest possible realization of self-government in India. The object is the creation of a new Indian Union which shall constitute a Dominion associated with the United Kingdom and other Dominions by a common allegiance to the Crown but equal to them in every respect, in no way subordinate in any aspect of its domestic and external affairs."

On hearing this declaration on the radio, Sri Aurobindo Had the insight that the offer sent by Churchill through Sir Stafford Cripps had come on the wave of a divine inspiration and that it gave India the substance of independence. At once he sent a telegram to Sir Stafford: "I have heard your broadcast. As one who has been a nationalist leader and worker for India's independence, though now my activity is no longer in the political but in the spiritual field, I wish to express my appreciation of all you have done to bring about this offer. I welcome it as an opportunity given to India to determine for herself and organise in all liberty of choice her freedom and unity and take an effective place among the world's free nations. I hop" that it will be accepted and the right use made of it putting aside all discords and divisions. I hope too that a friendly relation between Britain and India replacing past struggles will be a step towards a greater world-union in which as a free nation her spiritual force will contribute to build for mankind a better and happier life. In this light I offer my public adhesion in case it can be of any help in your work." (March 31, 1942)

 Cripps immediately telegraphed back to Sri Aurobindo: "I am most touched and gratified by your kind message allowing me to inform India that you who occupy a unique position in the imagination of Indian youth are convinced that the declaration of His Majesty's Government substantially confers that freedom for which Indian Nationalism has so long struggled." (April 1, 1942)

On the heels of this telegram came one from Arthur Moore, editor of the Calcutta Daily, The Statesman: "Your message to Sir Stafford Cripps inaugurates the new era. Nothing can prevent it. I am glad that my eyes have seen this salvation coming." (April 1, 1942) 

By now negotiations had started between Cripps and the Congress leaders.

Arthur Moore the very next day sent to his paper an editorial comment on Sri Aurobindo's message: "We have not doubted that Sir Stafford Cripps's mission will succeed nor were we depressed by Tuesday's wave of pessimism.... But since then an event has happened which will change a whole army of doubters and pessimists into optimists. After listening to Sir Stafford's broadcast, Sri Aurobindo has, from his Ashram in Pondicherry, offered his public adhesion 'in case it can be of any help in your work'. Rarely in history can so great a help have been so unostentatiously offered. This is the release not only upon India but upon the world of a great spiritual force which has long been awaiting its appointed time." (New Delhi, 2-4-1942)

Seeing that the negotiations with the Congress were not going right Sri Aurobindo decided on a further intervention. This took two forms. On the one hand he sent messages to some important figures in Indian politics. Through Mr. Shiva Rao he communicated to Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru that Cripps's offer should be accepted unconditionally. He also sent a couple of telegrams. One was to "Rajagopalachari, Birla House, New Delhi": "Is not compromise defense question better than rupture? Some immediate solution urgent face grave peril. Have sent Duraiswami insist urgency. Appeal to you to save India formidable danger new foreign domination when old on way to self-elimination." (2- 4-1942, 9-30 a.m.) The reference to the danger of a new foreign domination was evidently to the presence of Japanese forces approaching India. The other telegram was addressed to "Dr. Moonje, Hindu Mahasabha, New Delhi": "Settlement India Britain urgent face approach grave peril menacing future India. Is there no way while reserving right repudiate resist partition Motherland to accept cooperation purpose war India Union. Cannot combination Mahasabha Congress Nationalist and anti-Jinnah Muslims defeat League in elections Bengal Punjab Sind? Have sent advocate Duraiswami Iyer to meet you." (2-4-1942, 9-30 a.m.) Here an important point is the grave possibility of a division within the country due to Jinnah's movement to separate Muslims from Hindus. One of the salutary effects of accepting the Cripps Proposals would be to keep India united in the face of the Japanese threat and thus lead to an unpartitioned free India in the future.

