Swami Vivekananda was an all-renouncing monk. Like other worldly things, politics was also a thing from which he kept himself aloof.
So, he was never found to participate in any political activity of his time, let alone give voice to any political view. Not only that, he made it mandatory for members of his monastic organization to avoid politics in all forms.
Violations made one liable to be dismissed from the organisation. That the norm was quite stringent was evident from Nivedita’s dissociation from Ramakrishna Mission, consequent upon her links with politics.
It is important to remember in this context that Swamiji did not grant her Sannyasa in spite of her earnest entreaty. But then, Swamiji was an Acharya which meant he was a pathfinder-teacher of mankind.
Accordingly, by virtue of his deep sympathy for man, he shared his thoughts with us, making no exception to his ideas on politics. He had, however, little faith in politics since it often reduced men to brutes who “in the name of politics rob others and fatten themselves by sucking the very life blood of the masses”.
None could deny this, looking at what is presently happening at various levels.
Indeed, it is imaginable what, therefore, would have been his reaction had he seen politics suffused with lies and lust for power as it is today in this country.
Swamiji’s concern for India was born of his spiritual realisation that every speck of dust of India was holy. Sages walked its soil and had freely contributed for human progress with no sense of racial prejudice and discrimination. Their descendants pursued the same policy through the vicissitudes of history.
Humanity at large was benefited as a result and respected India for centuries. He gave an inkling of India’s exceptional character and contribution in his maiden speech at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He believed India’s survival with its originality was essential as an example for rest of the world to emulate. Hence, any nation overpowering and obliterating it politically was intolerable to him.
So, he said British should be ousted from India at any cost. Youths of the land drew lessons and inspiration from his works containing his patriotic ideas to fight for political freedom as well as for nation-building. This is why Swamiji became, posthumously, a political suspect to the British.
Real prosperity will not come out of moral degradation, for which, Swamiji saw, politics was responsible to a great extent. He said “law, government, politics are phases, not final in any way”, because “the goal is beyond them”. He thought politics had missed that goal as it did not care for man’s inner growth and perfection.
Swamiji noticed that caste, creed and community-based politics was plaguing India fast. It was giving primacy to “temple and mosque”, which he had set aside as “secondary details”. Humanism was getting short shrift, diabolism gaining the social space perpetrating divisions between man and man. He was angry with politics because it was playing a foul game.
He articulated his anger thus: “Now, in my little experience I have collected this knowledge – that for all the devilry that religion is blamed with, religion is not at all in fault: no religion ever persecuted men, no religion ever burnt witches, no religion ever did any other things. What then incited people to do these things? Politics, but never religion; and if such politics takes the name of religion whose fault is that?”
Essence of religion is spirituality. No religious person gets involved in evil deeds, bringing misery to others. Swamiji deemed religion in the light of his own spiritual experience as “the greatest and the healthiest exercise that the human mind can have”, for it is man’s “constitutional necessity”. He said “man is a compound of animality, humanity, and divinity”.
The aim of religion is to manifest divinity in man, annihilating his evil tendencies, especially the tendency of jealousy which operates “so mysteriously”. Divisive politics of prejudice, jealousy and hatred are not palatable to one who is committed to spirituality which generates love and sympathy for all.
In view of this, Swamiji had said that the nation should be deluged with spiritual ideas before it gets flooded with political ideas, so that adverse politics could not incite people to do anything unethical. Swamiji saw socialism from a different angle, mixing spirituality with it.
In a speech before an audience of European intellectuals he said: “In India we have social communism, with the light of Advaita ~ playing in and around; in Europe you are socially individualists, but your thought is dualistic, which is spiritual communism. Thus, the one consists of socialistic institutions, hedged in by individualistic thought, while the other is made up of individualist institutions, within the hedge of communistic thought.”
Socialism as a political philosophy was then gathering momentum and earning popularity rapidly. Its waves had also reached India. Swamiji was well posted regarding its movements in the West. He found it to resemble some of his ideas on the “uplift of the masses”, and thereby chose to declare himself as “a socialist”.
He was particularly impressed by its concern for the proletariat. But he was unimpressed by it as well because he did not see it as a means for comprehensive alleviation of suffering, therefore called it “half a loaf”. Perceiving its innate debilities, he knew that socialism could not diminish the yawning chasm between the haves and have-nots.
Besides, he marked, there were differences among its promoters and leaders, culminating in diverse views. For instance, as Prof. Subodh Sengupta had written: “Socialism, made popular in the modern world by Saint Simon (1760- 1825), Fourier (1772-1832) and Robert Owen (1804-1892), is a tricky concept of which no one has been able to give an acceptable definition. ‘From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs,’ said Marx, but Lenin replaced it with ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’.
Bernard Shaw rejects both the formulas.” Swamiji’s study of socialistic movements was keen and supple, because of which he could correctly predict the revolutions of Russia and China, although they were non-industrial countries. His forecast was especially correct when he said in 1897 that India would achieve freedom in fifty years. Although unthinkable at the time, it happened exactly that way in 1947.
The world was literally topsy-turvy for fifty years after Swamiji’s demise in 1902. Inordinate ambition for power and mastery made international politics venomous. Imperialism, Fascism and Nazism perpetuated heinous crimes and genocide. Two bloody socialistic revolutions killed millions. Above all, two protracted world wars and a couple of atom bombs fetched misery beyond definition to mankind.
Long before these, Swamiji’s super-sensitive mind received premonitions of such unprecedented predicaments which urged him to tell us with a note of serious caution that the world was standing on the “vortex of a volcano” due to erupt any moment. To allay their dangers, he strikingly suggested international organizations when the concept of UNO and its sister organizations would have seemed wistful.
He said: “Even in politics and sociology, problems that were national twenty years ago can no more be solved on national grounds only. They are assuming huge proportions, gigantic shapes. They can only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International organizations, international combinations, international laws are the cry of the day.”
Unforgetful of the fact that politics is an integral part of modern life, he knew it was impossible for people to do away with politics, for their life was bound with political compulsions indispensably. He, accordingly, did not ask householders to turn away from politics. He was innovative in this connection.
He said: “I could not preach religion in England without showing the wonderful political changes Vedanta would bring. So, in India, social reform has to be preached by showing how much more a spiritual life the new system will bring; and politics has to be preached by showing how much it will improve the one thing that the nation wants ~ its spirituality.”
Swamiji was an unattached observer of politics. Dirt of politics could not touch him. But his analysis of politics was pithy, precise, adroit and innocuous, for which he is remembered with high respect and devotion by various scholars.
Christopher Isherwood remarked: “In fact, when one sees the full range of his (Swamiji’s) mind, one is astounded.” He had further said that Swamiji’s “was not nationalism in the smaller sense, it was a kind of supernationalism, a kind of internationalism sublimated”.
Similarly, renowned Indologist Prof AL Basham made a sincere study of Swamiji’s works and proclaimed that “in centuries to come he (Swamiji) will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world.”
The Writer is with Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur.