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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hindutva,Hinduism and Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda at Parliament of World Religion 1893

While the spot-light alternates between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi a rather disturbing event has gone under-reported. Swami Vivekananda's  150th birth anniversary was marred by a controversy when Congress for Parliament of World Religion withdrew its participation as it did  not want to be associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad, whose Chicago chapter was one of the co-organizer.  However the Council for the Parliament of World held a separate event which was addressed by Chicago Vivekananda Vedanta Society's Swami Vardananda, and other Vedanta scholars  Swami Shantarupananda  of Oregon, Swami Ishatmananda of Chicago as well asg academic Gary Tubb.  The event organised by VHP was successful too where "luminaries" such as Dr. Subramanium Swamy, Stephen Knapps and Swami Ramdev spoke about Swami Vivekananda's  life and preaching.

Importance of CPWR

But then why should a single organization's decision deserve any attention at all ?
It was at Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893 that Swami Vivekananda delivered his speech, introducing Vedanta, yoga and ancient Indian philosophy to the western world,which ironically enough led to Hindu revival at home as well.  Swami Vivekananda shattered the image that West like to view India as-  an exotic land of snake charmers,sadhus and fakirs. He shattered that image by revealing the wisdom and richness of Vedic philosophy of  ancient India which left the audience with a changed perspective towards India and Hindu philosophy. 

There was something poetic about Swami Vivekananda introducing Hinduism as a religion that taught the world tolerance and universal acceptance in the Parliament of World Religions which was itself an inter-faith convention. Appreciation of a speaker by members of his/her own community members present is common-place but genuine appreciation by scholars representing other faith is something else, Swami Vivekananda is today acknowledged as the greatest Hindu revivalist and for establishing Hinduism as a major world religion. And it all began in the year 1893, during the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago 

The Council For Parliament of World Religions has clarified why it withdrew from the joint event, the entire text can be read here but it can be summarized as unwillingness of CPWR to be associated with organisations designated "extremists" by US State and parties affiliated  with the BJP led by Narendra Modi who is banned from entering USA. 

How can Swami Vivekananda's followers be fanatics ?

The simple answer is that they are not followers of Swami Vivekananda, to follow implies accepting the teachings and following them. Swami Vivekananda teaching's was all about human soul and its relationship with the  Supreme Being as well as other human beings. Swami Vivekananda's school of thought was taken ahead by Mahatma Gandhi, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and other like minded scholars.
Sangh Parivar has used other non-Congress leaders such as Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as  mascots even if they were leftists and stood at the opposite end of the political spectrum. In fact, Narendra Modi, swears by RSS ideology but continues to deify Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of the most important Congress leaders, even though it was Sardar Patel who for the first time banned RSS, after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, and charged it with anti-national activities.

 In fact, the original Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel, lifted the ban only after the RSS gave an undertaking that it would remain a purely cultural organisation and refrain from taking part in politics. But the way the Rashtriya Swoyamsevak Sangh has taken control of BJP today, it is a blatant breach of agreement. However, to me it remains a mystery why Narendra Modi is using Swami Vivekananda's image as mascot and at the same time swearing by RSS ideology.

Undoubtedly, the Hindutva proponents were influenced by Swami Vivekananda's teachings and greatly revered him but so did Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose* but that does not imply that the Congress or the Forward Block can use his posters in their election rallies. The core concept of Hindutva is incompatible with Swami Vivekananda's teachings. In fact it is contradictory. V. D. Savarkar,who coined the term 'Hindutva' was a self-confessed atheist and rationalist and defined 'hindutva' as the way of life of the people living within the territorial limits of the Indian subcontinent. However,  all notable proponents of Hindutva- Savarkar (founder of Hindu Mahasabha), Hedgewar (founder of RSS) and Golwalkar (second head of RSS, ideologue) made it very clear that their definition of Hindutva was a politico-cultural concept and had little to do with the religion Hinduism, it was a collective identity building by bringing Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs . If the real meaning of the term "secularism" had not undergone such drastic change in Indian subcontinent, one could have referred to it as secular concept except it does not include  Muslims and Christian traditions in the "Hindu (not religion but culture)" concept. The frequent reference to Aryan race indicates that Hindutva is mainly a racial concept though efforts have been made to conceal it.

The conditions laid down by them for Muslims and Christians to be part of Hindu-culture society tantamount to giving up part of their respective belief systems and violation of a constitutional and human rights. . Even the Hindu population is so culturally heterogeneous in India that a normal practice in a particular region (such as polyandry) would appear abhorrent in another region . This is quite the opposite to Swamy Vivekananda's emphasis on sense of identity being the major impediment to self-realization and salvation. Swami Vivekananda still stands as one of tallest inter-faith teachers, his concept of Hindu nationalism, later adopted by Mahatma Gandhi was that of a nation whose foundation was based on religious philosophy and not "secularism" as in West, where religion was not kept completely outside of the polity but every religion,was accorded an equal status. . This concept is unique as in it even encouraged members of other belief system to adhere to their believes without any restrictions placed before them.

