The Chicago inter-faith organisation that courted controversy by withdrawing support for the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda has supplied further details outlining why the sponsorship of the event by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and the Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party led to that decision.
In doing so the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions explicitly cited the connection between the OFBJP to the Bharatiya Janata Party in India, which it said was “a political party led by Narendra Modi, who has been banned from entering the U.S.”
CPWR’s latest press statement was, it said, necessitated by the fact that advocacy group Hindu America Foundation had issued press releases condemning its withdrawal the Vivekananda event. In a September 23 statement the HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla said, “We are saddened that [CPWR], created in the very name of Swami Vivekananda, turned its back on the Hindu community and drew its own fault lines defining politics and religion,” adding that it “withdrew suddenly after receiving a complaint from an online based anti-Hindu group.”
However CPWR was firm in noting that the BJP and “anti-minority speakers were an advertised presence at the event,” citing its concern with two individuals in particular, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Swami Ramdev.
In doing so CPWR, whose Executive Director Mary Nelson earlier announced the decision to back out of the “World Without Borders” event on September 27-28, said that event keynote speaker Dr. Swamy, “is a leader of the BJP.”
It also drew attention to a vote taken by the Harvard University faculty that decided “by a large margin to deny Swamy the right to teach at the University since he calls for the destruction of mosques as well as the disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims who refuse to acknowledge Hindu ancestry.”
In terms of its objection to Swami Ramdev the Vice Chairs of CPWR, attorney Phyllis Curott and Professor of Religion Robert Sellers, said that he was the “Chief Guest” of the event, and he “not only endorses [Mr. Modi] but also campaigns for him in India.”
According to VHPA organisers of the event 2000 people attended the celebration "including people of different faiths and traditions," and the Governor of Illinois sent a personal message.
CPWR also had strong words for the VHPA, saying that the organisation claimed on its website, as indeed it does, that Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists “are Hindus.” Drawing a link to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in India, the CPWR further noted that the U.S. State Department classified the VHP as “extremist” for almost every year since 2001, “because of its activities against other religious groups in India.”
Even as Ms. Curott reiterated CPWR’s initial statement that it had pulled out of World Without Borders because it “As an interfaith body, the Parliament simply cannot co-sponsor an event with political parties, organisations, or individuals,” the latest comments acknowledged the difficult conversations that the executive body of CPWR had with its Board of Trustees, particular the Hindu members of that group, who resigned last week after voicing their disagreement with CPWR’s position.
In their resignation letter shared with The Hindu, these two members, Minnesota University Professor of Religion Anantanand Rambachan his colleague Anju Bharagava said, “Our dissatisfaction with the decision making process of our Board in this matter, and our inability to convince you of implications of this decision on the Hindu community leave us no choice, sadly, but to [resign].” Speaking via telephone earlier Professor Rambachan said that they were not consulted prior to the executive management making its decision to withdraw.
However CPWR’s latest statement appeared to answer this charge, as it said, “The Trustees did not come to their decision easily or quickly. Numerous emails were exchanged between Board members... lengthy phone calls, some between Board leaders and the two Hindu Trustees, gave an opportunity for serious reflection and debate...”
In an echo of developments from more than a week ago the latest remarks issued by CPWR unleashed a war of words between the VHPA and the Coalition Against Genocide, the group whose constituents reached out to CPWR with a “dossier” on the VHPA that ultimately led to CPWR withdrawing from World Without Borders.
In comments sent to The Hindu one of the VHPA’s organisers, Utsav Chakrabarti said that that the CPWR decision had been made “without proper investigation, because of certain elements influencing them, elements connected to radical Islamic causes.” He added that CPWR “counted amongst its trustees, members and supporters of terror groups that are banned in India,” in particular naming Dr. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, who was described as “the ideological mainspring of Students Islamic Movement of India.”
Hitting back via emailed remarks CAG Spokesperson Anu Mandavilli questioned the intentions of HAF in “trying to obfuscate the VHPA’s clear ideological and organisational links to the VHP,” adding that allowing “sectarian and intolerant organisations such as the VHPA... to define Hinduism and to shape the identity of youth in the U.S. would be a grave loss to the Hindu community.”
CAG members also referenced a September 2003 Indian media interview with Mr. Siddiqi in which he distanced himself from SIMI saying, “The SIMI I founded was completely different from what it is today, but generally people do not seem to understand that. They think I am somehow involved with SIMI.”