Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express has a brilliant article on What Vivekananda Valued , arguing that his underlying sensibility was open, self-confident and governed by the belief that humanity needs wider circles of identification to transcend narrow identities::
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He directed India towards a liberality by reminding us that it was god’s job to protect us, not ours to protect our gods. The distinction of Indian nationalism was precisely that it never saw the nation as the highest embodiment of value. With the condescension of hindsight it is too easy to dismiss this project as either disembodied idealism, or worse still, an assertion of Indian superiority. But embedded in it was the radical idea that India means nothing if it is not going to be a source of alternative values. There is a recognition of pluralism, but not one that sacrifices truth. “We want to lead mankind to a place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran, yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible, the Koran.” Whatever one may think of this project, the idea that each tradition could reach to some place outside itself, by working through all traditions, was a sign of intellectual ambition that is now all but lost.
Again, in hindsight, Vivekananda has been read as progenitor masculinity in politics; and he has certainly been appropriated that way. His claim that “for our motherland, a conjunction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta Brain and Islam Body is the only hope” has been tirelessly misinterpreted. This quotation is prefaced by two striking claims “Practical Advaitism, which looks upon and behaves to all mankind as one’s own soul, was never developed amongst the Hindus.” And “if any religion approached equality in any appreciable manner it was Islam and Islam alone.” The reference to Islamic body is not to an ideal of power; it is to the central idea of equality.
Andre Béteille in the Telegraph:
It was not like that in 1951-52, at the time of the first general elections. What has happened between then and now is the steady advance of identity politics over all other kinds of politics in India. Nobody can seriously expect that identity politics will vanish from the Indian scene or even that appeals to the loyalties of caste and community at election time will come to an end. But as long as all issues are subordinated to the articulation of the grievances of particular caste and particular communities, albeit in the name of equity and justice, the electoral process will continue to move in the direction in which it was set off about twenty years ago.
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