The top leaders of the Hindu Diaspora gathered here from across the globe gave a clarion call to unite and spread Hinduism’s core messages such as peace, tolerance, harmony and inclusiveness in order to make the world a better place to live in. At the three-day World Hindu Conference, which started on Friday here, these leaders pledged to follow the progressive and liberal teachings of Swami Vivekananda based on the concept of universal brotherhood and inclusiveness. The mega event will conclude on Sunday, and is scheduled to be addressed by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu.

Organised by the World Hindu Foundation of America, this is the second such conference, the first being organised in New Delhi in 2014. The conference is being attended by over 2,500 delegates from 60 different countries, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosbole and Suriname Vice President Ashwin Adhin, among others.

The venue, Chicago, was chosen to commemorate the historic speech of Swami Vivekananda 125 years ago in the city in 1893.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the three-day meet, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said Hindus need to work together, separately. “You may be doing different things separately. But you should come together for spreading the philosophy of Hinduism,” he said.

“It is an opportune moment. We have stopped our descent. We are contemplating how to ascend. We are not an enslaved, downtrodden nation. People are in dire need of our ancient wisdom,” Bhagwat said.

On the opponents of Hindu philosophy, Bhagwat said: “In Hindu dharma, even a pest is not killed, but controlled. Hindus don’t live to oppose anybody. We even allow the pests to live. There are people who may oppose us. But, without harming then, we have to ensure that they do not harm us… The World Hindu Congress may not be known to all Hindus, but it is well known to the opponents.”

Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said “If a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy it. We must not forget that. We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonisation.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his video message, called for using technology to connect more people with the thoughts of Hinduism. He said that digitising various treatises and ancient epics can deepen their influence on the younger generation, which would be a great service for the coming generations.

“Living in the era of technology, I particularly call upon the esteemed delegates of this conference to think about ways in which technology can connect more and more people with the thoughts of Hinduism,” he said.

Film actor Anupam Kher said ignorance and half truth were destroying Hinduism and there was need to understand it in the right perspective. He said tolerance was the central tenet of Swami Vivekananda’s speech in Chicago, and that “we are practising tolerance like nobody else for the last 28 years” (he was referring to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to migrate to other places in India).

“My roots are steeped in Hinduism. I refuse to be defined by other people’s fears. My Hindu teachings and life’s experiences have taught me that there is time for peace and there is time for war. I use war as a metaphor; platforms like this from which I can speak to the world, remind me of my karmic duty. I draw inspiration from Swami Vivekanandaji to shine a light on all of us gathering here and beyond. As a Hindu, it pains me deeply to see how ignorance and half knowledge are trying to destroy one of the world’s oldest, most peaceful religion.”

The Bochasanwasi Aksharpurshottam Swaminrayan Sanstha (BAPS) was honoured for its extreme visual idealism around the world as it built architecturally beautiful temples, Chinmaya Mission for explaining the essence of the Gita, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur for making sacred Hindu literature easily accessible; and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) for spreading the message of the Gita.

Vice-President of Suriname, Ashwin Adhin, in his address said, “We as Hindus never forsake our mission. Hindus have always been the missionaries of renunciation and service. Words like peace, harmony and spirituality do not appeal to ordinary people easily and they have to be framed in the right perspective so that they become established in people’s mind.” “Much change is needed, and we need action,” Adhin said.

Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, where Chicago is located, Evelyn Sanguinetti, welcomed the gathering by saying, “Illinois is a very diverse state and has a robust Indian community. We honour your strengths, culture and the business you bring.”

The plenary session began with a moment of silence in memory of the late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and late Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul.

CONFERENCE ASIDES

* A large statue of Swami Vivekananda was placed on the stage in the conference room at Hotel Westin Lombard. Initially it was covered, but after the programme started, it was uncovered which came as a surprise to the delegates.

* Members of the BJP-led NDA government were not present at the function, though Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu is expected to be present on Sunday.

* Some minor protests against the event were held near the venue. However, there was no disruption and the event progressed smoothly. Two unauthorised persons sneaked inside the venue, but were handed over to the police. There is massive security arrangement outside the hotel where the function is being held.

* Prominent BJP leaders who are present on the occasion include Shyam Jaju, Vijay Jolly and Aman Sinha (all from Delhi BJP). However, they were invited for the event in their individual capacities.

* Violinist L. Subramanium and his wife, singer Kavitha Krishnamurthy were the major attractions in the cultural evening organised a day before the inaugural.

* The next World Hindu Congress will be held in the Thailad capital Bangkok in 2022. The organisers feel that Thailand is a gateway to the ASEAN countries.

* The conference room where the main function is being held has been named “Ashok Singhal hall” in the memory of the senior VHP leader, who passed away three years ago. Beside the main hall, there are several smaller halls where meetings are being held on verticals like economy, education, women, Hindu organisation, youth, media and politics. These halls are named after Lokmanya Tilak, Kautilya, Veer Abhimanyu, Mahamana Malviya. One such conference on the media was addressed by ITV Network founder and promoter, Kartikeya Sharma.

* US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi delivered a speech at the event, despite some fringe radical groups petitioning him not to attend the Congress. Noted US based academician S.P. Kothari admitted on stage that he got several petitions asking him not to attend the conference, “but I disregarded those petitions”.

* A documentary was screened talking about “heroes” such as Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya, Samudragupra, Krishnadeo Rai, Rani Durgavati, Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Guru Govind Singh and Maharani Laxmi Bai.