Even a celebration to mark the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago became an occasion for the Congress and the BJP to engage in a slanging match.
While the Prime MinisterNarendraModi called upon the youth to ‘let our creativity also strengthen our nation and fulfil the aspirations of our people,’ he stressed on developing innovation and promoting skills towards building a modern India.
The Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, said that in today’s atmosphere of intolerance and hate, Vivekananda’s message should be the Magna Carta for the way forward. She used the occasion to make a subtle political attack and recalled that he had attended the World Parliament of Religions as a representative of Hinduism and India, where he had quoted from the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi recalled, had said, ‘Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair.
‘This universal message is time-invariant; it is as relevant today as it was over 124 years ago. Today, more than ever, we are engulfed with the same challenges of prejudices which the Swami spoke about,’ she said and recalled that he had spoken about both tolerance and universal acceptance.
Modi began his speech by saying that the biggest takeaway from Swami Vivekananda's speech of September 11, 1893 was the message of love, harmony and universal brotherhood. He reminded the youth that public service is the highest service. ‘Swami Vivekananda said that only rituals will not connect an individual to divinity...,’ he said, adding ‘Jan Seva is PrabhuSeva. More than being in search of a Guru, Swami Vivekananda was in search of the truth.’
Promoting his pet Swachh Bharat" cause,Modi criticized those who litter and said, ‘Sanitation and cleaning workers have the first right to say 'VandeMataram'. Those who chant 'VandeMataram' are the first to go and throw garbage on the streets. Those who clean the roads have the first right in our country.’
Modi said, ‘Whether we clean the roads or not, we do not have the right to dirty our motherland.’ He went on to extol women who refused to marry unless a bathroom was constructed in the groom's house. He also asked colleges to hold cultural events to celebrate other states - like a Tamil Day in a Haryana college or a Kerala Day in a Punjab college - to promote national integration.Modi quipped he was not against celebrating days like ‘Rose Day’.
The Congress party also hit out at the Prime Minister, urging him to practice what he preaches. The party spokesperson,AbhishekSinghvi, said at the AICC briefing, ‘We expect the Prime Minister to not only preach. We expect him to practice in letter and spirit the messages, the theme, the true ‘atman’ of what Swami Vivekananda said. Unfortunately, in this government we are seeing preaching attaining new heights of glory, and the practice is completely the opposite.’
Singhvi asked of the Prime Minister, ‘Aren’t you insulting his memory…. Do you even really follow him in letter….when you encourage a culture of hate, bigotry, narrow mindedness, parochialism, politics of prejudice and division? Do you really in any sense of the word follow Swami Vivekananda in practice, spirit or action? This government’s views and actions are the diametrically opposite of what the Swami preached.’
To Vivekananda's address and the 9/11 terror attacks in the US which happened on the same date, he said, ‘If we had not forgotten the significance of the message of love and brotherhood, the devastating strike might not have happened.’