Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda

Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda are two of the most important thinkers of the Indian political thought. Their works have, for centuries, provided a foundation that helps to study the Indian society from two different perspectives. While Ram Mohan Roy was more of a modern thinker who believed that social reform is possible only by following the west, Swami Vivekananda on the other hand was a conservative who believed change must not be inflicted by others but rather should come from within.

Roy, who is often called ‘father of modern India’ and the inaugurator of enlightenment and liberal reforms, was critically against the ideal Hindu worship, evident in his major work ‘Tuhfat-ul Muwahhiddin’. He believed the traditional practices like purity and impurity, hardships, auspiciousness and in-auspiciousness, and beliefs to be corrupt and irrational as they deprived the people of comforts and lead them to self-destruction.

According to Roy, an ideal society would be the one where there is emancipation of people and this could be possible on when the monopoly of the orthodox Brahmins over the sacred texts were undermined. In other words, religious reformation was a pre-requisite for an ideal society as religious reforms also meant social reformation and political modernisation.

In terms of economic and political thought, Ram Mohan Roy’s attitude portrays ambivalence between liberal capitalists and feudal aristocratic values and also between colonial and post-colonial societies. Roy advocated for the liberating and growth promoting forces on the basis of which he supported the British rule in India. His economic ideas were mainly shaped due to measures like the permanent settlement of 1793 and the agency houses of private British trade with India. According to him the settlement was advantageous to the British rulers and the Indian landlords. Though he was also aware of the injustice the system bought to the ryots and peasants who were exploited by these zamindars, for whom he pleaded the British government to follow the standards of justice, he was nevertheless criticised for not giving due importance to these exploited classes.

In contrast Vivekananda valued the power and effectiveness of organization but was wary of its tyrannical rule. Moreover, he wanted change to come from below that is from the people themselves and not inflicted by enthusiasts who had little understandings of the problem concerned. He believed social reform could be extremely sensitive in nature and thus required careful handling. In terms of political thought, he believed social reforms would leave lasting effects only when founded on popular will and not when it was affected through state legislation. Therefore, he was also against the tyrannical rule of the British. Although he is believed to have supported injustices against women, he also provided progressive solutions for their upliftment. For this upliftment, he considered education to be an important tool which would ultimately create great personalities among women just as it had in the case of men.

The two thinkers have quite differing views. While one favored British rule and believed social reform will come about only with the help of modern education, the other opposed such a rule and believed it to be ineffective.