Sunday, July 21, 2024
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How would Swami Vivekananda view Hindutva, Modi, and Modi’s India?

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By Deepa Majumdar

This article is dedicated with gratitude to Swami Vivekananda
It has been over a hundred and fifty years since the advent of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902 CE). To understand his significance for modernity and India, one must first understand the Indian civilization and its guiding principles. Given its unbroken lineage of the highest mysticism, this civilization responds to the needs of each age through the advent of saints and divine Incarnations – not politics. Before its reincarnation as modern India, British India responded to the challenges of modernity with the advent of the Holy Trio – Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda – who came to teach the world the virtues necessary to conquer lust and greed, the ultimate causes of patriarchy and capitalism. To call them Hindu is to limit their glory. Even if born within specific religions, divine Incarnations, and self-realized saints (like Ramana Maharshi) belong to the whole universe. India has given rise to numberless saints and sages from different religions – not just Hinduism. The birth of Incarnations (like Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother) signifies the severity of the crisis of an age. For the greater the crisis, the more powerful the medicine has to be – divine Incarnations being the most powerful panacea ever.
Incarnations and saints each come with specific purposes and vocations. The Holy Trio came to regenerate India – not just by removing British colonialism – but by cleansing India of the yoke of her original sins (casteism, patriarchy, etc.) and more recent toxins. Swamiji loved India – but not blindly. A clear-eyed prophet, he recognized her internal crises. In one place he refers to India as a “corpse” – both inside and outside. Instead of relying on the statistical gaze, Swamiji wandered the length and breadth of India to discover directly the miseries of the downtrodden – injustices he inveighed against in the strongest possible language. In short, Swamiji, a prince among yogis, who represented the highest Vedantic Hinduism, inveighed against the terrible iniquities of lower Hinduism, especially the caste system, which he called “don’t touchism.” True to the ideals of higher Hinduism, he embraced all viable religions as equally true – thus echoing Sri Ramakrishna’s inimitable patois about the highest mystical state – “all jackals howl the same way” – meaning at the summit, mystics of all true religions experience the same God. The poor, the so-called pariah, the oppressed, and women were the special focus of Swamiji’s love. Not only a patriot and prophet of modernity, Swamiji, was the divine architect who unleashed the unique destiny of modern India. As guardian, I am sure he is present in every Indian home where a child is abused.
In the light of this brief background, how would Swamiji view Hindutva, PM Modi, the direction of Modi’s India, and the untold miseries of “ordinary” Indians? Inasmuch as Modi has returned to a third term in power, this vexing question must be answered by thoughtful Hindus, especially votaries of Swamiji. Given Modi’s self-anointed, near-messianic stature, especially his self-canonizing hint at immaculate conception – answering this question becomes all the more imperative. I believe in immaculate conception. But this miraculous birth, which defies the laws of nature, belongs exclusively to divine Incarnations, like Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Christ. Not even saints are born of immaculate conception. At best they are born of lust-free unions. So how can a politician, who is not even a monk, be born of immaculate conception? Unlike politicians, who are addicted to power, a monk or nun is supposed to renounce all worldly temptations – especially power. For, the opposite of God is not evil or nothingness – but power.
To understand how Swamiji would respond to the direction of Modi’s India – we must first understand his vision of India. What Swamiji loved was not a geographical entity, but a set of semi-divine principles guiding the destiny of this unique civilization. Offering his fealty and adoration to these principles, Swamiji saw this highest India (not Indians) as a beacon of the world – indeed a Vishwaguru (world teacher). He therefore warned against India succumbing to the temptations of power, thus betraying the historical principles that govern her destiny. Seeing society through Vedantic lenses, Swamiji wanted us to reach beyond mere equality (the bedrock of democracy) to same-sightedness – by seeing the same divinity in all beings. For him, therefore, the caste system was not merely unjust, but a direct violation of Vedantic principles. Given this brief portrait, chances are, Swamiji would respond as follows to Mr Modi, Hindutva ideologues (like Bajrang Dal), Hindu fascism, and Modi’s India:
