“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal tolerance but we accept all religions as true.”
—Swami Vivekanand in his address at World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September, 1893.
Two distant episodes generated debate this week all over India. PM Narendra Modi invoked Swami Vivekanand’s Chicago address in his maiden appearance at the function organised by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church to celebrate the elevation to sainthood of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia. Immedia-tely, intellectuals and media with ‘secular mindset’ made political overtones out of it and declared it as a Modi’s message to Hindutva outfits. Critics of Modi also tried to see it as an attempt of projecting himself as ‘secular’ leader.
If we carefully read the speech, PM Modi only reiterated the ethos of this civilisational nation for all segments of society. He repeated his convictions about ‘acceptance of all and appeasement of none’, which he has been saying since he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. This ethos is being cherished and practiced in India from the Vedic period, irrespective of way of worship. That is why Indian society does not limit religious faiths to tolerance, which connotes reluctance and compulsion, but extends it to acceptance.
In fact, when the PM said “Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum and it has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India”, he was talking about the Hindu way of life being torch bearer religious harmony. Many people with British spectacles should realise that we were practicing freedom of religion much before the ‘secular’ word arrived on India’s political scene.
Similarly, when the Jamiat Ulema's cleric Mufti Muhammad Ilyas candidly accepted that people of India irrespective of their ways of worship are Hindus, same secular media termed it as ‘stirring up hornet’s nest’. The cleric went ahead and said Lord Shiva was first messenger of Islam. As per Hindu tradition, people may accept or reject that view but the core argument made by the Mufti again represent the same ethos of acceptance and underlying unity.
Mufti Muhammad Ilyas is not the first one to restate this truth. Late Justice M C Chagla who was also a practicing Muslim said “In true sense, we are all Hindus although we may practice different religions. I am a Hindu because I trace my ancestry to my Aryan forefathers and I cherish the philosophy and the culture which they handed down to successive generations.”
The Archbishop of Ernakulam, Dr. Joseph Cardinal Parecattil, an ardent advocate of Indianisation of Churches once stated that the “Church had to draw its cultural nourishment from the local soil-the rich resources of Hinduism.”
What all these preachers of different faiths spoke about India’s civlisational ethos is not different from what the PM said while giving a call for unity. Unfortunately, denouncing our national identity has become a sign of being progressive and intellectual. This resulted into intolerant persecution of the only woman editor of a Urdu newspaper, Ms Shireen Dalvi, of Avadhnama for reproducing cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. The hypocrisy of ‘secular intellectuals’ is more harmful to our society with religious fanaticism. Unless we unequivocally reiterate our cultural identity our role as a nation on global stage cannot be fulfilled. Prime Minister has very timely reminded us of that role.