This week an inter-faith organisation in Chicago, the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR), held firm to its prior decision to withdraw support for a Chicago event celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, after it emerged that organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and several temples were among the sponsor group.

‘World without borders’

Standing by the announcement made over the weekend by CPWR’s Executive Director Mary Nelson, the organisation emerged from a meeting between its executive management and Board of Trustees to reaffirm that it would not be involved in the “World Without Borders,” on September 27-28. Instead, it said, CPWR would organise its own, separate to commemorate Swami Vivekananda, on November 16 in Chicago.

In a formal statement, CPWR appeared to acknowledge the controversy surrounding its decision, when it said: “Despite the unfortunate way in which this matter has unfolded, because the Parliament is an interfaith organisation, [it] cannot co-sponsor... any event with political parties, politically partisan organisations or individuals, nor can it participate in the promotion of a political party or candidate, nor where self-identification of faith groups is challenged.”

Yet its decision appeared to have created cracks within CPWR itself, and two of its Hindu Board of Trustees members, Minnesota University Professor of Religion Anantanand Rambachan and his colleague Anju Bharagava, resigned following the executive’s final decision.

In their resignation letter, which was shared with The Hindu, Professor Rambachan and Ms. Bhargava 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 he and Ms. Bhargava had not been consulted prior to the executive management making its decision to withdraw.

There remained some confusion on whether the Hindu trustees had been informed beforehand of the decision to pull out and the CPWR statement appeared to cognise some of these internal disagreements.

It said: “The decision of the Executive Director of the Parliament to participate in the Chicago World Without Borders event, made in consultation with a Hindu Trustee, and then her decision to withdraw from the event, made pursuant to her authority as Executive Director and in keeping with past practice, have both unintentionally plunged the Parliament into the middle of a storm of differing views, passionately held by people on all sides of the issue and who come from various faith traditions.”

The statement also noted that Ms. Nelson “deeply regrets that she did not inform the organising committee for the event before posting the decision to withdraw the Parliament from co-sponsorship.”

Speaking to The Hindu, VHPA Spokesperson Utsav Chakrabarti said: We regret that this happened. If they engaged with us they would have found out that their apprehensions were wrong.”

He added that his organisation would look forward to a successful event “befitting the spirit of Swami Vivekananda’s message of ‘universal brotherhood.’”

The group whose constituents were said to have reached out to CPWR after it initially announced its participation in the Vivekananda event, Coalition Against Genocide, also issued a statement to The Hindu in which it said that it welcomed CPWR’s reaffirmation of its position to not co-sponsor the event.

CAG Spokesperson Shaik Ubaid added that his organisation was never opposed to celebrating the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda but to the appropriation of his legacy by groups and individuals who challenged the self-identification of faith groups.