As the telegrams indicate, Sri Aurobindo also took the extraordinary step of sending a personal representative so that his appeal might go home better to the wrangling negotiators. Nirodbaran in his book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo has memorably painted the scene:' "It was the evening hour. Sri Aurobindo was sitting on the edge of his bed just before his daily walking exercise. All of us were present; Duraiswami, the distinguished Madras lawyer and disciple, was selected as the envoy, perhaps because he was a friend of Rajagopalachari.... He was to start for Delhi that very night. He came for Sri Aurobindo's blessings, lay prostrate before him, got up and stood looking at the Master with folded hands and then departed. We may remind ourselves of Talthybius's mission to Troy in Sri Aurobindo's epic poem llion. Similarly, Duraiswami went with India's soul in his frail hands and brought it back, down-hearted, rewarded with ungracious remarks for the gratuitous advice."

Nirodbaran has also written:² "Cripps Hew back a disappointed man but with the consolation and gratified recognition that at least one great man had welcomed the idea. When the rejection was announced, Sri Aurobindo said in a quiet tone, 'I knew it would fail.' We at once pounced on him and asked him, 'Why did you then send Duraiswami at all?' 'For a bit of niskāma karma,’³ was his calm reply, without any bitterness or resentment. The full spirit of the kind of "disinterested work' he meant comes out in an early letter of his (December, 1933), which refers to his spiritual work: 'I am sure of the results of my work. But even if I still saw the chance that it might come to nothing (which is impossible), I would go on unperturbed, because I would still have done to the best of my power the work that I had to do, and what is so done always counts in the economy of the universe.' We know the aftermath of the rejection of the Cripps proposals: confusion, calamity, partition, blood-bath, etc., and the belated recognition of the colossal blunder."

Gradually the colossal blunder is being rectified in general conformity with, though not yet in precise adherence to, the vision expressed by Sri Aurobindo when on his seventy-fifth birthday on August 15, 1947, India obtained her independence and, as Nirodbaran puts it,4 "Sri Aurobindo's 'bardic' voice was heard once again", declaring about the partition of British India into India and Pakistan as a price of freedom: " 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." Nirodbaran has noted 5 that "Sri Aurobindo's prediction has been half-fulfilled, for Bangladesh (East Pakistan) is now entirely independent..."

We may conclude our account with a significant letter written by M. C. Desai, on September 29,1942 to the Bombay Daily, The Times of India. It is entitled "Complex of Dependency" and runs:

"It is amusing to find such Congress and liberal stalwarts as Mr. Rajagopalachari and Sir Chimanlal Setalvad openly advocating almost unconditional acceptance of the Cripps Proposals and denouncing the Congress leaders for rejecting them.

"But what the Indian man-in-the-street would like to know is why these wise and eminent gentlemen did not speak out their real mind at the right time when Sir Stafford Cripps was here. What prevented 'C. R.', for instance, from breaking with the Congress Working Committee during the negotiations, when he knew it was giving a wrong lead to the country?

"Similarly, one remembers that Sir Chimanlal Setalvad saw Sir Stafford Cripps on behalf of the Indian Liberals and submitted their resolution. The elaborate resolution did not fail to emphasise such minor omissions in the scheme as that of a specific mention of women's vote in the provincial plebiscite. But on the crucial question whether the country should accept or reject the scheme the resolution neither definitely said yes or no — quite like the Liberals.

"Curiously, the solitary Indian statesman who took a realistic view and had the courage of his conviction to advise his countrymen unequivocally to accept the Cripps Proposals was that mystic and visionary of Pondicherry — Shri Aurobindo Ghose. The belated wisdom of our leaders emphasises the truth of the ancient Sanskrit proverb: 'The Brahmin always thinks too late.'

"Instead of harping on the Mahatma's admittedly 'un- practical idealism', let our leaders organise a countrywide educative propaganda to convince the wide mass, of the people of the wisdom of accepting a compromise solution like the Cripps plan if India's problem is to be resolved peacefully and create opportunities for ordinary people to express their honest opinion."


Notes and References

1. P. 153.  

2. Pp. 153-54.

3. Disinterested work, the essence of which is that the work is inwardly dedicated to the Divine with no attachment to the result.

4. P. 154.  

5. Ibid., fn. 2.

- K. D. Sethna

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What Sri Aurobindo represents in the world's history is not a teaching, not even a revelation; it is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.

The Mother
Volume 13
Words of the Mother (14 February 1961)