Narendra Modi must do more than quote Vivekananda on One Asia. He must heed his words on refugees

In Chicago, in 1893, the reformer said he was proud to be from a nation that ‘sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations’.

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled the message of love and brotherhood that social reformer Vivekananda delivered at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Addressing a students’ convention in Delhi to mark the 125th anniversary of Vivekananda’s address, Modi said: “With just a few words, a youngster from India won over the world and showed the world the power of oneness.”

Polemical readings of Vivekananda either glorify or reject him. But it is perhaps more fruitful to read Vivekananda as someone who does not represent any specific ideological tendency, as a more contradictory and open figure among the diverse tribe of modern reformist Hindus.

On tolerance and refugees

Vivekananda delivered a five-part series of lectures in Chicago, the first of which was delivered on September 11. In this lecture, he equated pride with ethics. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance,” he said.

Compare this statement to the reaction in India in 2015 when writers and artists returned their state awards to protest against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country that had led to the murders of minorities and individuals opposed to Hindutva. The majoritarian reaction was full of ridicule. It was as if intolerance was the only mode of expression to force everyone into accepting that India is a tolerant country.

At the same venue on September 19, speaking of an ideal religion Vivekananda said: “It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman [emphasis added].” Here is a firm endorsement of non-persecution in political rule.

In a lecture delivered at Ridgeway Gardens, England, possibly in September, 1896, Vivekananda demonstrated the cultural spirit of Hindus. He said: “The shrine of a Mohammedan saint, which is at the present day neglected and forgotten by Mohammedans, is worshipped by Hindus! Many instances may be quoted, illustrating the same spirit of tolerance.”

The differences between Islam and the heterogeneous forms of Hinduism never deterred a culture of shared reverence. Such gestures of generosity should make votaries of Hindu culture question the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 on grounds that it was built on what Hindus believe to be the birthplace of the deity Ram.

Vivekananda made another significant point. “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true [emphasis added],” he said. To accept all religions as true is not just a moral obligation, a matter of injunction, but an ethical obligation, a matter of sensibility. Toleration as a universal value is not enough to bridge the gap between people of different faiths. One accepts the legitimacy of another’s faith as much as one’s own. It is spiritual egalitarianism, where the ethical exceeds the epistemological.

At the Chicago conference, Vivekananda gave a striking reason for national pride. “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations [emphasis added],” he said. Offering examples, he spoke of how India sheltered “the purest remnant of the Israelites…which came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny”. He reiterated his pride in belonging “to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation”. Isn’t such a historical and ethical responsibility enough for India to offer refuge to the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, and those driven out of Bangladesh?

Modi also tweeted on Monday that Vivekananda spoke of “the concept of ‘One Asia’” Can we achieve an Asian ideal by dividing refugees, and weighing persecution, along religious lines?

The Hindu in the well

In Vivekananda’s second lecture in Chicago on September 15, he narrated the popular tale of the sea frog and the well frog to illustrate a point made by the speaker before him on why people of different faiths should “cease from abusing each other”. Vivekananda then gave his own reason behind why such abusive tendencies persist in people of different faiths, against each other. “I am a Hindu,” he said. “I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.”

By threatening left-liberal students, writers and activists, Hindutva nationalism in India is digging its own little well, where acceptance has been replaced by abuse.

There is a lot in Vivekananda to disagree with, but we need to make sense of his marked contradictions. Even though he held that caste was initially a “glorious social institution” that “should not go; but…only be readjusted”, Vivekananda fiercely attacked “caste-ridden…educated Hindus” whose “God is the kitchen” and “the cooking-pots”. Today’s nationalism, which pokes its nose into people’s kitchens and cooking-pots, would have earned Vivekananda’s scorn.

Octavio Paz in his book, In The Light of India, wrote how reformers like Vivekananda, critiquing Christian missionaries, ironically Christianised Hinduism. The deeper point is that any religious reform – by a Kabir, Gandhi or Vivekananda – is impossible without elements from other faiths.

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee teaches poetry at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.