On 11 September 1893 Swami Vivekananda had addressed the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. This year marks the 125th anniversary of that historic address. The BJP has cleverly clubbed this anniversary with their own Deen Dayal Upadhyay centenary celebration programme. For Narendra Modi this became yet another occasion to indulge in his characteristic rhetoric. Addressing a convention of university students Modi made repeated references to the historic Chicago address of Swami Vivekananda, removing it from its context and stripping it of its essence.

Going through Vivekanand’s exhortations one cannot but notice the glaring contrast with the aggressive Hindutva being espoused by the Sangh and the policies of the Modi government. Vivekanand had talked about tolerance and universal acceptance. “We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true,” said Vivekananda. Today the Sangh-BJP establishment has emerged as the epitome of intolerance and aggression. If all religions are true, there can be no question of forcing people of other faiths to embrace Hinduism in the name of ‘Ghar wapsi’ or ‘home coming’.

Swami Vivekananda had presented Hinduism and Indian nationalism in most open and inclusive terms. With great pride he had declared that he belonged to a nation “which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the Earth.” Today Modi government is supporting the genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar and forcibly deporting Rohingya refugees from India. Even the Citizenship Act is being sought to be amended to discriminate among refugees on the basis of religion.

Vivekananda was emphatic in condemning sectarianism, bigotry and fanaticism. Harmony and universal brotherhood was the cardinal theme of his historic Chicago address. Today the Sangh-BJP establishment is openly sponsoring lynch mobs to kill people in the name of the cow. While Modi addressed students, BJP president Amit Shah was in Kolkata invoking Vivekananda as an icon to promote an aggressive communal mobilisation of the young supporters of his party.

While trying to use Vivekananda in the service of the aggressive communal offensive of the BJP, Modi had only deceptive rhetoric to offer for university students. Keeping quiet about the real state of universities under his government’s relentless assault on higher education, the policy of seat cuts and fee hikes, the imposition of RSS control on every institution of higher education and research, Modi extolled universities as laboratories of creativity. It is not difficult to imagine what kind of creativity can grow in an atmosphere of fear and regimentation with growing curbs on freedom of expression and debate. Similarly Modi said not a word about his promise of job creation and the grim reality of growing job losses, instead he outsourced the task of job creation to the jobless youth, asking them to be job creators and not job seekers!