A visit by a former president to any organization is not a big event and media generally do not give much importance to such a visit. But the visit of former president Pranab Mukherjee to RSS headquarters to participate in Sangh Shikha Varg’s concluding ceremony on June 7 became a big media event mainly because of the excessive reaction of the Congress leaders. Prior to his visit Congress leaders like Jaffer Sheriff, Ramesh Chennithala and Jayaram Ramesh wrote to Mukherjee, requesting him to drop the visit. It was reported in the media that Congress leader, Anand Sharma, a former ministerial colleague of Mukherjee, met him personally prior to his visit. Ahmed Patel, another prominent Congress leader, tweeted hours before the visit, “I did not expect it from Pranab Da”.
Pranab’s daughter Sharmishtha Mukherjee and Congress leader tweeted, “Hope Pranab Mukherjee now realises from today’s incident, how BJP dirty tricks department operates. Even RSS wouldn’t believe that you are going to endorse its views in your speech. But the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain and those will be circulated with fake statements. Pranab Mukherjee, by going to Nagpur, you are giving BJP/RSS full handle to plant false stories, spread false rumours as today and making it somewhat believable. And this is just the beginning”.
The Congress should have ignored the visit of Mukherjee to RSS headquarters. In spite of its leader’s criticisms and requests, Mukherjee did not change his plan. His address to the RSS cadres has proved that he did not compromise his views as a Congress man about the nation, nationalism and patriotism, even though the views expressed by him are at variance with those of the Sangh. In fact, he used the opportunity to tell the RSS cadres that pluralism, tolerance, secularism and inclusiveness are at the core of Indian Nationalism. Mukherjee said, "India's nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy. It is perennial universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1,600 dialects in their everyday lives, practise seven major religions, belong to three major ethnic groups — Aryans, Mongoloids and Dravidians — live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Bharatiya and have no enemies.” These views are diametrically opposed to the views expressed by the Guruji of RSS, MS Golwalkar in his book, We or Our Nationhood Defined and “Bunch of Thoughts”.
Although Mukherjee gave a lecture to the RSS cadres on pluralism, secularism and inclusiveness, he did not mention at all the challenges to these core values in the present day politics of the nation. If these values are being practiced what was the need for reiterating them? Mukherjee did not want to displease his host by referring to the blatant violation of these core values in India, especially during the last four years.
While concluding his speech it seems that Pranab Da tried to convey to all concerned the objective of his acceptance of the invitation by RSS. "In a democracy, informed and reasoned public engagement on all issues of national importance is essential," he said. A dialogue is necessary and only through "dialogue can we develop the understanding to solve complex problems without an unhealthy strife within our polity", he said. Mukherjee also has sent unambiguous message to the Congress party that he cannot be dictated by anyone and is his own man now.
By casting aspersions on Mukherjee without waiting to hear what he was going to speak to the Sangh, the Congress gave an opportunity to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to paint it intolerant. “The outrage amongst certain sections of the political class on former President’s acceptance of an invitation to be the chief guest for the concluding ceremony of the RSS’s Tritiya Varsh Training programme smacks of intellectual intolerance,” remarked Manmohan Vaidya, Joint Secretary of RSS.
The Congress tried to make a damage control by challenging the RSS to publically declare that they accept the view of nationalism presented by Pranab Da. "Let the RSS and the BJP publicly commit today to change its character, orientation, thought process and path and accept the sagacious advice of their guest Pranab Mukherjee. It is time for (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer. We await a reply," said Randeep Surjewala, the Congress spokesperson.
It is highly doubtful whether the Sangh will bring about any change in its ideology and strategy after listening to the “sagacious advice” of Pranab Da; but Sangh can claim that it is not intolerant as it is ready to listen to those who have different ideologies, even opposing ones. Mohan Bhagwat said at the beginning of his speech that after the event Pranab Mukherjee will remain Pranab Mukherjee and RSS will remain RSS. The Sangh Parivar is adept in appropriating national icons like Swami Vivekananda, Sardar Patel and even B R Ambedkar, who was a staunch critic of Hindutva and Hinduism. Definitely the Sangh will make use of this event for building its image as an organization ready to dialogue with others and to counter the recent attacks of Rahul Gandhi on RSS. On the other hand the Congress could not gain anything from this episode. In fact, it has become a loser because it has communicated a wrong message of doubting the commitment of Pranab Da to the Indian nationalism that is secular, pluralistic and inclusive.
The defeat of BJP in the recently concluded bi-elections has sent a strong message to the RSS-BJP combine that people will not accept too much of Hindutva. If RSS revises its ideology of Hindutva in the light of feedback from the people and makes it more inclusive and acceptable to all sections of the society by shedding hatred and revenge against the minorities, the nation will be benefited. A veteran Congress man, Pranab Mukherjee, addressing the RSS cadres at its headquarters and sharing with them the lesson of secularism, pluralism and inclusiveness as the heritage of India may also reduce the widening ideological divide of the Indian society, if the political parties are able to grasp the underlining message of the speech of Pranab Da.
The opposition parties, including the Congress, have a responsibility to expose the omissions and commissions of BJP, the ruling party and its ideological parent, the RSS. At the same time criticism of RSS and BJP alone is not enough to win election. The RSS has become a formidable force and no other organization in India can match its reach, influence, organizational strength and committed and dedicated human resource. The BJP has emerged as the biggest political party in the world with 110 million registered members in July 2015. There are millions of members in the RSS affiliated organizations and all of them work hard, adopting different strategies with the same goal of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra.
The Congress party, if it truly believes in secular democracy and wants to preserve pluralism and inclusiveness, has to work hard, rebuild the party from the grassroots level and revive the affiliated organizations. The quarrels among the Congress men in Karnataka with regard to the sharing of power among its MLAs and in Kerala regarding the allotment of the single Rajya Sabha seat show that the leaders are interested mainly in acquiring and holding on to power. Even at the age of 80 the senior leaders are addicted to position, power and privileges. They have to voluntarily give up offices and positions and promote the young generation as leaders to take charge of the party and the nation. The senior leaders in the Congress have to present themselves as role models in building up the party and serving the nation. Addiction to power and the consequent corrupt practices emaciated the Congress party, and the BJP and RSS took advantage of the weakness of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has a herculean task to discipline and motivate the power hungry Congress men to work hard for the party and the people.
With every election the people of India are becoming more and more politically conscious. They will not vote for the Congress unless and until the party presents itself as a viable alternative with a concrete programme for solving their problems. The BJP under the leadership of Modi could win the election in 2014 because it presented an attractive development agenda with the slogan, Sab ka Saat Sabka Vikas and Acche Din along with the masala of Hindutva. Gone are the days when a political party can win the election only with anti-incumbency. What the people look forward is an alternative agenda that can improve their life situation. Knee jerk reactions like the one expressed by Congress men towards the visit of Pranab Mukherjee to RSS headquarters will not win over the hearts of the people of India. The Congress men have to recollect the slogan of Indira Gandhi during the emergency, “There is no alternative to hard work”. The Congress men have to learn from RSS the lesson of hard work and discipline.
(email@example.com)(Published on 18th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 25)