THE INFLECTION POINT  by Rod Hemsell

In numerous video recordings presented as formal addresses to Auroville, broadcast subsequently to the public on youtube, as well as in other public lectures and private presentations, the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Dr. Jayanti Ravi, has invoked the idea of “the inflection point” as if it were a metaphor for the meaning of her mission in Auroville. Whether her conception of the term includes the devastating impact of her mission on the life of Auroville remains to be seen. In any case, the term is open to discussion and definition, it has many current usages, and it is something we should explore.

For many of the residents of Auroville who have dedicated their lives for years, and perhaps for multiple generations, to putting the structures and processes in place, the forests and gardens and schools and homes and farms which now thrive, and which embody what we have believed to be the beginnings of that ‘laboratory of evolution’ to which we were called by the Mother, this so called ‘inflection point’ feels as if it might signal the end of Auroville, at least as we know it. As we have observed over the past ten months in the various actions taken by the Secretary, from bulldozing forests and buildings, to replacing the entire administrative structure of Auroville by Office Order,  blocking the internal communication networks, excluding those who have managed the project until now and who are the legitimate community representatives, along with many others in the community who oppose her destructive takeover, this so-called inflection point is certainly a disaster for most of us. But, according to the cadre of individuals she has persuaded to serve her, the term can also have an opposite connotation. 

In its popular usage, it is a mathematical analogy for change, for example when a sine curve heading downward reaches the point where it turns upward, and what had been a convex arc becomes a concave arc. It is applied most commonly today by analysts of trends in economics and business. For example, from the financial website Investopedia we find this elaboration:

    • An inflection point refers to a key event that changes the trajectory of some process or situation related to the economy or society.
    • Inflection points are more significant than the small day-to-day progress typically made in a company, and the effects of the change are often well known and widespread.
    • When an inflection point is identified, it is often a sign that the affected industry must make certain fundamental changes in order to continue to operate.
    • Inflection points can be intentional (actions taken by a company or competitor) or unintentional (those that occur by accident or from unforeseen events).
    • If companies are not able to adapt to an inflection point, they will fail to keep up with competitors and cease operations. For those that can adapt, inflection points can be an advantage. 

In many of the Secretary’s comments related to her use of this ambivalent term, she seems to imply that the changes she is imposing on Auroville, at the behest of the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation, appointed by the Government of India late in 2021, are meant to change the trajectory of Auroville’s development in fundamental ways that are necessary for its survival and success. She said, for example, at the Pondy Lit Fest held recently (Aug 7, 2022), in a presentation having  nothing to do with literature but suited to the political tenor of the event:

“We are at a point of inflection today (in Auroville) – now is the time to actually implement the dream of the Mother who gave the design for us ‘to do,’ just as she designed it. It is not a puzzle that we need to think about.” She was referring to the ‘Master Plan’ which was drawn up by Auroville residents in 2010, far different from any ‘designs’ that were drawn or discussed by the Mother in her lifetime.  In fact it was a planning exercise meant to define and protect the land uses proposed for the area of Auroville. On another recent occasion, (July 30), she said, “Now is the time, a point of inflection for all of us, to come together at the Lotus Feet of the Mother.” And on a slightly earlier occasion, (May 26), she mentioned this “important point in time when we are being guided by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.” Here she mentioned having recently read through the past history of the Auroville Foundation Governing Board minutes, including correspondence from people outside of Auroville, in which there was a certain refrain calling for better governance, accountability, transparency, etc. She was referring obliquely to the Governing Board’s earlier decision, announced in November 2021, to take over the governance and financial management of Auroville. Finally, on another occasion, (June 17), she said it was “time to start walking the talk,” at the same time declaring her “reconstitution” of the Auroville Town Development Council and the Funds and Assets Management Committee. She enthusiastically narrated how they had all visited the Matri Mandir together and experienced “a beautiful new beginning and a new sensitivity to life,” again invoking the Lotus Feet of the Mother several times.

I would like to simply draw from these remarks of the Secretary a few themes that I hear being regularly repeated, from which we may perhaps gather some clues as to the meaning of her use of the term  ‘inflection point’. 

