New Delhi: A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed people on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Math, members of the two organisations Monday expressed displeasure over his “political speech” from an “apolitical platform”.
“The Citizenship Act was not brought overnight. We have only brought an amendment to the Citizenship Act and have made it easier for those who have suffered persecution in Pakistan, after Partition, to get Indian citizenship,” Modi had said while addressing the youth at Belur Math, in West Bengal’s Howrah district.
The PM had spent the night at the Math and addressed students Sunday morning, marking the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, which is also observed as the National Youth Day.
Modi’s “political” address, however, didn’t go down well with members of the organisation. Gautam Roy, a member of RKM, was quoted as saying it was “deeply hurtful to see controversial political messages being disseminated from the platform of RKM (Ramakrishna Mission), which is an apolitical body”.
Swami Suvirananda, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission’s general secretary, also said, “We are an inclusive organisation, which has monks from Hindu, Islam and Christian communities. We live like brothers of the same parents. To us, Narendra Modi is the leader of India and Mamata Banerjee the leader of West Bengal.”
He also said members of the organisations come there “to answer eternal calls” and they do not “respond to ephemeral calls”.
Quoting several senior monks, a report in The Telegraph said the general understanding was that PM Modi, who says he is a follower of Swami Vivekananda, would “stick to speaking about the great leader and his vision”.
They said they did not expect Modi to talk about politics.
“This was not what we had anticipated. But we could not have whispered into the Prime Minister’s ears to stop midway. It is not proper,” the report quoted a senior monk as saying.
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‘Non-political & non-sectarian spiritual organisations’
The Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission identify themselves as “worldwide, non-political and non-sectarian spiritual organisations”. Actively involved in relief work, youth development and rural services, the organisations own several hospitals and educational institutions which aim to provide care to all, irrespective of one’s caste, creed or gender.
Both organisations were brought into existence by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s chief disciple Swami Vivekananda after Paramahansa’s demise. Sri Ramakrishna was a the 19th-century saint from Bengal.
The twin organisations claim to have set in motion a “non-sectarian, universal spiritual movement which has been silently working for more than a hundred years to catalyse the spiritual regeneration of humanity”.
The organisations have over 208 centres across the world, including 157 in India, 15 in Bangladesh and 14 in the US.
Modi wanted to join Ramakrishna Mission as a teenager
The camaraderie and mutual respect between the PM and the Ramkrishna Mission go back to the mid-sixties when as a teenager Modi, inspired by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, had arrived at the Mission’s Rajkot branch in Gujarat and expressed his desire to join the order.
Swami Atmasthananda, who then headed the Rajkot branch in 1966 and later went on to become the 15th president of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission, advised Modi against taking sanyas. He was asked to work among people and not in seclusion.
Not surprisingly then, that in 2017, the PM had called Atmasthananda’s death a “personal loss”.
Modi’s unequivocal support for the CAA, during his Belur Math address, also seemed in contrast to what Vivekananda had said in his famous 1893 speech in Chicago when he said India “always offered refuge to the persecuted from all nations and faiths”.
Disassociating from the ‘political’
The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have always been apolitical. Hundreds of monks here do not vote even though most of them have a voter ID. This is because voting would mean taking sides of a political party “which would take them beyond the spiritual path”.
A senior monk has been quoted as saying: “…we never vote as we do not take part in politics or express our political opinion in public…Swamiji gave us instructions that we should focus on spiritual activities and do humanitarian activities for the upliftment of society.”
Swami Chetanananda, another senior monk at the mission, similarly said, “We are not even allowed to vote. Otherwise, by now you would have seen some political party trying to seek affinity, this hasn’t happened because of Swamiji’s rare acumen.”
So when it came to Modi’s political comments on the CAA, senior member Roy explained: “Let me make two things clear. One, RKM has an elaborate and official process of consecration. Mr Modi has not been officially consecrated and two, he is not allowed to come and make statements which are political in nature.”