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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 26 New Delhi June 16, 2018

Would RSS accept Pranabda’s Inclusive Indian Nationalism?

Monday 18 June 2018


by Ram Puniyani

Dialogue is the core part of the democratic process. The question that comes up is: can there be dialogue between two opposite ideologies on the Indian horizon, the one of Indian nationalism and the other of Hindu nationalism? We witnessed a strange spectacle when Pranab Mukherjee, a lifelong Congress-man and believer in plural, inclusive Indian nationalism, accepted the invitation from the RSS to speak on the platform of the Sangh, the apex organisation promoting narrow, divisive, exclusive Hindu nationalism. The visit of the ex-President to address the RSS event was strongly opposed by large sections of Congress leaders and many others on the ground that the RSS is adept at gaining legitimacy from such visits while at the same time working at cross-purpose to the message of the invited guests.

One such visitor to the RSS was Mahatma Gandhi, who was killed due to the ideology of hate propagated by the RSS. “All their (RSS) leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result the poisonous atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi’s murder) became possible. RSS men expressed their joy and distributed sweets after Gandhi’s death.” (Sardar Patel’s letter)

Whether there can be a dialogue with the RSS has been a question on the minds of many.

What happened in the Nagpur event when Pranab Mukherjee paid a visit to Nagpur (June 7, 2108)? To begin with, Mukherjee visited RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar’s birthplace and wrote: “Today I came here to pay my respects and homage to a great son of Mother India, K.B. Hedgewarji.” Whether out of courtesy for the host one should write in such a manner is a matter of debate again as Hedgewar, guided by his Hindu nationalism, called Muslims Yavan snakes. Hedgewar-RSS also kept aloof from the freedom movement, which gave us independence and later the Indian Constitution.

To his credit Mukherjee did talk of pluralism and the inclusive nature of the Indian Consti-tution, India being a meeting ground of different people. “It is our composite culture which makes us into a nation. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one entity.” He advised the RSS swayamsevaks: “You are young, disciplined, well trained and athletic. Please wish for peace, harmony and happiness. Our motherland is asking for that, our motherland deserves that.” He also stated that “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”. The highlight of his speech was his recalling Surendranath Bannerjea for his phrase “nation in the making” as this phrase aptly defines the emergence of Indian nationalism during the freedom movement, in contrast to the RSS’ assertion that we are a Hindu nation from time immemorial.

He also remembered the values of Gandhi and Nehru in trying to understand India’s past and Sardar Patel’s contribution in merging the princely states into India. Mukherjee toed the line of Indian culture as a synthesis of different streams: “It is our composite culture which makes us into a nation. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one entity.” And more significantly he pointed out that secularism and pluralism are the soul of India which is constituted by the “Perennial Universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects, practise seven major religions and belong to three major ethnic groups, who live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Bharatiya.” He proceeded to reflect on the vast pluralism enshrined in the Indian society affirming: “India’s nationhood is not one language, one entity and one religion.”

In a way, despite slipping on the point of praising Hedgewar, he did speak about the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Mostly what one does not speak on such occasions also matters a lot. The present scenario, created due to the RSS’ Hindu nationalism, where hate has been roused around emotive issues like the Ram temple, Cow-beef, love-jihad, needed to be underlined. The direct connection of the present atmosphere of narrowness and intolerance needed to be drawn out. He did not mention the important fact that the current intimidating, sectarian atmosphere which is building up in the country is due to the Hindu nationalist agenda. While he correctly articulated the pluralism and diversity of the country, he failed to mention the political fallout of the RSS agenda and left an open space where vague homilies, ‘we respect different opinions’ are put forward by the RSS ideologues without at all registering the differences which are too deep for such ‘respecting others’ opinions’. The contrast between the agenda of two nationalisms, Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism, needed to be spelt out.

True, the RSS has grown into a huge organi-sation, and the discourse emanating from its stable is dominating the social scene. Today undoubtedly values of pluralism, which Mukherjee talked about, need to be underlined more than before. In the aftermath of his speech what is more likely to happen is the attempt to show that what the RSS says and what Mukherjee said are complementary. It will be an exercise in creating further legitimacy for the RSS. For the RSS, building the Ram temple (demolishing the Babri mosque) is part of nation-building, for the RSS taking up the issue of cow-beef is nation-building while for the stream of Gandhi-Nehru-Patel-Indian nationalism such issues have no place on the political horizon. What matters for this stream is what Mukherjee pointed out aptly: “People are at the centre of all activities of the state and nothing should be done to divide them. The aim of the state should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against poverty, disease and deprivation. Only then can we create a nation where Nationalism flows automatically.”

Surely despite good articulation of Indian nationalism by the ex-President, the likely outcome of the visit has been well described by his daughter Sharmishtha Mukherjee, who said, ‘The speech will be forgotten and pictures will remain.’ The pictures will be circulated with different content, enhancing legitimacy to the divisive agenda of the RSS.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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