Since the beginning of the year, three incidents at Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, have raised alarm among some of Ramakrishna’s followers and devotees. These include Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Belur Math on January 12, the decision to send holy land from Math for the Ayodhya Ram temple foundation laying ceremony in August, and a rumored on social media in recent weeks that Kripakarananda Maharaj, a senior monk of mathematics may join the Bharatiya Janata party and be its face in the 2021 state elections in Bengal.
Given the trajectory of events, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the Ramakrishna Mission’s claimed involvement with the BJP. Has the political party, bent on saffronizing the nation, finally enlisted the saffron-clad representatives of Bengal’s most respected spiritual organization, despite strict rules for monks in the order to refrain from doing politics ?
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its associates, the BJP and the Akhil Bharaitya Vidyarthi Parishad, have repeatedly projected the Mission’s founder, Vivekananda, as their icon. So it was only a matter of time before the name of Vivekananda’s organization emerged as a potential help for the ruling party, which is expected to face a tough fight in the elections in Bengal. While some Ramakrishna Mission supporters are concerned about speculation about the organization’s involvement with the BJP, it is important to ask a fundamental question: Would Vivekananda, the Mission’s founder, have approved of such a collaboration? ?
nation and religion
There are two key words common to the discourse of Hindutva and to the philosophy of Vivekananda: “nation” and “religion”. Indeed, in a lecture entitled “My plan of campaign”, delivered in Madras, Vivekananda affirmed to have worked all his life “for the cause of my religion and to serve our fatherland”. However, the connotations of the two words, nation and religion, are completely different in the way they are used by Vivekananda – who was born Narendranath Datta – and Narendra Modi.
When Modi and BJP spokespersons speak of “nation”, they mean a “Hindu Rashtra”. For them, “religion” refers to “Hinduism”. The BJP wants to build a nation for Hindus, of Hindus and by Hindus.
In contrast to this ideology of Hindu nationalism, Vivekananda advocated a Vedantic approach to the nations and religions of the world – his approach could be termed internationalism and religious pluralism. Vivekananda’s rejection of chauvinism can be found, for example, in a letter to his famous Madras disciple, Alasinga Perumal, in September 1895.
“As for me, beware, I do not submit to anyone’s dictation,” he wrote. “I know my mission in life, and no chauvinism about me; I belong to India as much as to the world, no joke there. I have helped you as much as possible. Now you need to help yourself. Which country has a particular claim on me? Am I a nation’s slave?
These words indicate that if Vivekananda had been alive today, he would have refused to be co-opted by the BJP whose politics are defined by aggressive patriotism.
spirit of universalism
In this context, it should be recalled that the ideology of the Mission, mentioned on its website, is based on the international orientation of Vivekananda. Its universalism is anchored in the organization’s motto: atmano mokshartham jagat hitaya cha – for the salvation of our individual selves and for the welfare of all on earth. This verse derived from the Rig Veda refers to the fact that the Ramakrishna Mission is meant to be an international organization, dedicated to the liberation of the individual and the welfare of the world as a whole and not just India. The BJP’s apparent attempt to appropriate the Mission as a nationalist organization goes against the principles on which the organization was founded.
Vivekananda’s notion of religious pluralism is another point of contrast with Hindutva politics. A verse that resonates through Vivekananda’s works is “ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti” – “that which exists is One, the sages call it by different names”. This shloka of the Upanishads seems to have become the cornerstone of his thought. It promotes the idea of Advaita and implies that although individuals (atmans) are outwardly different, the presence of a shared universal consciousness (brahman) in each explains their similarity.
This is why the differences between individuals must be accepted and respected – because this difference alone is what defines their distinction. But otherwise, all are the same, part of the same brahman.
This rather metaphysical notion has been extended by Vivekananda to a whole new level. He promoted not only an acceptance of the diversity of individuals but also of religions and nations. Indeed, Vivekananda and his dream project, the Ramakrishna Mission, promote diversity and consider all religions, nations and communities to be of equal value – both because, metaphysically, they are all in search of absolute truth existence and because, socially, they are, in their own way, at the service of the world.
Vivekananda would certainly not have approved of the Hindu supremacy and Islamophobia promoted by the BJP.
In fact, Vivekananda has repeatedly rejected the term “Hindu”. The people who lived near the Sindhu River had only one belief, which is why all of them, according to him, could be grouped under the umbrella term “Hindu”. But they eventually increased in number and adopted various beliefs, he said. Given the plurality of religions in India today, the term “Hindu”, according to Vivekananda, is outdated and misleading. He wanted to replace it with “Vedanta”.
In a lecture on ‘Vedantism’, he said: ‘I… would not use the word Hindu. … The other words that only we can use are either Vaidikas, followers of the Vedas, or better still, Vedantists, followers of the Vedanta. In fact, he was careful to avoid including the name of his country or the term “Hindu” in the names of the organizations he created. Only a blind BJP follower would believe that Vivekananda promoted Hindutva politics.
The policy of Hindutva is completely opposed to the ideals of Swami Vivekananda and the ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Instead of serving humanity as a whole and accepting the diversity that Vivekananda had championed, Hindutva ideologues are strongly committed to promoting Hindu supremacy, militant nationalism, and suppressing plurality of voices.
The Vivekananda I admire would never have recommended a Hindutva force that, in the name of protecting the cow, murders Dalits, Muslims and intellectuals. He would never have agreed to be the face of a political party that proves its patriotism by tearing down the Babri Mosque or causing riots in Gujarat and Delhi. If the Ramakrishna Mission ever collaborates with the BJP, it would upset Vivekananda’s ideals and the ideology of his organization. Vivekananda would never have approved.
Mahitosh Mandal is an Assistant Professor of English at Presidency University, Kolkata. His email address is [email protected]