First, Swamiji would warn Hindutva ideologues – especially Modi and politician monks like Yogi Adityanath – that mixing religion with politics is playing with fire. Theocracies do not work, unless led by enlightened leaders, like the Dalai Lama. Demanding total separation of temple and state, Swamiji would rebuke those who politicize God, India’s noble governing principles, and her unique mystical leadership, as a most wily and cynical ploy, all for the sake of personal political gains. To separate the wheat from chaff, he would perhaps recommend a regulatory body (like the Catholic church) for Hinduism.
Second, Swamiji would reject Modi’s ambitious materialistic vision of India – from bullet trains and space programs to billionaire buddies. Without being a Luddite, he would inveigh against the terrible gap between rich and poor endemic to India’s gung-ho vulture-capitalism.
Third, Swamiji, who bemoaned the lack of brotherhood in India, would object in the strongest possible language to the resurgence of India’s original sins and more recent toxins (like Islamophobia) under Modi’s watch – from terrible violence against women and religious minorities – to caste violence, alleged extra-judicial killings outside India, extra-judicial bulldozing of homes of accused criminals within India, creeping authoritarianism, betrayals of the Constitution, and overall Hindu fascism and imperialism. He would reject growing class inequalities, alongside growing avarice, runaway materialism, and conspicuous consumption. He would be horrified at the anti-colonial hatred now raging among Indians emboldened by Modi’s own anti-colonial bitterness. Even in the heyday of colonialism, Swamiji saw wonderful virtues in westerners – especially the British. Moreover, he would thank those westerners who gave up their lives for India. The “slave mentality,” Modi often warns against, Swamiji would say, lies not in being the underdog, but in what Nietzsche called the ressentiment of the underdog.
Swamiji, who mixed freely with people from the lowest castes and Muslims, perhaps seeing the Divine in them, would be horrified at caste hatred and Islamophobia by a state machinery that has emboldened violence by Hindu ideologues. He would see caste prejudice as the most notorious blasphemy ever against Vedanta’s same-sighted vision of man. Above all, Swamiji who was a chaste feminist, would be horrified by sexual violence against women (even little girls and babies) in contemporary India. A peerless cosmopolitan and natural democrat, Swamiji would object to growing tyranny and the open flouting of democratic principles in India – especially by state officials. He would be horrified by the overall lack of ethics in everyday India – especially rampant corruption and bribery.
Fourth, Swamiji, who wanted a martial spirit – but not militarism – warned that India would perish spiritually if she went after power and militarism. While recognizing the danger of India being landlocked between two nuclear-armed neighbors (China and Pakistan) – Swamiji would reject Hindutva’s naked will-to-power. He would also reject reckless militarism and unprincipled alliances with rogue nations. Worship of power (instead of goodness and moral virtues) is one sign of a civilizational crisis. This will-to-power, which was pronounced even in the India of my youth, is far more pronounced now – its side-effects ranging from sycophancy to a politics of patronage.
Finally, Swamiji would object vehemently to the ostentatious religiosity demonstrated by Hindutva ideologues. If hypocrisy is mendacity, then religious hypocrisy is mendacity on steroids. He would question Mr. Modi’s 45-hour long meditation at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, in Kanyakumari. Because real meditation is almost impossible for lay persons – especially the worldly-minded. What modernity calls “meditation” is usually mere mindfulness. True meditation demands the highest possible chastity most people are incapable of, especially those wedded to political power.
I would venture so far as to say Swamiji’s ideals for India and those of Modi and Hindutva ideologues are polar opposites. Let us therefore remember that he never saw people as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc., but as so many manifestations of God. Let us not forget that he adored Christ, who, in his eyes, was the greatest possible monk. He also greatly admired a noble Muslim pir. Let us not forget that Swamiji’s Guru, Sri Ramakrishna practiced not only the various categories of Hinduism to their mystical summit, but also Islam and Christianity. Swamiji’s overall vision for India and the world, therefore, was the total opposite of what Modi and his followers have enforced. Unlike hate-filled Hindutva ideologues who ache to rule the west and the world, Swamiji wanted the highest India to lead the world. A leader rules through love – not power!

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