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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 25 New Delhi June 9, 2018

Pranab’s Tryst with the RSS

Sunday 10 June 2018

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

“Here is our vast country, Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus, their home country, hereditary territory, a definite geographical unity, fulfilling all that the world should imply in the Nation idea. Living in this country since prehistoric times, is the ancient race—the Hindu race, united together by common traditions, by memories of common glory and disaster, by similar historical, political, social, religious and other experiences, living and evolving, under the same influences, a common culture, a common mother language, common customs, common aspirations. This great Hindu race professes its illustrious Hindu Religion, the only Religion in the world worth of being so denominated.... Guided by this Religion in all walks of life, individual, social, political, the race evolved a culture, which despite the degenerating contact with the debased ‘civilisations’ of the Mussalmans and the Europeans, for the last ten centuries, is still the noblest in the world.”

M. S. Golwalkar

(in We or our Nationhood Defined)

This succinctly sums up the raison d’etre of the RSS. It still remains the core and cornerstone of the organisation’s world view and national view. Former President Pranab Mukherjee, now Citizen Mukherjee, a scholarly person that he is, must be familiar with Golwalkar’s thoughts and views on Indian nationhood. So, when he accepted the invitation of the RSS to address the valedictory function of the “Sangh Shiksha Varg”, he was fully aware of what the Sangh stood for and what it wanted India to be transformed into.

Mukherjee’s acceptance of the RSS invitation has naturally given rise to controversies. It has been argued by some that Mukherjee is, ineed, a citizen now. He is no longer a member of the Congress party. So he is free to go anywhere and address the workers of any organisation. This is a spurious argument. Mukherjee joined the Congress in his youth and continued to be its member till he was elected to the highest office of the country. He remained a life-long member of the Congress because he believed in and accepted the Congress’ ideals of secularism, democracy, anti-communalism, equality of all religions, etc. Does his retirement from the high office also mean his rejection and recantation of all the values that he had held dear during his entire political career?

When Citizen Mukherjee accepted the RSS invitation, as a hard-boiled politician he knew full well that his presence at the RSS function would give that organisation a legitimacy that it does not deserve, that it is totally unworthy of. The RSS’ implacable hostility to and denigration of Jawaharlal Nehru as the ‘Original Dynast’ will continue as before because the RSS stands against all that Jawaharlal stood for. Citizen Mukherjee felt no qualms of conscience in agreeing to address an RSS rally despite knowing the saffron outfit’s antipathy to Jawaharlal. He also knew that while Jawaharlal suffered incarceration in Bitish jails many times, the RSS never participated in the freedom movement. It played a complicit role to the British.

Pranab Mukherjee, a life-long member of the Congress party that he is, knows it all. It was he who in 2010 moved a resolution in the party that called the RSS and BJP as organisations dividing India.

Today, Pranab Mukherjee visits the RSS headquarters at Nagpur, departs from his scheduled programme and goes to the memorial of the late K. B. Hegdewar, the founder of the RSS, and writes in the Visitors’ Book that Hegdewar was a ‘great son of Mother India’.

Expectedly, the Congress has been highly critical of his participation in an RSS programme. His daughter, Sharmistha Mukherjee, had this to say about her father in a tweet: “Hope @CitizenMukherjee now realises from today’s incident, how BJP’s dirty tricks dept operates. Even RSS wouldn’t believe that u r going 2 endorse its views in ur speech. But the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain & those will be circulated with fake statements.” In another tweet, she said: “Hope @CitizenMukherjee By going 2 Nagpur, u r giving BJP/RSS full handle 2 plant false stories, spread falls rumours as 2day & making it somewhat believable. And this is just d beginning!” But the daughter’s remonstration had little effect on the father. He was dead set on his course.

The only saving grace was the anticlimax that was provided by Pranab’s speech. He recalled the contributions made by Tilak, Gokhale, Gandhi, Nehru and other stalwarts of the freedom movement. He emphasised that the soul of India lay in the spirit of assimilation, of pluralism, in its multi-religious and multi-cultural entity.. He underlined the need for tolerance, drew attention to atmosphere of increased violence—physical as well as verbal—prevailing around us and counselled that the multiplicity of opinions can be resolved only through dialogue.

Without directly opposing or criticising the exclusivist and religio-chauvinist philosophy of the RSS, Pranab effectively countered it by quoting some pregnant lines from Tagore’s poem Bharat Tirtha which speaks of the countless streams of race, religion, culture and language that crossed the shores of India over the centuries and millennia but got themselves assimilated harmoniously into the vast ocean called the Indian civilisation.

There was nothing in his speech that could be taken exception to, except the venue where it was delivered. What Citizen Mukherjee’s daughter said, however, remains true. His speech will be forgotten, only the visuals will remain and be fully used by the propaganda machinery of the RSS and its affiliated organisations. The speech was unexceptionable but it will be used to give legitimacy to the RSS and its ideology—something that Pranab never wanted.

June 7 B.D.G.

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