Kolkata: As West Bengal gears up for
Assembly elections, members of a religious order that
withstood the onslaught of the British Raj will voluntarily
forgo voting rights to get on with their vocation.
"Monks of the Ramakrishna order do not vote because
Swami Vivekananda wanted them to stay away from politics," a
senior monk at the Mission`s global headquarters at Belur Math
Swami Vivekananda, who founded the order on the rules
of the `Puri` order of Adi Sankaracharya, had said in his
writings and letters that monks must stay away from politics
and concentrate only on humanitarian work.
The Mission, had, however, supported the freedom
movement, with a section of the monks keeping close relations
with freedom fighters of various camps. A number of political
revolutionaries later joined the Ramakishna Order.
Although these men eschewed politics completely after
embracing monasticism, the British government looked upon the
order with suspicion and on December 11, 1916, the Governor of
Bengal Lord Carmichael, made some adverse statements about the
Sensing trouble for the mission in the wake of the
Governor`s unfriendly remarks, a section of devotees and
well-wishers suggested to the Mission authorities to ask the
revolutionaries to leave the order.
The then Mission Secretary Swami Saradananda discussed
the matter with Sri Sarada Devi, who deemed that those who
joined the order should be allowed to remain.
"She suggested that Swami Saradananda meet personally
with the Governor to explain the Mission’s viewpoint. The
Swami accordingly met with the governor`s private secretary
with the result that the governor issued a statement in March
26, 1917, and exonerated the Mission and its members," he
Pointing out that a section of monks had exercised their
franchise in the initial years of Independence, the monk said,
"The spirit of nationalism was prevalent in those days and
they may have thought they had a duty in nation-building."
Known internationally for its humanitarian services in
the social sector, the order, however, does not interfere with
the right of lay devotees in exercising their franchise.
"They are free to decide whom they want to vote for, or
whether to vote at all. The Mission has nothing to do in
this," he said.
Nuns of the Ramakrishna-Sarada Mission, sister order of
the Ramakrishna Mission, also do not vote.
In reply to a question, he said the Ramakrishna Mission
was not oblivious to the evolution of the election process
since the time of Vivekananda.
"For example, these days, you have the Photo Identity
Cards which has other uses too. We are aware of these issues
and these are discussed at various meetings of the Mission
authorities," he said.
Members of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, another international
monastic order engaged in humanitarian work, however, are
allowed to vote.
"No, we are not barred from voting, although not all
monks of the order go to vote. It entirely depends on
individual wish," Swami Prabhananda, a Sangha spokesman said,
adding that all monastic members have e-pics.
Buddhist monks, however, do not have any problems in
voting, according to the secretary of the Bengal Buddhist
Association Hemendu Bikash Chowdhury.
"It has to be kept in mind that the concept of
democratic administration through voting was first introduced
in the Buddhist Sanghas (monastic institutions) when the
Buddha was alive," Chowdhury said.
Pointing out that the Buddha enjoined the monks to work
in tandem with the government of the time, Chowdhury said the
driving motive for them was to help in formation of the
government. "Else, democracy will not survive."
Chowdhury said that monks, however, are free to vote
according to their choice. "No one tells them whom to vote
for. It is upto them entirely."
The Roman Catholic Church actively encourages its clergy
to vote as part of its service to the downtrodden and the
"We Catholics are encouraged to franchise our votes to
offer a platform to the downtrodden and the marginalised. We
vote according to our conscience," spokesman for the
Archdiocese of Kolkata Fr Dominic Gomes said.
He said the Church only enjoins the voters to make sure
that they do not vote for those with criminal records.
"Usually, the Church does not solicit votes for any
particular party or any particular leader. We vote for only
those whom we think can really serve the people," he said.