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Path to Peace?

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​I’m worried about the dangerous path we’re treading as a collective. I’m pretty sure the petitioners will win – even unchallenged – the ongoing RAD (to deselect/reselect/unselect/misselect/disselect/outselect/inselect, not really sure) to actually dismiss four Aurovilians who do not toe the line of the loud coterie, comprised of mostly western or elite, residents in our community. Though there has been a conscious effort to kosher the terminologies and intention of the petition, IMHO it’s better to call spade a spade, plain and simple. The RAD is to remove a few, whom the petitioners and their likes do not like, right now.

The petitioners will WIN and remove the ones working with the AF, then what?
The petitioners will install the favorable seven, then what?
The new ones will pick a proper fight with the GoI, then what?
Where’s this path leading us?
Is it all peace, peace and unity, unity then?

I wonder. And, I wonder with worry.

Purpose of treading this path.

How must this have started? I am speculating here.
After the collective shock of 4th Dec., an agitated group of few, amongst the entitled set (perhaps ~30, who recurrently claim the chairs of Town Hall) of residents proclaimed that Auroville was not moving/stalled as per their liking. They wished to set it right. They must have thought that if this premier group is feeling the pinch, the entire community must be reeling in pain. They took the mantle to fix every wrong. Amongst themselves, they set out on a fact-finding mission, and after rigorous research and peer-review they declared the results: in this instance, they found four root causes of much of the woes of Auroville. And according to the present petitioners, the four are occupying Working Committee chairs. Somehow, if we can get rid of them, we may all live happily ever after. Maybe the call was attractive to some migratory birds and they are all (perhaps ~300 now) flocking together towards a dream world.

The reality is that the migratory birds are blaming four crows for all the fatigue of their flight. And they call it a​ ​​”Vote of No Confidence in and a New Selection of the Current Working Committee…”

When I write, I usually avoid naming the names, but it’s an open secret in our community who those four odd ones are – Anu, Arun, Partha, and Srimoyi. The ones supposedly not following the will of the Residents’ Assembly. I can still understand the ire of petitioners against Anu and Srimoyi, who come across as strong-willed, well-entrenched, and most importantly, have formulated firm beliefs and a sense of direction on how the city can be steered forward. They are also part of the informal motley crew called Universal Township Group,​ of which yours truly is also a​ part. However, I do not comprehend the anger directed toward Partha and Arun. I find them genuinely neutral. But then, they need to be punished for having a mind of their own. We definitely need to make an example of these two, so that no other local will ever dare work in Town Hall, and think of going against the masters? Bravo! Petitioners.

Furthermore, to justify our notions, we often take refuge in the abstract Residents’ Assembly – the will of the people, nah the citizens (this term has more rights than responsibilities). In this case, the four are blamed for going against the will of the RA. How do we really know what ALL of us want? The survey and voting, at best, get 20-30% participation. How do we really know what the majority wants? What if one dares to imagine the aspirations of the 70-80% silent majority? In Auroville, when we call for bringing down people, for excluding them, only 30% respond in some form, should we not give the benefit of doubt to the incumbent and let them continue for the lack of majority opposition?

Every path has its puddles

Our Genius Brothers and Sisters have painstakingly set up this beautiful system of 10% quorum, under the auspices of RAS, wherein the seasonal birds can decide how the native ones should think, want, need, act, live, etc. Even though it’s that time of the year, in which many migratory birds flock back to their native geographies (after renting their nests to some rich tourist crows?) the target of 239 (quorum) can easily be met. The magic of the system is such that enlisted birds can vote from all over the world. Provided they come once in 5 years to renew the contract of their nest. Sorry for digressing, it was too tempting. Anyhow, the point is that the petitioners WINNING the fixed/rigged game is no surprise for me.

Fixed/Rigged, how? We’ve put together an elaborate procedure to ensure favorable results this time, every time. Provided you know how to move the complex machinery. The magic is that this machine only works with the sounds of the migratory birds. I am usually in awe and wonder at the ease with which the migratory sounds can operate the Auroville system, while the same system comes to a halt when it hears the native cawing. Pure magic! Multiple petitions by the native ones have been lying around for years, while the new, young migratory ones operate the system with such flair.

