Hot News

“We Celebrate Our Diversity”: Pranab Mukherjee

“We Celebrate Our Diversity”: Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the RSS recruits at Nagpur had a powerful content, in spite of the fact that some found fault with his standing attention at the hoisting of the organization’s flag and complimenting its founder. As he was there on RSS invitation, it was a matter of courtesy to show deference to persons and symbols that represented the organization. But he was clearly unambiguous when he explained to them how their ‘ideological understanding’ of nationalism and patriotism did not fit in with the ‘Indian society’s’ understanding of these values. His words carried weight. He had served the nation 50 years, remaining consistent in his professed beliefs.

We Have No Enemies

Pranab is clear: our national identity is not defined in contrast to some imagined enemy. This is the conviction of the Indian society, which he emphasizes in two places. Savarkar, on the contrary, believed that Indian patriotism could be built up and strengthened only by developing an enemy to struggle against. Within India the minorities would constitute the ‘enemy,’ and in the neighbourhood other contending nations. For the Hindutva propagandists, anyone who does not agree with their ideology is an ‘anti-Hindu,’ anyone who opposes their fanaticism is an ‘anti-national’... a recognized enemy. Gandhiji’s nationalism, on the contrary, was “not exclusive, nor aggressive, nor destructive.”

Mukherjee laments that a situation has been created (by the Hindutva forces, without naming them directly) in which “the soul of India is wounded,” “manifestations of rage are tearing our social fabric;” there is “increased violence,” “fear, mistrust,” “discourse...of violence,” “anger, violence;” which “divide the people,” and “create animosity.” This is denunciation in strongest terms without a pointed finger!

We Have a Proud History, Our Past is not Lost in Fables

Pranab’s verifiable and objective historic approach with facts and dates differs a great deal from that of our Hindutva heroes with Puranic tales, epic narrations, or fabulous claims, e.g. of Indian invention of internet in prehistoric times. How many unlettered leaders have humiliated us of late with such embarrassing boasts? The Chief Minister of Manipur made the eccentric claim that when Krishna ruled, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh were parts of India! Would someone stand in admiration if Trump were to boast that Alaska and California were indisputably parts of the United States already from the 4th century BC? Is that the type of patriotism we want to cultivate?

Pranab’s historic sense is enviable. He proudly speaks of the period when India stood at the centre of world affairs, when people on the “Silk and Spice Routes” brought their diverse ideas with them: culture, faith, inventions, scholarship, wisdom; Buddhism moved to central Asia, China and SE Asia; Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang came to India because it was a centre of learning. He lists the universities that attracted thousands: Takshila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Valabhi, Somapura, Odantapuri... educational centres that drew the “finest minds” of Asia and where “creativity” flourished. He refers to Chandragupta and Ashoka, to the Mauryas and the Guptas.

As he expressed his pride in these achievements, Pranab is not embarrassed to speak of India’s defeats at the hands of the Muslims and the British with dates mentioned and places named: the Battle of Panipat 1526, Plassey 1757, those of Arcot (1746-63), and Calcutta remaining the administrative headquarters of the British in India for 140 years.

We Have Co-constructed Our Common Culture

Mukherjee is very sure that ours is not a monolithic civilization. “Our national identity has emerged through a long drawn process of confluence, assimilation, and co-existence. The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance. We accept and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity. These have been a part of our collective consciousness for centuries. Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity.” We suggest that these words be written in gold and placed on framed plaques in every RSS institution.

To the above paragraph may be added captions like these:   “Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us.” “The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance.”

Pranab is sure that every community that made India their home from the earliest times has contributed to the shaping of the Indian heritage: prehistoric indigenous societies, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, British, Christian groups; Aryan, Mongoloid, Dravidian societies; diverse ethnic minorities .   Every foreign element that entered India was so absorbed as to make a new synthesis. Ideas were assimilated over a period of centuries. Thus, there remained an evident “civilizational continuity.”