While the West was discovering the values of ancient Hindu philosophy and spiritualism, some of the Hindu radicals were importing political ideology from the West. The middle part of 20th century saw rise of a number of movements across the world such as Nazism, Zionism, Ba'athism and Communalism in Indian subcontinent (Muslim League espousing Muslim nationalism, Hindu Mahasabha going for Hindu nationalism), each a variant of Fascism . Each of these movements espoused radical authoritarian nationalism but in reality, it only meant authoritarianism, the "national identity" in each of these were religious/cultural/racial identity presented as "national identity" to let a small group of people take complete control of the state.

The problem with each of these movements was bereft of morality or other universal principles, these movements have caused massive damage the world has ever seen. Using propaganda mechanism and offering lofty ideals, the far right leaders were able to mobilize masses in their support, in an unprecedented scale. During Hitler's reign, Germany developed in such a pace that it set new standards, no country in the past or in current times has developed as much in such a short span of time. Yet when the war ended no country had been destroyed  in a war as Germany had been. Mussolini's Italy suffered the same fate.  While Savarkar and Golwalkar openly admired Hitler, BS Moonje, mentor of Hegdewar and one of the main coordinators during the formation of RSS during his visit to Italy, visited military schools and met Mussolini who impressed him immensely. After returning to India, he founded the Bhonsala Military School which has lately been under scanner for suspected terrorist attacks. There are enough indications that Moonje was trying to fusion of Fascist experiment and Hindu nationalism  Since these events took place before the Word War II was over and Hitler and Mussolini must have seemed inspiring, no wonder, the RSS uniform, drills and discipline appear more similar to Italian fascist rather than that of an Indian yogi.

This is not all, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, differs with Indians on several aspects, such as the Indian national flag is not hoisted over its headquarters, even on 26th January, which I learnt from the most recent saffron convert, Dr Subrmanium Swamy in a magazine article. Further, for an organization identifying itself as a representatives of Hindus it is strange that images of gods and goddesses,are not put up in RSS offices. Apparently, only images of the first two
VD Savarkar
Sarsanghchalaks Hegdewar,Golwalkar, picture of Bharat Mata and bhagwa dhaj (RSS's saffron flag with two triangles) can only be kept and worshiped in a RSS shakha.   However, the biggest charge against the RSS would be the conceit  it has been carrying out all these decades. By declaring itself an apolitical organization it has in fact been enjoying more political power  than its political faces and with absolutely no accountability. With controversy breaking out over Narendra Modi's projection as BJP's candidate for PM's post, the RSS has been pushed into the spotlight.  It should now adopt at little transparency so that people of India can really know if the allegations such establishment of Hindu Rashtra are no longer part of its central doctrine. And more importantly, does it have moral legality to use Swami Vivekananda's portrait as mascot when its own school of thought is diametrically opposite to that of real Hinduism.

One of the reasons that Savarkar provides for his non-approval of Muslims and Christian having same status of Hindus was-

 "Their [Muslims' and Christians'] holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of foreign origin. Their love is divided [source]

Swami Vivekananda said -

 Vedanta understands that and therefore preaches the one principle and admits various methods. It has nothing to say against anyone—whether you are a Christian, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, or a Hindu, whatever mythology you believe, whether you owe allegiance to the prophet of Nazareth, or of Mecca, or of India, or of anywhere else, whether you yourself are a prophet—it has nothing to say. It only preaches the principle which is the background of every religion and of which all the prophets and saints and seers are but illustrations and manifestations...  .[source]

Savarkar said this before Indian independence, but in the present secular Indian state, faith and patriotism are not mutually exclusive. But harboring ideas at conflict with the state's constitution. Narendra Modi says, patriotism has been instiilled in him by the RSS, that may actually conflict with the Indian Constitution and divide love. Further, as is quite well know the Sangh deifies Adolf Hitler, from Savarkar,Golwalkar to Narendra Modi, Hitler has been seen as a role model for these right wing leaders. In recent times, the world has been shocked by the glorification of of Hitler in Gujarat school text books. It is but a mere reflection of the beliefs of RSS stalwarts, Golwalkar (referred to within the the Sangh Parivar as Guruji) has stated

To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by. [source]

Is it surprising that since 2000 Muslims,Christians and intellectuals and activists have been facing discrimination and state orchestrated violence in Gujarat while its Chief Minister refuses to except even grief at the loss of lives ? If Modi were being true to the Guruji's views he would consider them sub-human, the puppy remark was not inadvertent. Regarding the place of non-Hindus in the future Hindu Rashtra, here is what Guruji had to say

 "The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens' rights."  [source]

This reflects the outlook of Hindutva but not of Hinduism which is best represented by Swami Vivekananda whose vision of India  was rather different

For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope.  I see in my mind's eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body [source]

India today may not be exactly that, but it is not a fascist state that the Sangh aspired for and that is mainly because the majority of Hindus, including religious scholar and priests have embraced Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and several Gurus and Shankaracharyas' doctrine of Hinduism which is inclusive.

* I first came across Swami Vivekananda's portrait in Netaji's bedroom/study (Netaji's birthplace and childhood home is located less than a kilometer from my house). That is when I started reading Swami Vivekananda's writings.