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Swami on lips, Modi on mind

New Delhi, Jan. 12: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi today invoked Swami Vivekananda to stress the need for communal harmony and underline the danger of religious “fanaticism” in comments seen as an allusion to Narendra Modi.

At an event to mark the end of year-long celebrations of Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, Prime Minister Singh said true religion couldn’t be the basis of hatred and division and called for imbibing Vivekananda’s lessons of tolerance and respect for all faiths.

“It is no use celebrating Swamiji’s life, paying our respects to his ideas and teachings and honouring his memory if we do not imbibe the values that he advocated,” Singh added.

The comments and the emphasis on “imbibing” were seen as a potshot at Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate who has often described Vivekananda as his ideal.

“His (Vivekananda’s) truly great message for us, which is of great relevance to our country and our sub-continent, was that true religion and true religiosity cannot be the basis of hatred and division but of mutual respect and tolerance for faiths and beliefs of all.”

The Prime Minister also quoted from Vivekananda’s speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

“Swami Vivekananda said sectarianism, bigotry and fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to disrepair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”

In her speech, UPA chairperson Sonia warned against falling prey to narrow-mindedness and appealed to people to fight fanaticism.

“Swamiji’s words are all the more weighty today as religious fanaticism of all hues threatens peace of many nations and our region. His ideas must be taken into the hearts and minds of our new generation of young Indians who will, and must, battle fanaticism.”

Defence minister A.K. Antony, who also spoke on the occasion, said Vivekananda never preached superiority of any one religion but accepted all and showed the world the way to unity and peace.

The Centre had launched the year-long celebrations on January 12 last year. The culture ministry cleared 54 plans at an estimated cost of Rs 253 crore to spread the teachings and messages of Vivekananda. Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch said all plans were being implemented.

The proposals include a film on Vivekananda by Ramakrishna Mission, Belur. Among other plans are holding a World Poetry Festival once in two years, documenting heritage sites associated with Vivekananda, renovating Sister Nivedita’s residence in Calcutta, upgrading a Ramakrishna Mission hospital in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and constructing Vivekananda Sabha Griha (meeting hall) at the mission’s ashram in Jalpaiguri.

A few overseas proposals by Indian embassies and high commissions were approved too. These include setting up a Chair in Vivekananda’s name at Chicago University.