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Listen to Modi’s speech carefully. You’ll know why JNU needed a Vivekananda statue

With JNU speech, Modi has again proved he is a political mastermind who can lift an occasion to an event of national significance.

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Indians love statues. Why, then, would an image of national icon, Swami Vivekananda, sculpted by Naresh Kumavat, raise so much controversy? The answer is simple. The place where the statue was installed — New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU. Perhaps, one of the last academic bastions of the Left in India.

Yes, the far Left, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, has done unusually well in the recently completed Bihar elections. But they are far from being a dominant force in Bihar, let alone anywhere else in India. In JNU, the situation is different. The Left has ruled student politics from its very inception. Even to this day, Leftist student organisations control the diverse student unions, with members drawn from all parts of India and several parts of the world.

That JNU already has a prominently placed statue of Jawaharlal Nehru and a bust of B.R. Ambedkar in the library is beside the point. The opposition to the statue is not an outcome of animosity towards Vivekananda. Rather it is the fear of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The JNU Left is now afraid of being left behind in the march of the times.


Also read: PM Modi unveils Swami Vivekananda statue on JNU campus


Another self-goal by Left

The installation of the statue was seen as a prominent symbol of the saffronisation of the campus. In the campaign against it, the statue was vandalised a couple of times. An FIR was filed against unknown perpetrators. Not just campus dwellers, but the general public was also angry. In protesting against the statue, the Left has only scored another self-goal.

The Left’s ideological intolerance, dictatorial campus politics, and its diversionary tactics are well-known. The allegations that university funds were used for the statue were false. Former JNU student and current faculty member of Delhi University, Prof. Manoj Kumar, played an important role in raising the funds from private sources.

The statue, literally under wraps for months, was virtually unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. Modi’s unveiling of the golden-hued figure of Swami Vivekananda on the ‘red’ JNU campus was, of course, widely reported.

But none of the reports even remotely do justice to what Modi actually said. His speech, as is his wont, was complex and masterly, inviting the youth of India to make a common cause for the larger benefit of the nation. Earlier, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal compared the two Narendras, Vivekananda and Modi, praising the latter for leading India into a new and glorious future.


Also read: Govt begins search for new JNU V-C as Jagadesh Kumar’s term ends in January 2021


Modi on ideology

Prime Minister Modi began by saying that the purpose of the statue was to inspire “a vision of divinity”. He wanted JNU students to imbibe courage and compassion from Vivekananda, in addition to ideas of service to the nation and love for humanity. In the darkest hour of despair and hopelessness, Vivekananda had roused a sleeping nation. Similarly, Modi wanted today’s young men and women, whom he called the brand ambassadors of the new India, to rise to the occasion.

Knowing the opposition to the statue, very astutely, Modi asked the students to stick to their ideologies because being true to one’s political beliefs was part of the idealism of youth and good for democracy too. But when it comes to the nation, we all have to rise above our ideological silos. Being chained to narrow confines would only damage us intellectually and politically.

He gave other examples of what he called the common cause of India. First of all, Swami Vivekananda, to whom I will revert later. But more recently in the living memory of India, to Mahatma Gandhi, who led an ideologically and politically diverse movement by making common cause against British rule in India. India’s freedom movement, to Modi, was a magnificent example of how we could rise above our selfish interests and party lines.

The other example he gave was of the Emergency. In the struggle against Indira Gandhi’s draconian and democracy threatening imposition, former Congress members and the RSS made common cause. Modi mentioned how he himself participated in this movement. Thus, ideologies are not a problem, nor are debate and dissent.

All of these are essential to vibrant democratic cultures, such as India. He mentioned how the Sabarmati Dhaba in JNU was a good place for such addas, what with its staple diet of chai and parathas. Healthy discussions, svasth samvad, make a democracy. Yes, Modi said, there is one type of ideology which isn’t all that good—that is avsarvaad, the ideology of pure selfishness and opportunism. That is one kind of disease that the youth, especially the idealistic and transformative section of society, ought to avoid.


 Also read: At the peak of his popularity, why Modi is going after dissenters


21stcentury Bharat

Earlier, Modi plugged his government’s favourite policy slogan, Atmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India, invoking Vivekananda’s ideals of self-knowledge, self-realisation, and self-empowerment. Modi clarified that Atmanirbhar Bharatdid not imply isolation or narcissism, but a vision to improve oneself and the nation, as also contribute to the welfare of the whole world. He said that his farm policies were based on the same principles of freeing the poorest of the poor from the burden of state regulations and allowing them to be self-reliant. He said reforms could only take place in an atmosphere of trust, vishwas, ensured by purity of intentions and beliefs (‘niyat aur nishtha ki pavitrata’).

Modi also emphasised humour, without which not only student politics but also student life would be dry and stressful. Earlier, he also flagged the importance of the new National Education Policy (NEP), which would promote all studies in all languages and regions of India. He mentioned how the very names of the hostels in JNU—Ganga, Yamuna, Sabarmati, Jhelum, Sutlej, and so on—were symbols of national unity and integration.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Modi once again proved that he is the political mastermind who can lift a specific occasion to an event of national significance, all the while promoting his party’s ideology and his own larger-than-life brand of leadership. For current JNU Vice-Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar, it was not only his finest moment but a fitting finale to a challenging and controversial tenure.

As an author of books on Vivekananda, I would add only one coda. Modi referred to a speech by Vivekananda at the University of Michigan in which Vivekananda was quoted as saying the 21st century would belong to India. After trawling through the complete works of Vivekananda, I cannot find any reference to such a speech.

