“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”
– Edmund Burke
It is very tough to understand what the fuss was about former President Pranab Mukherjee’s acceptance of an invitation to address the RSS delegates in Nagpur, held recently. Former President and now a citizen Mukherjee was the guest of honour at the closing ceremony of the ‘Tritiya Varsha Sangh Shiksha Varg’, an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) event to mark the conclusion of a three-year training camp for swayamsevaks in Nagpur. The liberals who see RSS as a hard line religious organisation were aghast with the decision of Mukherjee to attend such an event. The dismay of Congress and others is not surprising. It was a bold decision on the part of Mukherjee to accept the invitation on two counts. First, there was growing opposition from various quarters including Congress party and his daughter Sharmistha. Some Congress leaders, including Jairam Ramesh and C.K. Jaffar Sharief, also wrote to him, while a few leaders of the party, including Anand Sharma, personally visited him in a bid to dissuade him from going to Nagpur. Secondly, Mukherjee when he was associated with the Congress, had moved a resolution during a party conclave in 2010 to investigate alleged links of the terrorists with the RSS and its sister organisations. The Congress had no idea what Mukherjee’s thoughts were as he adamantly stuck to his decision to accept the RSS invite. Since he saw himself as above the fray — with no involvement in active politics — interacting with various shades of opinion is not exceptional or unusual. The former President has proved again why he has been considered as a difficult political personality to gauge.
Almost all the news channels beamed live not only Mukherjee’s lecture but also the speech of Mohan Bhagwat, the supremo of the RSS, converting a nondescript RSS function into a national event. There are many possible readings of former President Mukherjee’s speech at an RSS event. The ex-president, having decided for whatever reasons he has to accept the invitation, did not waste the opportunity. Yes, he tried to uphold his liberal credentials, spoke of a nationalism that is not aggressive, not exclusive, not destructive, in the RSS den. Yes, he spoke of a ‘constitutional patriotism’. He said “soul of India lies in pluralism and tolerance. Secularism and inclusion is a matter of faith for us. We are not one nation, one identity.” Hopefully the message of Mukherjee has been well taken by the Sangh parivar. Congress leaders, who have been uneasy since the news of Mukherjee’s nod for RSS function broke, turned incredulous when the former President called RSS founder KB Hedgewar a “great son of Mother India”. It led to a flurry of comments, tweets and heightened chatter about breaching the red line.
There is no denying that Mukherjee – a former President and that too a Congressman of long standing – is unarguably the biggest catch for the RSS so far. The warmth of the welcome and the personal chemistry between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Mukherjee will be debated for long but the message, the former President delivered has elevated the RSS to a new height in national esteem. This will have a wide-ranging political significance.