Chicago: The shadow of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and his alleged complicity in the 2002 communal riots in his state, has created a controversy here with the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR) withdrawing its support to the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda.
The CPWR was formed in 1893 and organized the conference which Vivekananda addressed in Chicago that year.
Vivekananda's birth anniversary celebrations are to be held here on Sep 27-28, under the banner of "World Without Borders" with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and several temples among its sponsors.
Withdrawing its support to the event, Dr Mary Nelson, vice chair of the board of CPWR said in a statement: "The Council is a 120 -year-old peace building organization whose mission, like Swami Vivekananda's is to promote peace and inter-religious harmony. We honor Swami Vivekananda and that legacy he left creating inter-faith cooperation to build a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Our organization was not informed that an event we were asked to co-sponsor was also co-sponsored by organizations promoting controversial political positions."
"While we do honor and promote the ideals of Swami Vivekananda, we 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."
'Coalition against genocide', a group which has accused Narendra Modi and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of complicity in the 2002 communal riots had reportedly strongly campaigned with the CPWR to withdraw its sponsorship to the event. The coalition says it is dedicated to justice and accountability for the 2002 riots in Gujarat and to "combating extremist ideologies that were its genesis"
Two members of the CPWR's board of trustees, Anju Bharagava and Dr Anantanand Rambachan, have said that they were not consulted on the CPWR's decision. "Once we found out, we requested an explanation for the Parliament's decision. We have also formally requested the Parliament to reverse its decision ," they said.
Bharagava is a member of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Rambachan is chair and professor of religion, philosophy and Asian studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation has said that Nelson's statement that the CPWR withdrew its sponsorship because the organizers "promoted controversial positions will be seen as ironic at best and institutional hypocrisy at worst."
In a letter to Dr Nelson, Shukla said, "I am left with the impression that an unknown segment of CPWR took what can only be seen as a capricious, unilateral decision without respect for democratic process, and of greater concern, without any regard for the understanding of the Hindu community - that Dr Rambachan and Ms Bhargava would have provided - the latter omission violating every core principle of interfaith dialogue, engagement and respect."
Dr Shamkant Sheth, an official of the VHP of America, has in a letter to Nelson sought to know "which of our co-sponsoring organizations are promoting controversial positions and what these positions are. As a US based not for profit, religious and cultural organization that is not interested in politics, we ourselves are curious to know the specific reasons for your actions."
In a statement to the media, Nelson said that the CPWR had no further comments on the issue.
(Ashok Easwaran can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)