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Who Is Swami Pradiptananda, the Monk at the Centre of the Political Heat in Bengal? 

CM Banerjee’s potshots at him resulted in the BJP fiercely defending the Bharat Sevashram Sangh monk known as a hardline Hindutva preacher.
Swami Pradiptananda. Photo: X/@SuvenduWB

“Kartik Maharaj has become a face of peace and harmony,” said Gargi Nandi during a television debate at the news channel CNN News 18, which described her as a “political analyst.” Swami Pradiptananda, better known as Kartik Maharaj, runs schools and hospitals, among other social services, and “has become a face of Santana”, she pointed out during the heated debate on the New Delhi-based channel.

It was May 21, three days after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took potshots at Pradiptananda, who heads the Beldanga unit of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha (BSS) in the Muslim-majority Murshidabad district. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quickly jumped in his support.

In reality, from what Pradiptananda has preached over the past decade and a half, it is difficult to call him “a face of peace and harmony.” The fire-spewing monk has repeatedly called it “India’s misfortune that Mohandas Gandhi is considered the Father of the Nation”, urged Hindus “to start worshiping Chakradhari Krishna instead of Banshidhari Krishna” – the warrior form of the deity Krishna rather than the romantic Krishna – and expressed his displeasure at how the Hindu society “misunderstands” the concept of non-violence. He highlighted that Krishna had advocated “vinash” or the elimination of miscreants.

In a 2016 speech in Kolkata, he said, “If anybody insults our dharma, we should eliminate that person – that is the call of dharma.” In a 2017 speech, he said, “Hindus will have to prepare to resist and avenge the attack on Hindus. All our gods have weapons – Ma Kali has the khanra (sacrificial knife), Devi Durga has 10 weapons, Lord Ram has his bow and arrows and Lord Krishna has the chakra. This is what Hindus worship. Say no to cohabitation or coexistence now. The Asurs (demons) will have to be fought with weapons, which is why we need weapon worship in every household.”

His recent arrival in the political spotlight happened on May 18. While accusing “a section of monks” associated with Hindu missionary institutions BSS, Ramakrishna Mission and  ISKCON of helping the BJP electorally, she named only Pradiptananda.

She accused the monk of preventing polling agents of her party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), from being present at the polling booths in the vicinity of his Ashram, which falls within the Rejinagar assembly segment of Baharampur Lok Sabha, which has witnessed a likely close triangular contest between the Congress, TMC and BJP.

As PM Modi and other senior BJP leaders started targeting Banerjee for “insulting” monks of Hindu missionary institutions that brought Bengal fame, Banerjee clarified that she enjoys a good rapport with these organisations but was speaking against a few individuals. She again named only Kartik Maharaj, this time accusing him of engineering riots.

“I keep myself informed. You propagate for BJP in the name of religion in localities after localities. I have no objection to it but do wear a BJP badge first. Why should I spare someone who isn’t allowing my party to have its agents in the polling booths and engineered a riot two days before the election? Should I spare rioters, what do you say?” she asked a gathering in the Bankura district.

The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) family of organisations have fiercely defended Pradiptananda. The BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, posted on social media platforms a photo of Pradiptananda, describing him as “revered.”

“I stand with Bharat Sevashram Sangha. I stand with Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission. I stand with ISKCON. I stand with all Revered Hindu Monks,” Adhikari wrote.

On May 21, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s south Bengal unit called for a protest march in Kolkata on May 24 to be attended by monks.

Banerjee, however, got unexpected support from one of her harshest critics, Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who has been representing Baharampur Lok Sabha since 1999.

“The person she is talking about is known exactly the same way here. Many here have questions about his identity. He does not have the basic character of a monk or saint. Local people here know this. They consider him a political person,” said Chowdhury, while also criticising the TMC for trying to use Pradiptananda’s influence during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Following CM Banerjee’s charges, Pradiptananda sent her a legal notice, threatening to sue her for defamation. BJP’s Adhikari shared the notice on social media and thanked him for standing up to the chief minister.

“Since I am a BSS monk, this is an affront to the entire monk community,” Pradiptananda told the media. Defending his political involvements, he argued, “Politics is the best policy. Politics and religion are synonymous. Political involvement is no offence. I had been politically involved and still am…I will go anywhere in the interest of my religion and society.”

