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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 20 New Delhi May 7, 2016

Vivekananda and the Sangh Parivar

Saturday 7 May 2016

by Ashok Celly

In his celebrated Chicago address, Swami Vivekananda declared that he was “proud to belong to a religion which had taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”. He also took pride in the fact that “he belonged to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth”.

The Sangh Parivar in general, and the Prime Minister in particular, are supposed to be great admirers of Swami Vivekananda. Do they share his pride in the cultural legacy of “tolerance and universal acceptance”? Can we in all honesty claim that India is a still a nation which shelters the persecuted? In fact, recent events like hounding people on the barest suspicion that they eat beef or intimidating, even eliminating, intellectuals for expressing an opinion different from the overzealous members of the Parivar have generated the uncomfortable feeling that we are fast becoming a nation which persecutes others.

Also, Vivekananda had the highest respect for Islam. He respected Islam for its love of and commitment to equality. In fact, he believed that India’s salvation would be possible only if the Vedanta soul and the Islamic body came together. “For our own motherland the junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam—Vedanta brain and Islam body—is the only hope.” Now, does the Prime Minister share Vivekananda’s amiration for Islam? Maybe he does. After all, at the recent International Sufi Conference he waxed eloquent about Islam’s love of peace and aversion to violence. In politics, however, you are judged more by what you do rather than what you say. So let the Prime Minister demonstrate his respect for Islam by ensuring for its followers a life of peace and dignity. The harsh truth is whenever such incidents as the intimidation of Muslims on the pretext of beef-eating or the attacks on Christian places of worship take place, the most loquacious of our Prime Ministers responds with an enigmatic silence. So that one is left wondering whether he is afraid of the fanatics within the Parivar or is in league with them.

Above all, Vivekananda was a passionate believer in the philosophy of Vedanta. To raise the self-esteem of his demoralised countrymen, he made use of the Vedanta philosophy. “We are children of the Almighty. We are sparks of the infinite divine fire,” he would say. Also, the most significant thing about Hinduism is its reverence for all life and belief in the essential divinity of all human beings best expressed in ‘tat twam asi’ (thou art that). Now if you are a Hindu and an admirer of Vivekananda, can you divide the nation into “ramzades and haramzades” as a certain leader of the BJP, who happens to be a Minister and whose name carries the prefix ‘Sadhvi’, did sometime back? Imagine a sadhvi, a Hindu and presumably an admirer of Vivekananda, demonising an entire community. Herein lies the big difference between Viveka-nanda’s vision and that of the Sadhvi and others of her ilk. While Vivekananda is an advaitvadi and hence totally free from the I-thou dichotomy, the members of the Parivar are prisoners of dvaitvad (dualism) and their vision is dualistic and divisive. For, the Sadhvi’s observation cannot be dismissed as an eccentric view of a political rookie. Vilification of the Muslims with a view to marginalising them has been an important part of the RSS agenda. After all, it was no less a person than M.S. Golwalkar, the chief ideologue of the RSS, who made the following observations about the Muslims in his book Bunch of Thoughts:

“But the question before us now is, what is the attitude of those people who have been converted to Islam or Christianity? They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt? Are they grateful towards the land which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land and its tradition and that to serve it is their great good fortune? Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in their faith, gone are the spirit of love and devotion for the nation.”

If the present leadership of the BJP does not endorse Golwalkar’s position on the issue, it should publicly dissociate itself from it. After all, it does not require very great intelligence to see that a humiliated minority can be dangerous—a veritable threat to the integrity of the nation. How can a political party which flaunts its patriotism day in and day out and keeps on lecturing to others on patriotism not see that?

Finally, it may not be altogether out of place to recall the French philosopher Romain Rolland’s great tribute to India when he made the following observation: “If there is one place where all the dreams of living man have found a home from the earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.” Can we say this of Modi’s India?  

The author retired as a Reader in English from Rajdhani College, University of Delhi. He is now a freelancer.

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