    1. She insists that the Master Plan is the Mother’s original design for Auroville, which all Aurovilians must be committed to implementing (it now says this on the official Admission form), as if this was the number one priority of the Mother and the fundamental purpose of Auroville. Neither she nor the Governing Board has ever consulted the Resident’s Assembly about this completely false assumption, based on an erroneous interpretation of the Auroville Master Plan 2025, and yet it is taken as their fundamental guiding principle.
    2. She constantly insinuates that this goal has been deliberately delayed and blocked for the past 50 years by poor governance, lack of dedication, and ‘obstacles brought by certain residents’ to building the city. The Governing Board’s plans for addressing these alleged shortcomings and failures have never been discussed with the Residents’ Assembly, nor has a record of complaints ever been discussed. These allegations are made as a pretext for anticipating and silencing opposition.
    3. She frequently invokes the Divine Mother, reads passages from her works as well as from Sri Aurobindo, and acts as though it is only now, under her guidance, that Auroville can at last consecrate itself to the Divine, as if no one in Auroville had ever received the Mother’s blessings in person or studied their work and consecrated their lives to it, until now. She projects Auroville as a religious institution and her role as that of a devotee and mentor.

    It would appear that the inflection point for Auroville was reached when this new Governing Board and Secretary arrived at the decision to intervene in Auroville’s development, take over its administration, restructure its governance and finance, impose a totally erroneous interpretation of the Auroville Master Plan 2025, disregard both the spirit and letter of the Auroville Foundation Act of 1988, and totally undermine the role of the Residents’ Assembly in Auroville’s development, however and wherever that decision might have been made. And yet the Residents’ Assembly’s “reaction to this disruption of the status quo” – to use the Secretary’s words – which demonstrates a substantial depth of sincerity and commitment to the truth of Auroville, and also the fundamental integrity of the principle of democracy when faced with its totalitarian opposite – has resulted in a petition against this abuse of power before the High Court of Madras. And a judgment has been issued which, in brief, seems to reinforce the opinion of the RA. Let us quote a few pertinent articles of the judgment:

      1. The Governing Board under the Auroville Foundation Act, cannot take a unilateral decision on its own and restrict the functioning of the Residents’ Assembly as the function of the Residents’ Assembly is a statutory function as prescribed under Section 19 of the Act.  (p 62/80)
      2. The Standing Orders 01/2019 dated 04.06.2019 as well as the Standing Order 01/2022 dated 01.06.2022, with regard to the constitution of Auroville Town Development Council (ATDC) also makes it clear that only after consultation with the Residents’ Assembly, the Governing Board is empowered to prepare the Master Plan for the International Cultural Township of Auroville. However, the respondent Foundation has not produced any proof to show that the Residents’ Assembly was consulted before passing of Office Order dated 15.07.2021 reconstituting the Auroville Town Development Council. The Master Plan for Auroville will have to be prepared keeping in mind the best interest of its residents and that is the reason why the Act stipulates that the consultation by the Governing Board with the Residents’ Assembly is mandatory before preparation of the Master Plan.
      3. The Auroville Town Development Council being the body, which is entrusted with the task of preparing the Master Plan for Auroville, cannot unilaterally appoint members without consultation of the Residents’ Assembly. If that is allowed to happen, the interest of the residents of Auroville may get defeated. The Auroville Foundation is meant for the residents, who follow the noble and divine ideals of the Mother’s Charter. Therefore, this Court is of the considered view that the reconstitution of the Auroville Town Development Council under the impugned Office Order dated 15.07.2021 issued by the Under Secretary of the Foundation unilaterally is violative of Section 16(1) read with Section 17(e) of the Auroville Foundation Act as well as the Standing Orders issued from time to time by the Foundation. Hence, the Office Order dated 15.07.2021 issued by the Under Secretary of the respondent Foundation, which is the subject matter of WP.No.11738 of 2022 has to be necessarily quashed and the Writ Petition will have to be allowed.

    As observed previously in several articles that have attempted to clarify this very convoluted, contradictory, and divisive situation, the ultimate conflict to be understood and ultimately settled is and was always clearly between the Governing Board/Secretary of the Auroville Foundation and the Residents’ Assembly of the Auroville Foundation, as to which ‘statutory authority’ is actually responsible for the development of Auroville and, more especially, which has the correct view of its principles and purposes (see <standforaurovilleunity.com/blog/The Conflict in Auroville>. For it has been clear  almost from the beginning of this conflict in December 2021, and as demonstratively from the minutes of the Governing Board of November 2021, that these two official entities, and the groups of individuals they represent, do not agree on any of the points mentioned. The differences have only become more pronounced as time has passed, and the life of Aurovilians has become increasingly more stressed and dysfunctional. It was therefore extremely promising and gratifying that the court in its judgment agreed with the Residents’ Assembly, declaring that the GB’s impositions through Office Orders of the Secretary, without due consultation with the RA, were a violation of the law. In an overwhelming affirmation of this judgment, the Residents’ Assembly voted by a historically unprecedented majority (97% of 1161) to accept it, abide by it, and to request the Governing Board and Secretary to annul their illegal appointments and recognize the committee members duly selected by the RA. It appeared that the much anticipated turning point had been reached. And yet, as of this writing, more than a month has gone by, the Foundation has filed an appeal, and nothing has changed.

