Hundreds of monks of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission have abstained from voting in this West Bengal Assembly election, following a now well- established tradition of not taking sides in political contests.
A senior monk of the monastic order, founded in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda, said almost all of them have EPIC voter cards but only for the sake of an identity proof.
“For all these years we have been following the instructions of Swamiji not to go beyond spiritual and humanitarian activities. Voting will mean taking sides of a particular politician or party which we don’t do,” he said.
Over the years this practice of staying away from the electoral process has become a well-accepted tradition in Belurmath, the headquarters of the order located only a few km away from the city.
Monks said there is no official instruction on voting for them from the top ranks, but all new members of the monastic life have been following it without complaints.
Belurmath hosts around 1,500 ‘Brahmacharis’ and ‘Sanyasis’ living an ascetic life based on the Vedanta philosophy. The Math and the Mission together have 178 branch centres all over India and in different parts of the world. Interestingly, almost 95 per cent of the monks possess voter ID cards.
“For the sake of identification and particularly for travelling, almost 95 per cent of us are forced to seek a voter ID card. But we use it only for identification purpose and not for voting,” a monk said, adding that Aadhar card have now made things easier for them.
During the freedom struggle, the Mission had, however, taken sides as a section of the monks had kept close contacts with freedom fighters of various camps. A number of political revolutionaries had later joined the Ramakishna Order.
Among the present generation of politicians both West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are known to keep close contacts with the monks. He considers Swami Atmasthanand Maharaj, president of Ramakrishna Math and Mission Order, as his guru.
Polling in Howrah district, where Belurmath is located, was held on Monday.