Did Chicago cast a shadow on the RSS? 

Did protests at the World Hindu Congress force RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to opt for a conciliatory note at the RSS lecture series in Delhi that followed the Congress in Chicago?

Did Chicago cast a shadow on the RSS? 

Dhairya Maheshwari

The World Hindu Congress in Chicago between September 7 and 9 turned out to be a bit of a damp squib for the organisers (Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, World Hindu Council of America, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu Volunteer Corps, etc) despite India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu attending the valedictory function and Prime minister Narendra Modi’s message streamed live.

The event was also designed to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago 125 years ago. The faithful were in attendance and one of the more prominent participants from India, Vivek Agnihotri claimed, “…I was present there on all days. All I heard were speeches on how to make this world better. There were ideas, solutions, challenges, learnings, insights, inspiration, enlightenment”.

But others were not as impressed. Ameya Pawar, member of the Chicago City Council, tweeted, “I’m a proud Hindu and the first Indian American elected to the Chicago City Council. I am extremely disappointed and ashamed that @WHCCongress would invite speakers and organisations that promote discrimination, Islamphobia and Hindu nationalism. This is not who we are.”

Did Chicago cast a shadow on the RSS? 
A pamphlet at the WHC

Raja Krishnamoorthi, the US Congressman from Chicago, attended the event but declared, “I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught—namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people and accepts all people, regardless of their faith, including all my constituents. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teachings of Swami Vivekananda.”

Ajay Singh Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath, billed as a top speaker, withdrew. Three Hindu protestors managed to sneak in and shout slogans against the RSS just as Mohan Bhagwat was to embark on his speech. They were apparently assaulted and spat upon before getting thrown out of the venue.

“Mom, I am in love with Mohammad.”

“Dad, I am in love with Jeniffer.”

The pamphlets and brochures at the World Hindu Conference hinted at wild conspiracy against Hindus. One of the pamphlets, “Silent Holocaust of Hindus”, published by a PhD scholar Dilip Amin, urged the community to ostracise inter-faith couples, as it featured a picture of Sharmila Tagore to drive home the point. It seems that ‘love jihad’ has found its way to the US.

Yet another account of the event, published in a well-known English weekly, said that even the boxes of sweets gifted to conference delegates were full of symbolic meaning. ‘Soft laddus’ signified what Hindus are, while the hard ones gave a sense of how they should be, according to this account.

“If a lion is alone, even wild dogs can destroy it,” crowed Bhagwat, delivering a clarion call for Hindu consolidation and revival of dharma. Drawing inspiration from Swami Vivekananda’s speech on September 11, 1893, Bhagwat, a keynote speaker, tried to impress upon the listeners the need for ‘Hindu resurgence’ and the fight for restoration of the “dharma.”

While the Sangh Parivar premised the conference on the teachings of spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, the controversial nature of the conference wasn’t lost on many of the prominent invitees, including US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who withdrew from the event four months ago citing reluctance to get involved in India’s “partisan politics.” The jolt to the organisers (Sangh Parivar) was big, considering that she had been declared as the chairperson of the Congress last year.

Gabbard’s withdrawal came after several progressive non-profits in the US, several of them advocating for Sikh and Dalit rights, raised objections over her participation.

In an opinion penned by Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja, he questioned the drawing of parallel between the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and the ideology of the World Hindu Congress.

Wrote Raja, “How can any outreach be based on such a disdainful attitude and approach to a substantial section of society? It is ironic — and tragic — that in Chicago, where Vivekananda, in his mesmerising lecture delivered on 9/11, 1893, outlined the defining aspects of Hinduism in terms of tolerance, acceptance and interpretation of truth in a variety of ways, the RSS chief negated whatever the swami stood for.”

In a letter that he wrote to the organisers, Prime Minister Modi said, “I particularly call upon the esteemed delegates of this conference to think about ways in which technology can connect more and more people with the thoughts of Hinduism.”

The Prime Minister’s cryptic call for religious consolidation, on the lines of the rhetoric of other speakers, seemed more like a BJP election speech than anything else. That’s what the World Hindu Congress turned out to be, a platform to promote divisive political Hinduism ahead of 2019.

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