The process is laid with technical mumbo-jumbo, based on western frameworks, strewn with logistic challenges and financial bottlenecks, tied together in a foreign language, and most importantly fused with words of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, necessarily taken out of context. It is so intricate that the noble, racially advanced, genetically FAIR Euro-singing birds had to spend two evenings understanding it. However, we expect the local crow like me to understand and make the right decisions. I, like three-quarters of the community, prefer to stay out of this alien/alienated system. Or, maybe I know my rightful place, and I prefer to simply follow the entitled ones. Perhaps, people like me, enamored by the glow of fair skin, that shines marvelously under the tropic sun, believe that the blue/green/purple/orange eyes can see better, look farther, and watch deeper things. Hence, the likes of me have given the reins of our fate to the brilliant fair ones, believing they’ll fare better. Forgetting, if the migratory birds had all the answers, why would they fly out of their comfort in the first place. We are all seeking. The difference is that I know I do not know, and the entitled ones are acting as if they’ve figured it all.

My point is, that if our present exercise is to bring down our friends for their supposed mistakes and mistrust, using our narrow prejudices and limited judgments, there is no limit. Scope for failure is innate in any experiment. We’re no different. Please do not flog a few, based on the limited understanding of successes and failures. Let’s flag the issues, not the individuals. I am trying to flag that the very process employed to eliminate has glaring and disturbing shortcomings.

I appeal to the community to not fall into the trap of demonizing and patronizing the ‘other’, which I at times indulge in. During my stint at Town Hall, I have come to know a little bit about all seven members of WC. I find them all responsible, reasonable, charitable, good-willed, hard-working, intelligent, rational and emotional in equal measure, passionate and spirited; confused, stubborn, insecure, limited, vulnerable; and aspiring. Like most of us. I will always be glad to sit down anytime, anywhere for a chat with any of them, for I believe they’re beautiful beings.

Distancing is causing the discord, I plead the RAS and AVC to use their good offices to bring residents together, rather than divide them. The need of the hour is not voting but voicing. Invite closed-door meetings with limited people from opposing factions. Speak your heart out, fight your heart out, cry your heart out. It won’t be in vain. And, please keep your loud mouth and foul mouth friends home. The attention-seeking, narcissistic ones will never help the cause. We all know the vile, virulent, and vindictive ones amongst our faction. They bring more trouble than solutions. We need the calm, composed and confident ones to debate, discuss and deliberate on the way forward. Basically, I am asking you to keep out people like me.

On an individual level, it’s high time we come out of our echo chambers and start conversing too. You’ll be surprised to learn the number of misunderstandings and misgivings that have secretly sneaked into the system. I was! Do it for your own sake and sanity. Pick up the phone and call your old friend, who has become the ‘other’ NOW! Call and clear your mind. Or, convey your feelings. Or, counter their rationale. It counts. Every conversation counts.

It’s time we talk, instead of acting and voting out of FEAR. Acting out of fear is unfortunate and will be a dark day in the history of our community. We’re asking residents to vote against, rather than for something: for expulsion, in the name of unity.

Are the petitioners leading us up the garden path?

We’re given to believe that the concocted solution of removal and a new selection process will help our community. If true, will the forthcoming like-minded crew of 7 steer us back to peace? What will happen to the key issues that are perplexing our community at this moment? Will this solution be useful for Auroville in the long term?