A Firebrand 

Pradiptananda started getting noticed from 2008-09, when he used to appear at events organised by the newly-launched far-right Hindu group, Hindu Samhati. It was a breakaway faction of the RSS, founded by veteran RSS wholetimer (pracharak) Tapan Ghosh, who left the RSS accusing it of “lacking courage” and founded Hindu Samhati to “awaken Hindus” and “prepare them for resistance.”

The Left Front government was still in power but shaken by the rise of the TMC. RSS in West Bengal was timid compared to what it became after Narendra Modi’s ascent to power in New Delhi in 2014. In those days, Tapan Ghosh and Pradiptananda emerged as a prime Hindutva spokesperson in West Bengal.

Pradiptananda was the main speaker at the inaugural function of Hindu Samhati on February 14, 2008, at an auditorium in Kolkata and served as a “prominent member” of its advisory council. In his speech at the Hindu Samhati’s second-anniversary rally in Kolkata, he called for “a new Hindu revolt in the east with a combination of the sacrifice of the Saints with the valor of the warrior spirit of the new generation Hindus.”

In June 2012, the Sanatan Sanstha-affiliated Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) organised the first Hindu Rastra Adhiveshan at Ramnathi, Goa, intending to establish Hindu Rashtra in India by 2025. The gathering decided to hold state-level conferences to mobilise forces.

The West Bengal conference was held at Arya Samaj Mandir in Kolkata’s neighbouring Howrah district in August 2012. Pradiptananda was among the top dignitaries attending it, apart from Swami Mahesh Yogi of Arya Samaj, Haridwar, and HJS ‘national guide’ Charudutta Pingle. In 2014, Pradiptananda attended the third edition of the Hindu Rashtra Adhivesan in Goa, where he was felicitated.

In a 2016 interview with Bengal RSS mouthpiece Swastika, he said, “I tell Hindus that I will not help them if they come to me after getting beaten up. I will give them all sorts of help only if he comes to me after beating them up.” He then quoted BSS founder Pranabananda as saying, “Come with me only those who can take a head or sacrifice his own.”

In his 2017 speech in Kolkata at Hindu Samhati’s annual event, he criticised all liberal Hindu practices, blasting communal harmony and coexistence. He especially blasted how Bengalis look at Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 16th-century spiritual leader and social reformer credited with founding Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Chaitanya is known as the epitome of love and tolerance. But Pradiptananda claimed that Mahaprabhu, too, preached violence against Muslims but Bengalis had forgotten it.

He countered 19th-century Bengali spiritual leader Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s famous saying, “Jato Mowt, Totow Powth” (let diverse opinions flourish). “It is wrong, there are only two ways, one of humanity and the other of jihad, which creates Asurs.” He claimed that “the essence of the Quaran is kill, loot and distribute the spoils.”

Notably, in Bengal, Krishna is most popular in his romantic avatar, as almost all Vaishnavite temples are dedicated to both Radha and Krishna and Bengali literature has been profoundly influenced by the Baishnab Padaboli, or the lyrical Vaishnavite poems.

In recent years, his involvement with the Sangh Parivar has deepened. He was one of the key persons behind starting the controversial Tribeni Kumbh Mela in Hooghly district in 2022 and in 2023 started another Kumbh Mela in Nadia district on the other bank of river Hooghly (Ganga). He launched the forum called Sanatan Sanskriti Sansad to bring Hindu monks of various orders under one banner.

In 2023, he was one of the key organisers of the Gita recital event in Kolkata that saw the presence of senior BJP leaders and other leaders of RSS family of organisations.

After Banerjee targeted “a section of monks”, a protest meeting was already held at Aurangabad on May 20. Its poster, which was shared on social media platforms by Sangh Parivar activists, describe him as “beer sanyasi” or valourous monk.” Besides, the Sangh Parivar organisations floated a new banner called Bangiya Sanyasi Samaj almost overnight.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for organising a rally in Kolkata with RSS-linked monks on April 24 to protest “the insults to monks.” Modi is scheduled to address a rally in Kolkata right after. While promoting the event, VHP central Bengal spokesperson Sourish Mukherjee wrote on social media, “Kartik Majaraj is coming. Are you?”

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