    It is tempting to conclude that the idea of an actual inflection point may be nothing but a mythical beast, or a rhetorical fabulation made up by the fairytale queen, merely for the sake of her own self-importance. And yet there is destiny, and the law of our evolving spiritual nature is to always remain detached and open to the possibility of a revelation, or an intervention by the goddess of Truth. For she is also the Mother of Illusion, and the dancer with many veils. The very appeal to the judgment, filed by the attorneys for the government appointed bureaucrats of the Auroville Foundation, may in fact be just such a veil, hiding yet revealing that mysterious point of inflection. Without going into the arguments of the appeal in detail, a very brief summary of their claims may be revealing:

    To paraphrase the Foundation’s appeal, it says that the Learned Judge has committed various patent errors. For example, Error #1) it was an error of judgment to say that the three bodies mentioned in the Act, namely the Governing Board, the International Advisory Council, and the Residents’ Assembly jointly manage the Foundation. (Here as always it is implied that the Auroville Foundation and Auroville are not two different entities, one a governing structure and the other a community.) Error#2) that Auroville will be administered by the people of Auroville. Error#3) that the intent of the act is collective decision-making by the GB and the RA. Error#4) that Auroville has been primarily established for the welfare of the residents. Error#5) that the GB needs to consult the RA for matters under its responsibilities, as that would make it practically impossible for the GB to perform its duties. Error#6) that the AVF was established as a democratic institution in which majority voting determines the program. To quote the appeal, “It is clear that the AVF was established for a much larger and higher purpose than the welfare of the residents of Auroville, who are meant to be voluntary workers as part of a Sangha, not a democratic assembly of residents claiming rights to self-rule.” And finally, it says, “It is absolutely clear that in the scheme of the Act that the Governing Board alone has the power, superintendence and management of the Foundation (and here it means by ‘the Foundation’ all the assets and activities of Auroville).

    Briefly, again, it is especially enlightening to consider in this context a legal opinion issued in 2016 by Fali S. Nariman, one of India’s most renowned attorneys and a Supreme Court Advocate since 1971, who wrote: 

    “The Governing Board is not a body constituted to override the powers and functions of the Residents’ Assembly but to promote them – especially since the Residents’ Assembly, by establishing Working Committees, under Section 19(3) are to be represented in the functions to be performed by the Governing Board.  In my view, the Governing Board is expected to act and must act in its statutory role as a consultant – for the prime purpose of promoting the ideals of Auroville – i.e. to co-ordinate activities and services of Auroville in consultation with the Residents’ Assembly – for purposes of cohesion and integration of Auroville [Section 17(a)].”  

    By comparing the recent judgment of the Madras High Court with the comments of Nariman, in the context of the well-known decisions of the Governing Board and the actions of its Secretary, we can clearly see in the Foundation’s appeal that it has constructed an interpretation of the Auroville Foundation Act which is the opposite of what we have always understood it to mean and what was understood to be its purpose by those who originally formulated the Act. We may also discern in this new interpretation the pattern of sole ownership under the rubric of a religious institution that was put forth by the Sri Aurobindo Society in the case before the Supreme Court of India in 1983. The present Governing Board and Secretary of the Auroville Foundation have openly declared their intention to reverse the meaning of the Auroville Act and reinstate the values that were previously found to contradict the purpose for which the Mother created Auroville. It was against this that the Auroville Act was meant to be a protection. These are the signs, for all to plainly see, of that rapidly approaching turning point when the truth of Auroville, the sincerity of its residents, the integrity of a unified democratic process, and the Will of the Divine move the curve back toward its destined goal; the inflection point in Auroville’s battle with the forces of institutional control and slavery to the past, and the freedom to pursue a harmonious and creative future are visible.