I believe our comrades in the power corridors of RA have misdiagnosed the situation here. Instead of healing, the proposed solution may aggravate the problems. The present issue is not about the difference of opinion regarding the trajectory of our progress within our community. (That we’ve been dealing with for the past 54 years. Somehow, we’ve mastered the art of delay, distraction, and digression from the physical manifestation of Auroville.) At present, the challenge is in navigating our relationship with the local, state, and central governments. We need members in the WC who can mend our ties with non-Auroville entities rather than take a confrontational posture. The anxieties related to Master Plan-based infrastructure, DDPs, Visas, Land, Funding, etc. can only be solved through conversations with the external parties. We need a confident Working Committee which can work without the fear of community backlash. A lot will depend upon the personality, charm, openness to talk about difficult subjects fearlessly and above all the ability and humility to listen to other sides. These qualities may determine the future course of our relations with the official bodies. The very four members who are at present in talking terms with external bodies are being ridiculed, paraded, derided, and going to be hanged (notionally) in the UNITY pavilion soon. It seems, the other 3 members do not attend many of the meetings with the AF anymore. I wish we’d let all the WC members continue their full term. In fact, our community will lose one of its favorite punching bags, if we let the four go. At least, with them, we have a buffer to vent our anger out. Luckily, they have been kind enough to take all that we’re doing to them.

On the other hand, if the petitioners succeed in installing favorable puppets in WC, for sure, they’ll abide by the dictat of the asserting Aurovilians. Moreover, they’ll have to prove they’re un-Anu-like. Perhaps, they’ll take hard stances the petitioners wish to see, and we will cheer them loud. If the new members do not show a penchant for diplomacy and start exercising stupid bravado — our community of idealists and daydreamers love that — forget about any further interactions with AF then. Even if we select the best possible candidate, the chances of good relations will be stacked heavily against them. Why? We’re removing the four for having friendlier relations with the Secretary. Most likely, any new member will be perceived as an adversary by the office of the AF. The new members may have to go the extra mile to mend ties. Possible? I wonder.

And, what will be the impact of sour ties on the vexing topics of Infrastructure, visas, etc.? Presently, we’re paying the collective price for the misbehavior of the few, profoundly insulting an external entity in the open arena. Please spare me the whataboutery. Here, we’re dealing with an external force, and lessons in morality may not work. Clearly, the misdemeanor was not taken kindly and it is costing us dearly. We’re alienating ourselves more and more. Look at the recent picture of MoU with the CPWD. We need to revive our strategy, boycotting the AF is not working in our favor.

Extending the analogy of the birds, the tigress is poaching some wild migratory birds, and we’re blaming the crows. Here, we’re dealing with a different species altogether. Funnily enough, we flew to New Delhi in the 80s to invite the tiger in. Then, we’re settling scores with the SAS cats. I’m surprised that we’re surprised that the tiger is biting us. It is in its very nature. Given Sri Aurobindo’s 150th anniversary, the alpha tiger is asserting/probing the boundaries of the forest. Bide your time and focus on your main work — inner work. As doves, our job is not to pick a fight, instead, we should yearn for pacific solutions. With friendship and mutual respect, we can move mountains. But, by assertion, we’ll not get an inch.

I hear from some factions of our community that the sole purpose of having a favorable WC is that they will be able to knock on the doors of other Ministries, Courts, Media, International hype, and other political parties. Let’s find out if there are any merits in such routes, one by one.

Ministries: We’re already under the Ministry of Education and all the work is being carried out with the backing of the respective Ministry. Even if you have some ministers as your friend, I wonder if they would be willing to intervene in each other’s work. Moreover, as far as I understand, in lieu of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th, PM Modi is himself backing the ongoing actions in Auroville. When the Secretary issued an Office Order to ATDC members in Aug/Sep, many were speculating that it was illegal, as there was no GB. Pretty soon, AF had GB as well as IAC. How did that happen so quickly?

The notion of Rights and using the court of law: Auroville is unique and is luckily strengthened by AF Act. I know that there are lots of ambiguities, and grey areas. Please lie low and enjoy the freedom the Act offers. If we start claiming the rights in the court of law, things may go south, pretty soon. After all, it’s an inconsequential act (I believe it’s one of the stellar acts to come out of any democracy) in comparison to the rights of 1.3B citizens. We cannot claim to be exclusive. It takes one ordinance, one day, to reset everything, or to make amendments to suit the Government of the day. Do I need to remind you of the demonetization? Moreover, nothing illegal has happened. Some of us don’t like it, that’s a different matter. We have not filed any FIR/CSR against the Secretary. So what are we talking about?