People from the Northeast will remember with satisfaction that our very respected former President gave prominence to the presence of the Mongoloid element in Indian society. B. G. Varghese used to feel that this dynamic element in our national composition was not given adequate recognition. The Mongoloid sense of equality that Buddhism propagated and the urge for peace that Jainism promoted have become so much part of the Indian culture that we have forgotten their origins.

Ours is a Composite Culture, not a Monolithic Block

Pranabji is most eloquent when he comes to defining the Indian culture as “composite.” He emphasizes this point with double strength at various parts of his text and in various ways. “The soul of India resides in pluralism,” he says. He speaks of “shared diversity,” and a “diverse and united” reality.   He quotes Tagore who referred to “many streams” that “mingled like rivers” to form a “vast ocean” called Bharat.”

The result was: and here he quotes Nehru, who spoke of an “ideological fusion,” a “common national outlook,” and a “cohesive national struggle for freedom.” He goes on to affirm the existence of “a common history, a common literature and a common civilization.” He insists that the fact that we spoke 122 languages and 1600 dialects did not divide us, nor the reality that we lived in 565 princely states and diverse British territories.

He does admit that there is a “multiplicity of opinion” in such a varied society. So, he says, “dialogue is necessary” to reconcile interests and opinions; and we need to develop an “ability to self-correct and learn from others.” “Nothing should be done to divide the people and create animosity among them.”

He attributes Tilak’s clarion call “Swaraj is my Birthright” to Barrister Joseph Baptista, even though he bears a Christian name.

Indian Nationalism Built on a Philosophy of “Universalism”

Pranabji is most creative when he makes a distinction between the concept of nationhood that the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) defined and Indian nationalism. The former had tones of religious homogeneity within, and exclusivism without; but the latter had none. “Indian nationalism emanated from ‘Universalism’ the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” which considers “the whole world as one family.” At another place, he returns again to the theme “perennial universalism” which makes it possible for “1.3 billion people” belonging to 7 religions to live in peace and harmony under “one flag” and have “one identity.”  

This has been further strengthened by the promulgation the Indian Constitution which represents “the hopes and aspirations of the billion plus Indians.” He defines “Constitutional Patriotism” as “an appreciation of our inherited and shared diversity.” This, then, is his final message, “Peaceful co-existence, compassion, respect for life, and harmony with nature form the foundation of our civilization.”  

A Piece of Salutary Advice

As he moves on to the conclusion, Mukherjee acts as an experienced educator. He showers on the young RSS recruits praises that others would consider unmerited. Those who have worked with the young cannot but appreciate his pedagogic approach. He calls them “disciplined, well trained and highly educated.” Others would consider them brainwashed lumpen elements, unemployed and unemployable, with a vocation to become anti-social elements as ‘gau rakshaks’ and anti-Romeo imps. He explains things to them and pleads with them in an appealing tone, “Every day, we see increased violence around us....We must move from anger, violence, and conflict to peace, harmony, and happiness. We have lived in pain and strife long enough.” Interestingly, he not only asks them to be healthy and happy, but also “productive.”

He bemoans the fact that India ranks 133 out of 156 countries in the World Happiness Report 2018. This situation of unhappiness must be changed, by taking away any cause for division or animosity, and struggling together “against poverty, disease and deprivation.” Our objective is the spreading of “Peace, Harmony and Happiness.”

Question: 1. Will There Be a Conversion to Pranab’s India?

I do not wish to comment on various opinions like whether Pranab’s presence legitimised the RSS or that he left many things unsaid, or speculations that he is going to be proposed as a consensus candidate for PM if the BJP wins only a relative majority in the next elections. But the fact that he spent a long time discussing with Mohan Bhagwat has made some people conjecture whether there is some sort of ‘mann parivartan’ (conversion) on either side... a sort of ‘ghar wapsi’ from radical Hindutva to genuine Hindutva, which we all esteem. Genuine Hindutva has reference to the greatly treasured Indian heritage with its profound philosophical thought and rich value systems. Is Bhagwat’s definition of Hindutva moving in that direction? In any case, his vocabulary seems to be more moderate compared with that of Togadia, Sudarshan or Ashok Singhal. However, after his boast about the RSS being superior to the Indian Army, he has become somewhat of a ‘Maun Mohan.’ He has grown silent.

