Indian PM Narendra Modi pays tribute to Swami Vivekananda at Belur Math in Howrah district. -PTI
The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) founded in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, and his comments on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) from RKM's platform have created a controversy in West Bengal.
A section of the mission members condemned the visit and many wrote to the RKM officials questioning why Mr. Modi was allowed to visit the Math. Political parties condemned Mr. Modi's comments too, while RKM distanced itself from Mr. Modi's remarks, reports The Hindu.
Mr. Modi reached Belur Math late on Saturday and paid tributes to Sri Ramakrishna, the mystic saint of 19th century Bengal, and "the room where Swami ji [Vivekananda] meditated."
He himself tweeted the photos on Sunday. The problem, however, was over Mr. Modi's extensive remarks on CAA indicating that the Act will not take away citizenship. The comments were considered as "political statement" by a section of the RKM officials and devotees.
A mission member, who was given deeksha (consecration) by late Swami Atmasthananda, who Mr. Modi claimed on Saturday was his teacher, said that it is "deeply hurtful to see controversial political messages being disseminated from the platform of RKM, which is an apolitical body."
"Let me make two things clear. One, RKM has an elaborate and official process of consecration. Mr. Modi has not been officially consecrated and two, he is not allowed to come and make statements which are political in nature.
My observation is, RKM has been deeply politicised over the last years, with induction and promotion of senior spiritual leaders who were associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS] earlier. Mr Modi's visit is part of that growing trend of RKM," said Gautam Roy, a Mission member.
Some of the senior monks of the RKM order who were scheduled to participate in a private devotees gathering on Sunday excused themselves, citing "preoccupations." It was interpreted by the devotees as "the monks' expression of displeasure."
A section of disciples of the Mission sent a common letter to the RKM officials insisting that Mr. Modi's visit to Belur Math be cancelled, a day before the 157th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
"As a student of Ramakrishna Mission, I am requesting the Belur Math authority to cancel Narendra Modi's visit," the letter said. Accusing Mr Modi of violence, it noted that the place of Ramakrishna, Sarada and Swami Vivekananda "should not invite a person who created problem[s] for people." Many people also called up RKM to express their displeasure about the visit, sources in RKM said.
Swami Suvirananda, the general secretary of RKM, said, "The organization will not comment on the Prime Minister's speech on CAA. We are a strictly apolitical body. We have come here after leaving our homes to answer eternal calls. We do not respond to ephemeral calls." He described RKM as an "inclusive" organization.
"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," he added. Political parties too said that "using RKM as a political platform is condemnable."
Protests continued unabated in Kolkata, albeit with a lesser intensity. Students, who tried to stage a protest outsideNetaji Indoor Stadium when Mr. Modi was scheduled to speak, were taken into custody.
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