Media: We successfully created a media frenzy once. Sporadically, we keep hyping up, but I wonder if we can continue to hog the limelight. We can create some nuisance, at our own peril. None of the external parties will be touched by it. GoI didn’t worry about Article 370 and 35a of J&K. But, definitely, we’re digging a grave for ourselves, by shouting at the top of our lungs that the Government is taking over the Auroville project. This narrative will likely impact our fundraising and land procurement efforts, big time. And sometimes, the tales we tell work like self-fulfilling prophecies. I believe we as a community had more power last July, compared to now. It’s gradually diminishing. Rather than whining and playing victims, if we can come together and take up more roles and responsibilities, it would be far more productive and powerful. By retreating and shunning, we’re losing more than we’re gaining.  

International Community: Do we really believe we can exert diplomatic pressure on GoI, for them to change their stance on Auroville? Hmm, I wonder. The West is already sucking up to India, for India to side with it on Ukraine, India is not budging. Do you think anyone will dare speak about the internal matters of India? Highly unlikely.

Other Political Players: I do not see anyone in the foreseeable future posing a formidable challenge to the present ruling party. We can exploit our old connections with the Congress, but I wonder if they will stand up to the office-bearers for the sake of friendship with the old-timers of Auroville.

All in all, the WC and the community have to learn to work with the current dispensation. If the office of the AF has different ideas about the development of Auroville, we need to work with them to bring them to our side. And, it is easily possible. If you’re not asking to square the circle to be satisfied, we can find a way out of the whirlwind. Instead of stalemates and further RADs we need to be imaginative and find creative solutions. We need to set up new confidence-building measures and find concurrence in the fields where there are no conflicts. Perhaps, many more Dream-Weaving exercises are required, which includes much more than the randomly (wink, wink) selected. I and Uma initiated the Auroville Festival exactly with such objectives in mind. However, the call of the negators prevailed, and most of the migratory birds boycotted the festival, unanimously. The peace-bridge initiative by Luigi and Uma was also a small, but commendable step towards calming our nerves.

We need to recognize we’re under the spotlight, after enjoying many years of freedom away from the limelight. Eyes are on us now. And we’re not looking good. We do not appear as we claim to be. It’s time that we stop living in a dream and step into given realities. It’s time we recognize the internal shortcomings and start working on them, ourselves.  It’s time we make some course corrections and find back our rightful path, whatever that was.

The path less traveled

I know it’s difficult for us, the community, to move forward positively given the division of ideas about progress. But, honestly, who can claim to know the Truth, what’s right and what’s not? Your guess is as good as mine. We all are trying to reach somewhere better, and I believe that pursuit unites us. We all have chosen the path less traveled, and there lies the difficulty. We’ve come a long way, and yet at every crossing, we fight. It’s only natural that the uncertainty is adding to the chaos. But, we need to be cautious of our lower nature and become conscious of the necessity to be calm, concentrated, and composed. We have different paths in mind, but we’re all attuned to the Charter, the Dream, and To be a True Aurovillian. Perhaps, our interpretations are limited, at times. But, let’s elevate each other, rather than pull ourselves down. Let’s help each other find the right path, rather than push a few out of our way. Let’s come off our high horses and walk the talk — step by step we may build our unity.

Worried, but full of love,

PS: Can someone please explain which exact clauses the present WC has violated? I’m referring to the roles and responsibilities of WC under AF Act 88. If the WC has erred somewhere, it may be the entire WC that ought to be brought down. If I were to be in the shoes of the remaining members, my conscience would not allow me to put all the debris on my colleagues to save my backside. WC is a team, not an assorted collection, to pick and choose.

Beware, this may also set a risky precedent: working group members will be afraid to take decisive actions for fear of the axe. I hope we as a community wish to have diverse views in the group, to debate, counter debate, but this new trend of targeted killing will instill fear of speaking out, even behind closed doors. For there are rats who would inform the mercenary groups to do their bidding. Additionally, we may also slowly lose individual flavors and transparency in our work. The trend has already started, we get robotic emails from AvC, RAS, Mass Bulletins, SPRTF, REXTS, SETW, FARG, KELWS, FIJS, etc. without the mention of human names working behind those acronyms.