Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions withdraws its support to "World Without Borders," sponsored by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and many temples
The power of the legacy of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalist parties was demonstrated in Chicago this week, when a group supporting inter-faith harmony pulled out of anniversary celebrations for Swami Vivekananda after learning that U.S. Hindu organisations were part of the organising team behind the event.
Over the weekend it emerged that the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) was withdrawing its support to “World Without Borders,” the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda to be held on September 27-28 and reportedly sponsored by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and several temples.
However, there appeared to be questions surrounding whether the Board of Trustees of CPWR held the same opinion as its executive management on the decision to withdraw support.
In a formal statement on its website, Mary Nelson, Executive Director, said, that while CPWR’s mission was to promote inter-religious harmony as Swami Vivekananda did, “Our organisation was not informed that an event we were asked to co-sponsor was also co-sponsored by organisations promoting controversial political positions.”
Thus, Ms. Nelson, added, CPWR would “respectfully withdraw our name from any co-hosting or co-sponsorship of the ‘World without borders’ and any connection to this event or other co-sponsors.” She declined to comment further on the matter citing the upcoming meeting between the executive and Board of CPWR on the matter, slated for Monday evening.
The move sparked off an angry response from the VHPA, with one of its organisers, Utsav Chakrabarti saying to The Hindu, 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 Hindu community members on Board of CPWR “were not consulted and had gone on record to say that.”
Mr. Chakrabarti also disavowed any links between the VHPA and the BJP, the VHP, or other Sangh Parivar members in India, including the RSS and the Bajrang Dal. He told The Hindu that the groups that had petitioned the CPWR to back out wanted to “bring politics in India into America,” but the “VHPA is an independent organisation in America, registered here, and works on issues concerning Hindus in the U.S. and around the world.” He added that this was “not a BJP event and has nothing to do with Mr. Modi.”
A senior member of CPWR’s Board of Trustees, Minnesota University Professor of Religion Anantanand Rambachan, did confirm that he and his colleague Anju Bharagava were yet to consult with the executive management of the organisation regarding the basis on which the decision to withdraw was made.
He said over telephone, that “a decision of this kind has deep ramifications for the Hindu community and should have been made with a wider consultative process.” He added that he believed that “CPWR should be engaged with groups with whom it doesn’t necessarily share its agenda, and that would not be tantamount to an endorsement of the view of those organisations.”
One group that was said to have reached out to CPWR in this regard was the Coalition Against Genocide, the organisation that also recently helped arrange for letters written by Indian Members of Parliament about the alleged link between Mr. Modi and the 2002 communal riots to be handed over to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Reacting to this controversy its spokesperson Sheikh Ubaid said to The Hindu that CAG constituents based out of Chicago had indeed reached out to CPWR and made them aware of the “background of VHPA and submitted a dossier about the group,” arguing in particular that the VHPA was “linked to the RSS and other Hindu nationalist groups and they are trying to get more legitimacy with mainstream organisations in the U.S.”