Finally, when it comes to Modi’s quip, citing Vivekananda, that character, not tailors make one a gentleman, the irony will not be lost on those who’ve remarked on just how fastidiously well-dressed the Prime Minister himself is.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Predictable BS from losers whose hearts and minds are in white man’s land but bodies are chained to India. The few of us who are in the reverse position take pity on them and tbeir identity crisis.

  2. Setting up Vivekananda’s statue within JNU is a very important message.
    Leftists have called Vivekananda half wit fascist, supporter of Brahmanical caste system .
    RSS adores Vivekananda because he showcased Hinduism so brilliantly and emphasised on its resurgence.

    So yes, this is Modi underlining whose ideology has finally come to JNU, an university funded by Soviet Union for such a long time.
    Hinduism/Hindutva vs foreign communism

    • RSS do not adore Vivekananda, it is travesty of truth. RSS knows very well Vivekananda is a very revered Snyasi and he hold the imagination of intellectuals world over and it wants to use that for its own propaganda. Vivekananda believed in Sarva Dharma Samanway. and RSS does not believe in it. Vivekananda has said that be truthful to your religion but respect all other religion’s teacher, philosophy, worshipping place. Vivekananda would condemn demolition of Babari Masjid and building of Ram Manir there. Modi contravenes the idealism of Vivekananda. Modi is very closely associated with Ram Krishna Mission and that is not because he believes in its philosophy but he needs it to his image building.

  3. As a tax payer, whose money has gone to fund many of the professional students of JNU, JMU, JU etc, I would like students to be made to full full price for their education, with scholarships given to the truly deserving, born economically as well as educationally. Also there should be a fixed time limit within which a student is expected to pass her/ his course. Finally the curriculum has to be such that students students need to spend most of their time studying. Do all this and most of the issues that we see in JNU will disappear.

  4. JNU faculty is highly politicised firmly in the hands of left ideology people who do not let go this privilege. They do not allow dissent and outsiders. This grip needs to be undone.

  5. Probably this is the biggest joke – Modi inaugrating Vivekanda’s statue. What is common between Modi & Vivekanand ? Both are Hindu by birth. This is where the commonality starts and here itself it ends also. It is advisable to all of us to listen to the famous Chicago speech of Vivekananda. And read some of his famous work and sayings. And one will find everything that Modi and his mentors Golwalkar and RSS did and doing in practice is just the opposite to what Vivekanda preached. First and foremost Modi is just extraoridinarily violent and anti religion.

  6. That Character makes a gentleman (not tailor) – doesn’t mean a person with character (like Modi) will be a gentleman only if dressed shoddily! What kind of author is this to make such a silly comment? Modi is India’s Prime Minister. Should he not dress well? the author sadly missed the point. he is either biased, or heavily biased. Very poor!

  7. Spreading useless and violent communism at government expense in JNU? WHy can’t leftist parties build their own university.
    Such attitude/opposition is the reason for rise in BJP. HIndus ahve woke up to the shennaignas of leftist liberals.

  8. We always admire a person who follows what he preaches. If the Mahatma’s statue is inaugurated in RSS headquarters and a similar speech is given to follow secular constitution by our noble man(read NM not MG), would this author write equally admiringly of that noble man and chide the RSS for still not falling inline.
    JNU didn’t protest Vivekananda or his selfless work. It is the messaging that our noble man has which is causing consternation.

  9. Modi being a inveterate liar, most of his `quotes’ from Vivekananda, Ambedkar etc., cannot be found in any standard references. Makarand Paranjape should not be surprised.

  10. India needs more of its universities in the list of the world’s top 500 / 100 / 50. JNU is one of the best we have.

  11. SORRY , SIR !! AS A BENGALI , I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE LESSON FOR VIVEKANANDA’S LIFE FROM A LIAR !! IT WILL HURT THE ENTIRE IDEOLOGY OF VIVEKANANDA !! SORRY !!

  12. In India statues of Mahatma Gandhi are everywhere – institutes, town halls, parliament. Literally everywhere. Still the right wing guys themselves disrespect the Mahatma by celebrating Nathuram Godse birth anniversary and do not care a hoot for his ideology. So why do they think that by installing Swami Vivekananda statue left wing guys will care for right wing ideology is beyond me! All in all the right wing is as much “dictatorial, diversionary and intolerant” which the author accuses the left of. In addition the right wing is as arrogant as hell.
    I wonder why the Print lets puff pieces like this one be posted. I guess one must keep the govt happy as well in India – this ain’t no USA yet.

  13. Vivekananda stands for Universal Harmony, which ironically the Bhakts dont stand for. It is hilarious to see a bunch of hypocrites standing beside the statue of Vivekananda!

    • Very well said Mr SatGuru.

      The obvious distinction here is that whilst Vivekananda stood for Hinduism, Modi, Adityanath, Mohan Bhagwat, Amit Shah & assorted bhakths stand for Hindutva. Hinduism on the other hand is an ancient, peaceful and tolerant religio. Hindutva is a violent political ideology based on Nazism and hatred of others that builds on the toxic ideas of Damodar Savarkar – one of Nathuram Godse’s mentors and co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. But then, to blind Modi bhakths, these distinctions do not matter.

  14. Hello sir ….you have not read anything about vivekananda.. swami .vivekanada has mentioned many times that India has to lead the world from its darkness on the spiritual path …and he has mentioned that India will be a world leader in the future…please read Call to the Nation…published by Ramakrishna Mutt ..the cost of that book is 1ruppe 75 paise

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