Possibly, the entire BJP leadership has grown silent, constantly getting a negative feedback for their clumsy bombasts. Or, is it that the entire VHP family is doing a bit of soul-searching, seeing that the Indian public is rejecting outright its ‘pseudo-patriotic rhetoric’ and  one-point agenda of Hinduizing the nation?   that society is not growing enthusiastic about its statue-building schemes and temple-erecting programmes, nor about their Yathras or Yajnas, and their proud claims of ancient scientific achievements based on Puranic fables?  

People are daily getting evidences against the genuine motivations of the protagonists.   The voters of Gorakhpur and other places turned a deaf ear to all their big talk. Yogi’s anti-Taj Mahal heroics, anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit strategies, bounced back.   His anti-Jinnah gimmicks gave him the rout at Kairana, with Hindu Jats voting against his candidate in large numbers. Indian society remains balanced.

Question: 2. Why Has the BJP Leadership Gone Silent?

BJP Big Bosses must realize that what goes well with blind admirers and brainwashed illiterates will not go well with the Indian public, both with intellectuals and the ordinary citizens who are perceptive. The electoral public have a sixth sense to see through people, who, while proclaiming that they are fighting corruption, offer 100 crores to MLAs who cross the floor, and who continuously buy and sell loyalties. Even the super-performer Amit Shah has to admit that his short-term strategies have wrecked the party’s long-term future. Power, not only corrupts; it blinds, it cripples.

A ‘whip’ has gone round from Modiji against providing ‘masala’ to the press by making indiscreet statements before the elections. And so a silence has descended upon the scene. Political leaders who could outsmart others only in making puerile statements about fairy tales, have nothing else to say... nothing about projects related to development, health, education, water and electricity supply, environment, price rise, employment. These are the concerns of their secretaries.

Meanwhile the media is full of news about sportsmen and film stars, some rare curiosities about science and history and intriguing information; too little of social study, political analysis, comparisons, cautions, debates. No wonder that economic growth is not reaching the average man. Rahul says that the Indian economy is only serving 20 industrial houses. Meantime the number of Indian millionaires has grown by 20% in one year, as farmers commit suicide.

Question: 3. Will There Be a Mass Conversion to Savarkar’s India?

Or, does Pranab’s RSS visit point to the possibility that a ‘mann parivarthan’ (conversion) is taking place in the opposite direction? that ‘soft Hindutva’ is revising its strategies and thinking of growing slightly hard? that ‘Hindu-first’ ardent believers are beginning to reveal their true identity? that even the minorities are taking to flattering the Giants for mere survival? That sober-minded men are resigning themselves to the inevitable... until the neo-Nazis come for them directly? The weakest will be allowed to live the longest. They can be eliminated at any time.

Meantime free spaces are shrinking. Human Rights Watch says, about 20,000 civil society organizations have been stripped of their licenses in India under this regime. No protests! Anna Luhrmann, the deputy director of V-dem Institute of the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) sees the freedom of the press in India being choked in inconspicuous ways:   intimidation, inducement, cooptation, controlling, cutting off funds...leading to self-censorship and less explicit criticism. Accusations are mounting that the BJP leaders like Amit Shah had stacked unbelievable sums in safe havens before the announcement of demonetisation. That will see them through several elections!

Next year’s election will decide whether the nation will opt for Pranab’s India or Savarkar’s India? In any case, Pranab’s Nagpur intervention will remain in memory a long time!

(Published on 02nd July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 27)