RAD: What is this win worth?

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Let me begin this article by congratulating the ‘Be Here Now’ team for pulling off a stupendous victory. In the recently concluded Residents’ Assembly Decision-making referendum, they won by a landslide margin. Out of 899 votes cast, 803 were in favour of the motion – “To pause all clearing, infrastructure laying and permanent construction work on the Right of Ways of Crown, Radials and Outer Ring in order to enable the community to define a way forward for Auroville’s development…”. Only 90 went against the tide. The number of people participating in the exercise is, by the way, the record in Auroville’s history. Altogether an incredible win, indeed!

Though, this did not come as a surprise to me, personally. I never doubted the outcome of the RAD, I always knew the BHN team would win. The narrative of ‘saving the trees’, ‘standing up against violence’, ‘fighting for freedom’, etc. looks luscious, romantic, heroic even. If I did not have the all-around information, I’d have myself rooted for it. After all, who doesn’t like to be a hero warrior? But, here I’m, risking the wrath of the community, sticking my neck out once again, saying what I think needs to be said. What is this win worth?

The numbers do not say everything

Even though the numbers seem the highest ever, it does not mean, we as a community are unanimous about the notion around progressing or pausing. I, for one, do not equate everyone who did not exercise their voting rights to be against the RAD topic. In the same breath, I wouldn’t also draw conclusions that only 90 are in opposition. It is a reality that many abstained from voting, me including, and I request the community to not overlook this fact, under the influence of the winning high. Out of 2427 eligible residents (above age 18 and confirmed Aurovilians) 899 have explicitly made their opinion known, the remaining 1528 residents also have a viewpoint and cannot be easily discarded. Many refer to them as the silent majority and both sides claim they are with them. We do not yet know their version for a fact and in future actions, their role, depending on where they swing, can be crucial.

The smokescreen of consensus is cleared now

Until now, there was an unwritten understanding within the community that a brash show of numbers to make a point was considered unacceptable. The tyranny of numbers may not always present an amicable solution. At times, mere numbers can prove to be cruel for conscious decision-making. Thus, we as a community have always relied on a semblance of consensus rather than the brute force of the numbers. We have trusted the quality of the arguments more than the quantity of arguers. With the present victory, without worrying about listening to – forget including – the other side of the argument seems unprecedented and unfortunate. All the claims and calls for collaboration seem an eyewash and posturing for an audience. Most of the effort during the lead-up to the RAD seems to have been on booing & demonizing the residents who presently hold offices, instead of genuinely listening to their side of the story. Most of the effort has been towards proving the madness and little to no effort towards understanding the methods behind that ‘madness’. At least, we’ve been true this time to act as we believe, and the chimera of courteousness has lost its sheen.

The crisis is the glue, not the purpose

If one looks closely at the occasions, in which we as a community have participated in relatively high numbers, we find they have been moments of crisis. May it be for Highway or Crownway. We do not come together with such enthusiasm when the matter is not of controversial nature. Moreover, coming together and finding consensus to do anything new in Auroville is usually an uphill task, given the number of personal opinions and perspectives on the subject. So, rather than doing anything boldly for the future, we as a community seem to find solace in maintaining the status quo of the past. Doing anything new requires debates, discussions, dialogues, and the synthesising of opposing views, which is far more difficult than mediocre continuity of the same and familiar old. The state of our economy, organization, education, social interactions, living standards, town development, and even environment-related activities, etc. in the last 20 – 30 years stand as a testimony against courage for change. We as a community claim to strive for actual human unity, however, we continue to cling to our personal point of view. We need to find purpose in various fields of Auroville and see how we can translate our newly found unity into something positive, not merely against a bogeyman.

The actual meaning of the RAD

The Residents’ Assembly will (may have already) present the results to the Working Committee, which, in turn, shall present the ‘Decision’ to the Governing Board. Here’s where the difference of perceptions creeps in. The residents who voted for the motion may expect the GB to honour their ‘Decision’ and order Auroville entities to ‘Pause’ all work. Whereas the GB may look at the ‘Decision’ as a request or advice only. The working group of Auroville – ATDC – has already requested the GB for support and resources to carry forward their long-pending work, which the GB has already agreed (refer to the Minutes of the Meetings published on 3rd Dec 21) and declared. Given their prior commitment to the ATDC and their recent focus on development – on the occasion of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th Anniversary – they may continue to support ATDC and decline the recent RAD request to pause.

How would the community respond then? This may rile up a few residents and many more may rally around the riled. Will it matter? For us, residents, yes! Will it matter to the Government of India? Perhaps not. From their perspective, they’re only supporting Auroville’s progress and helping the community finish long-pending – community-approved, gazetted by previous governments – work. The Government of India may see few emotionally charged residents as rabble-rousers, hellbent on obstruction of work. Long story short, consequences for us residents may be quite unpleasant & then, what will have been then the purpose of the RAD? Make the GB listen to the requests of some residents? Fair purpose but perhaps too crude and blunt an instrument.

I have been vocally against this particular call for a RAD all along, for it posits the community against the GB. The RAD then presents itself as confrontational rather than collaborative. Even if we believe few individuals are misusing the Government system, it is juvenile of us to be assuming this antagonistic posture. Multiply the RAD with political name-calling, embarrassing narrative placed in the international media, etc. leading up to what? A little attention and outrage? I believe we could have found an ear and solutions through other means. I am afraid this RAD victory may not mean much, apart from it being used to dial up the temperature a notch higher.

I request the BHN team to show magnanimity in the moment of victory – Be Humble Now! Please do not push the boundaries, we’ve already gone far enough. I request them to find solutions within the community and allow the ATDC to do its work. If possible, partake in their participatory actions. But, by all means, come back to the table, dialogue, discuss, debate, and find a way forward, with each other.

– Lakshay Dharan