West Bengal: Modi, Mamata spar over religious orders as the political narrative turns bitter over faith | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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West Bengal: Modi, Mamata spar over religious orders as the political narrative turns bitter over faith

May 22, 2024 08:30 AM IST

While the BSS is a Hindu religious and social welfare organisation founded by Swami Pranavananda Maharaj, ISKCON is a Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation.

Three religious and social welfare organisations, all of them with headquarters in West Bengal – the Bharat Sevashram Sangha (BSS), Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) and International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) – have been caught in a political storm, which erupted between the ruling-Trinamool Congress government and its rival the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over the weekend.

Narendra Modi slammed Mamata Banerjee for insulting Hindu organisations like ISKCON, Ramakrishna Mission, and Bharat Sevashram. PREMIUM
Narendra Modi slammed Mamata Banerjee for insulting Hindu organisations like ISKCON, Ramakrishna Mission, and Bharat Sevashram.

It all started on Saturday with chief minister Mamata Banerjee criticising in strong words a section of monks and naming one while accusing them of working on behalf of the BJP.

“I have great respect for monks but not all of them are same. BSS has a unit in Berhampore (a Lok Sabha seat in Murshidabad district). I have heard about a Maharaj (monk) for a long time. His name is Kartick Maharaj. He said he will not allow any TMC election agent in polling booths. I do not consider him a monk because he is directly involved in politics. He is ruining the country. I have great respect for Bharat Sevashram Sangha,” Banerjee said at a rally in Hooghly.

Referring to the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda, Banerjee said: “Instructions come from Delhi saying people should be told to vote for BJP. I know Ramakrishna Mission monks don’t cast votes. Then why should they do these things? There is a Ramakrishna Mission in Asansol. Have you forgotten how I helped you? Vivekananda’s home (in Kolkata) wouldn’t be there had this daughter not been around. The Left Front stopped your activities. Do you remember?” Banerjee had said.

Legal response

While both ISKCON and RKM did not react to Banerjee’s comments, Kartick Maharaj, secretary of three branches of the BSS in Aurangabad and Beldanga in Murshidabad and Payradanga in Nadia, sent a legal notice to the chief minister seeking an unconditional apology. The BSS, however, has said that it didn’t endorse the move made by the 68-year-old monk.

“What has happened is unfortunate. What can we possibly do if there is politics going on? Also, we don’t bother and we don’t mind. Let it be. Anyone can say anything,” said Swami Biswatmananda, general secretary of BSS.

With Lok Sabha elections going on and Hindutva being one of the key issues this time, the BJP was prompt in mounting an attack on the TMC supremo.

“I am directly alleging that the chief minister is badmouthing our great organisations and maligning them under pressure from hardcore Muslim outfits to secure votes. TMC is insulting Bengal’s heritage and culture. They repeatedly use vulgar words against Ram Mandir (in Ayodhya). Won't you reply to TMC’s appeasement politics with your votes,” Modi said while addressing a campaign rally in Bankura district on Sunday.

While the BSS is a Hindu religious and social welfare organisation founded in 1917 by Swami Pranavananda Maharaj, ISKCON is a Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation. RKM is also a spiritual and social welfare organisation founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897 named after his spiritual guru Ramakrishna Paramahansha.

Political commentators feel that these organisations have millions of devotees across the world and any adverse statements would definitely leave a scar on their emotions.

“RKM has a large number of devotees, particularly among the urban educated middle class. So definitely the statements made by the chief minister will have an impact on them. To what extent this will impact needs to be seen,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, political commentator.

Banerjee, however, soon launched a damage control exercise. While isolating Kartick Maharaj, she said that she wasn’t against RKM, BSS of ISKCON.

“I am not against RKM. Why should I be against an institution and disrespect it? Even a few days back I went to see their Maharaj when he was unwell. I am against a section (of the monks). BSS has an office and an ashram at Ganga Sagar (Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas). They are so good. They really love me and work for the people," she said on Monday.

The BJP frequently attacks the TMC supremo of appeasing minority communities and claiming that Hindus were being relegated as second-class citizens in the state under the present regime. Banerjee, however, has often been heard announcing from public platforms about how she has stood beside these organisations to help them.

“I had stopped the ancestral house of Swami Vivekananda from being sold out. Now people (political leaders) make a bee-line to that house just before elections. The state government acquired the house of Sister Nivedita (disciple of Swami Vivekananda) and restored it. Who has built the skywalk at Dakshineshwar Temple and the jetties at Belur Math? We have given 700 acres to ISKCON to build a new temple,” she said at a rally in Bankura on May 20.

In January 2020, Modi visited Belur Math, on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda Jayanti and National Youth Day. He even spent a night at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, the first Prime Minister to do so.

The following day, however, he addressed the people on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Belur Math.

“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.

That, however, didn’t down well with the members of Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Math and members of the two organisations expressed their displeasure over his political speech from an apolitical platform.

Swami Suvirananda, the then Ramakrishna Math and Mission’s general secretary, had 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.”

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