Competing Narratives

Jun 24, 2022 | Blog, Organisation & governance, Processes by-passed, Self Governance


There is a popular pattern of critical thinking in philosophy today, initiated especially by French intellectuals in the 1970s, that reduces all points of view expressed publicly through language to “narratives” determined primarily by value systems, especially political and economic value systems. The era in which this pattern of thinking has become dominant is known as the “postmodern,” because it has tended to negate the “great narratives” of science and technology which dominated during the past two centuries, and also the “authoritarian narratives” that dominated during the previous centuries, determined largely by the interests of churches and kings. 


It may help us to understand the conflicts of today, both locally and globally, to recognize the influence that such postmodernist thought has had on such powerful institutions as government and media. In popular communication media, for example, the idea of “fake news” has been used widely and effectively to influence public opinion. Such news is generally driven by political ideologies. The conspiracy theories that were virulent during the Covid pandemic in America, which may have resulted in massive unnecessary deaths, and Donald Trump’s ongoing narrative to have won the presidential election in 2020, which continues to divide the country, are two illustrations. Such narrative relativism has attributed to our cultural timeframe the title of the “post-truth” era, which may be considered a direct descendent of postmodernist philosophy. Let us note, however, that this philosophy of relativism is a philosophy of language, and it is not about the knowability of truth. It is about the way in which language is used, whether in politics, religion, literature, or science, to either reveal or obscure the truth.


The validity of such critical thinking can be easily understood by studying some recent posts on Auroville’s Auronet and stories published in newspapers. For example, we read on Auronet, June 22, 2022:


“The present FAMC has been reconstituted directly under the Governing Board for a period of three years. This came about because of Auroville’s non-compliance, towards both the Auroville rules and values as well as the laws of India. Earlier FAMC groups have been doing their best to clean up but with little success. Time is running out and not only are our non-compliances very damaging to our reputation but also they are costing the community heavily in fines. Auroville has grown “organically and wild” over the many years and its management systems have become extremely complicated and are now collapsing under their own weight which is exactly why we have been given these 3 years to restructure our organisation to meet the needs of a growing township and to immediately address all observations made in the 57th meeting of the Governing Board. …It is a huge and challenging task ahead of us and we all need to participate as best as we can because the very survival of Auroville depends on it.”


This statement was made in the context of an Office Order issued by the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Governing Board, announcing the takeover of the Auroville Archives and confiscation of its assets, also announced in The Times newspaper, June 23, 2022: 


“PUDUCHERRY: According to a press release from the Foundation, the management committee will be charged with the collection, maintenance, and safekeeping of all archival records. Since the Union culture ministry, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (Unesco), and international centers of revolutionary late freedom fighter-turned-spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo began requesting that the foundation provide photos, videos, and other archival material for the 150th anniversary of the man’s birth. According to the article, it was imperative that, with the 150th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo’s birth approaching, no formalized archival management committee had been established, and that for Auroville’s hard and soft materials such as online documents, emails, plans and drawings, applications, land maps, housing records, and others from the various working groups, it was urgently necessary, according to the release.”


For those with first-hand experience, of course it is well known that the Auroville Archives, originally begun by Gen. Krishna Tiwari in the 70s, has  continued in an unbroken line of dedicated management up to the present time, with Gilles G. having spent more than a decade with the Archives Team, following Tiwari, creating an exemplary cross-documented record of Auroville’s development. This existing management team could have easily supplied any of the documents requested by such organizations as UNESCO and the AVI Centers. In fact, during a recent visit by the CBI, because of alleged discrepancies notified by the Foundation Office, documents were efficiently produced dating back decades, at their request. It is apparent that the many reorganizational efforts of the Foundation Office must have other motivations, some of which they have mentioned in the article above, regarding the “reconstituted FAMC (Funds and Assets Management Committee)”. But we may read quite contradictory versions of this narrative, or rather these “different narratives,” also recently printed in The Hindu newspaper:


  1. “Auroville’s Working Committee (WCom), recognised by the Auroville Foundation, has alleged that a pressure group within the universal township was violating the fundamental structure of the Auroville Foundation Act through its “defiant and persistent blocking” of work on building the city for the future. In a press statement, the WCom said the group’s constant defiance of the Act, the provisions of which also applied to the Auroville Foundation, had created a new situation that warranted reflection on the way forward as it was “never expected that Aurovilians would act against Auroville”.…(Special Correspondent Puducherry Update: June 20, 2022).
  2. “A press note said the situation relating to internal governance in Auroville still remains unresolved. The situation was recently escalated by the Foundation office by making a false criminal complaint against six Aurovilians for an internal administrative matter. Subsequently, more steps have been taken to gain control of the functions of the Residents’ Assembly, which as per the Auroville Foundation Act is mandated to ‘organise various activities relating to Auroville’, the press note said. After taking over the internal communication and press platforms of Auroville, and refusing to recognise decisions of the Residents’ Assembly, the latest move by the secretariat had been to appoint hand-picked residents to the Working Committee, Funds and Assets Management Committee, and Town Development Council” (Puducherry, June 20, 2022 ‘Foundation taking over Auroville’s self governance bodies’).

It is remarkable that these conflicting narratives are apparently too confusing for the professional journalists to even try to put in perspective. However, it is clear that the narrative of Auroville as “the longest existing intentional community in the world, with amazing achievements in reforestation, architecture, and education by a relatively small group of dedicated volunteers” has radically shifted to a “takeover by the Government because of defiant and persistent blocking of the aims of Auroville and non-compliance with the laws of India.” In accordance with the theory of “narrative relativism,” the reason for this shift seems to be associated with a set of assumptions brought to the project by the recently appointed Governing Board, appointed by the Government of India. The statement quoted from the Foundation Office’s press release above in fact references the minutes of the first meeting of the new Governing Board, which lists several of its guiding assumptions regarding the Auroville community:


1. There seems to be decision paralysis or the inability to put decisions into practice.

2. Culture of “stakeholders” seems to have replaced the culture of “voluntary contributors” / “willing servitors”.

3. There is a need to promote a culture of engagement, transparency, commitment, accountability and integrity.

4. There is scattered, sporadic and ad-hoc development resulting in high-cost infrastructure and lack of a cohesive social fabric.


From the beginning of her assignment, the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation Governing Board has proclaimed her mission to remove the blockages, disrupt the status quo, and denounce the anti-city building faction that she claims has obstructed Auroville’s progress from the beginning. This narrative has been widely circulated in public media, local meetings, and formal video presentations.  It is a narrative that has the ostensible support of the Government of India since several members of the Governing Board are high level political operatives.


Even in the United States, where journalists are not likely to be directly influenced by political and economic ideologies, there still exists a huge media industry that thrives on such competing narratives. And the entire population of the country can still either suffer or prosper as a result of its effects. According to the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara, “fake news is news that is intentionally and verifiably false and designed to manipulate people’s perceptions of real facts, events, and statements.” According to the philosophy of “narrative relativism” the language used to convey such news may represent either true or false ideas, opinions, beliefs, realities. It is still the responsibility of thinking human beings to determine the truth and to decide whether or not to believe what is written and said.


A little research into the history of Auroville, as well as the life experience of all who have lived there for decades, will reveal that the economy has steadily grown along with the complexity and efficiency of its organizational structures, without which it would certainly not have achieved the reputation for which it is known throughout India and the world. Auroville has always had a productive relationship with its Governing Boards and with the Government of India, and it must defy both the reason and imagination of anyone familiar with Auroville to comprehend in what ways it is in “non-compliance with the laws of India,” or that its management systems “are collapsing under their own weight,” or how its “very survival depends” on the takeover of its management structures and assets by this newly appointed Governing Board and Secretary. It is nonetheless true that these outrageous claims are being used to justify such a takeover, with total disregard of the rights of the Resident’s Assembly, and that this action is currently being challenged by members of the Residents’ Assembly in the High Court of India, Madras. 

Competing Narratives