The last seven years have seen transformational changes in India. Much can be written about some of the fundamental changes – from promoting the idea of integration to deepening democracy.
One way to understand the process of social, economic and political change is to see shifts and changes through the eyes of the thinkers and philosophers who inspired the ruling class. Many would agree that Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Deendayal Upadhyay, Sri Aurobindo and yes, Swami Vivekananda, have been among the icons who have enriched the collective consciousness in recent years.
Swami Vivekananda occupies an extremely important position in this distinguished group. When tradition meets modernity, when the civilizational ethos inspires the roadmap of the future, when a truly universalist philosophy – representative of a diverse people and culture – is elegantly expressed, Swami is remembered Vivekananda and his immortal words.
Indeed, today his words resonate more clearly than ever. When some err in reading the New India – either out of ignorance or even because of special interests or agenda – it is always helpful to read Swami Vivekananda again.
Take, for example, the accusation currently woven into a narrative that hate speech by an fringe group – anyone who breaks the law or commits a crime, is a criminal and faces prosecution – “has the sanction of the ruling class”.
A philosophy which took shape and is continually inspired by Swami Vivekananda, will never tolerate any criminal act or hate speech, by any group – be it by a fringe group claiming to be “heads of Hindu religions” or by an influential MP claiming to represent “Muslim interests”.
Indians are known to learn their Vivekananda early in life. His words, quotes, writings, portraits and philosophy enrich and animate the lives of millions of children. Over the past seven years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the life, times, writings and philosophy of Swami Vivekananda.
In the current context, it will be useful to reproduce two of its articulations to explain why a philosophy attached to universalist ideals, and with a commitment to the global good, will never sanction particularist slogans.
The first excerpt dates from 1893. On the closing day of the Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda declared: “If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: it has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the highest character. Faced with this evidence, if anyone dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart and point out to him that on the banner of each religion will soon be written, despite resistance: ‘Help and not fight’, ‘Assimilation and not destruction’, ‘Harmony and peace and not dissension’.
The second excerpt is taken from a section where Swami Vivekananda talks about himself. He says: “Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, not exclusion…I accept all the religions that existed in the past, and I worship them all; I worship God with each of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I will go to the Muslim mosque; I will enter the Christian church and I will kneel before the crucifix; I will enter the Buddhist temple, where I will take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I will go to the forest and sit in meditation with the Hindu, who tries to see the Light that enlightens everyone’s heart (quoted in “Swami Vivekananda on Himself”)
Taken together, the two passages also explain the DNA of the average common Indian.
Over the past seven years, the writings of Swami Vivekananda have gained greater prominence. Swami Vivekananda was often an integral part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speeches, for example.
In one of the speeches, the Prime Minister said: “When Swami Vivekananda spoke about the future of India, when he used to see the magnificence of Mother Bharati before his eyes, he used to to say – Try to look into the past as far as possible. Drink the water from the ever-new spring flowing there, and after that look ahead. Go ahead and make India brighter, greater and better than before. In this 75th year of independence, it is our duty to move forward believing in the immense potential of the country”.
On another occasion, the Prime Minister said in his Day 1 address: “I have great faith in the statements made by ascetics, sages and saints and that is why today, during the ravages of Lal Quila, I remember the words of Swami Vivekananda. He said, “I can see before my eyes Mother India waking up once again. My Mother India would be seated as Vishwa Guru. Every Indian would render service for (the) welfare of mankind. This heritage of India would be useful for the welfare of the world. My friends, the words of Vivekananda can never be wrong. The words of Vivekananda ji, his dream of to see India installed as a Word Guru, its vision… it is up to us to make that dream come true.
Indeed, with its democratic ethos and a deep commitment to the “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” philosophy, with unifying symbols as diverse as the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor and a new Startup Culture, with its interventions on the world stage on issues ranging from Climate Change to Inclusive Growth, Pluralism & Diversity, India is destined to be the Vishwa Guru. Hatred has no place in this philosophy at all. She will never and should never have a place there.
For a better understanding of India today and its future, Swami Vivekananda will always be the guide. Swami Vivekananda, one of India’s most beloved sons and a towering thinker-philosopher, is also India’s invaluable contribution to the world and to the idea of a greater global good.
(The writer, a former JNU, is a political analyst. Opinions are personal)