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Ex-President at RSS: A SHOCK TREATMENT, By Dr.S.Saraswathi, 15 June, 2018 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 15 June 2018

Ex-President at RSS


By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The latest controversy over a non-issue surrounds the visit of former President Pranab Mukherjee a staunch Congressman for over  five  decades, to deliver the Valedictory Address at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur to the final year students of Officers’ Training Camp. The event, by itself a normal function in an education-cum-training institute, gave fodder to empty mouths to chew upon. The excitement it suddenly created subsided with the same rapidity and has left no lasting after effect.

The very news about the invitation to the Mukherjee from the RSS and his acceptance provoked immediate reaction from some Congress leaders, who are presently busy working on plans to gather anti-BJP votes in one basket in 2019 and dethrone Modi. At this juncture, the friendly gesture of one of its leaders towards the  mentor of its political rival, the BJP, it seems, amounts  to something like political defection though the term is not applicable. For the media, always eager to grab some sensational news, it was a lovely catch. Speculation in the media and unease in the Congress  were openly exhibited.   

The  worry among the Congressmen arises from its  difficulty to differentiate  the RSS and the BJP. Their concern  was very  basic over the  acceptability of the RSS to honour  its invitation.  Former  President’s  participation in an important function of the RSS, in  the  opinion of some anti-BJP political parties,  would  amount to bestowing legitimacy on an organisation  treated as a political untouchable within the country. Some Congress leaders are reported to have appealed to him to decline the invite.

Even Mukherjee’s daughter is reported to have  extended help to the Congress as a  party member and its spokesperson   in persuading  her father from appearing on the stage of the RSS.  Her tweet that the BJP’s “dirty tricks department” will use his address to spread false accounts and rumours  and  her  observation that his speech would be forgotten while the visuals will be circulated with fake statements were of no avail. Disapproval of the Congress to the decision of  this  veteran  Congress  statesman  to address RSS disciples was clearly conveyed by the absence of any local Congress leader to receive him at the airport.

In this background, Mukherjee’s  speech must have disappointed those political leaders expecting  indications of a political change in this seasoned politician  and  chances  of a great split in parties before the election.  To the surprise of all, it was an extremely sober speech the contents of which cannot be rebutted.  It was a speech of a patriot, nationalist, constitutionalist, and pluralist.

Critics in the Congress, who expressed strong reservations  about  ex-president’s  RSS visit had to quickly change their tone to appreciate  “Citizen Mukherjee’s” well-guarded nationalist approach.

Veteran BJP leader, LK Advani  has stated  that the speech was an “illuminating exposition of the noble idea and ideals of Indian nationalism” – a sentiment facing serious threat  from many quarters.

For those averse to engaging with the RSS to resolve issues ,  it was a lesson in dialogue. Mukherjee visited the birth place of the  RSS founder, K.B.Hedgewar and recorded in the Visitor’s Book that he was “a great son of India” – a tribute hard to digest by the opponents of the RSS.  Political parties have cultivated a desire to destroy the traditional culture of  bestowing appreciation and respect irrespective of the political philosophy of the person concerned. The event set a praiseworthy example Advani  put it, of dialogue transcending ideological affiliations and differences.    

One need not be a pro-RSS person to see political sagacity in this historic visit.  The country is going through a very difficult time and needs all out efforts to promote united endeavour  to   build the nation.  All organisations and groups that have a legal existence in the country   and working in some way for the welfare of the people have to come together in the task of nation building.  

It is pure politics to argue that Mukherjee’s speech was intended to wake up the Congress to give up caste/ communal politics in the garb of secularism  or to remind the RSS and its friends to accept the reality of pluralism of the nation.  The message is  meant  for the entire nation.  The principle of tolerance embedded in the Indian cultural heritage was brought to light once again. 

Nevertheless,  former President’s acceptance of the status of Chief Guest  at the RSS function, his address, his visit lasting for a whole day at the RSS was something  like  a shock treatment to   the Congress.   It seems that  there are  elements in the party that  expect  a docile person in the former President expressing his lifelong gratitude to  his party by thought, words, deeds, and silent inaction for making him President of India.

Evidently, rapid political changes especially about inter-party relationships,  and party-people interaction cause changes in individual behaviour and party outlook and strategies.

Speculations abound regarding  the  fall-out of Mukherjee-RSS chief  meeting  at RSS stage and expectations of  radical  developments before elections.  Whether it will  soften anti- RSS beliefs  and  lead to  recognition  to this well-founded organisation   is a moot question.  Sure, it will make people now taking sides without  basic  knowledge and information, to   think and learn about the philosophy preached and the training given by the RSS.  It is unacceptable, but  true, that  most people   are inclined to  form  judgements  on rumours,  unverified accounts and reports,   and information passed on through organizations and reluctant to go through the arduous process of  learning.   This is applicable to several other organisations  functioning  in the country.

The Congress of pre-independence India was concerned mainly with  fighting  the British political  conquest of India, whereas the RSS was and still is  concerned  with  intrusions into its rich  heritage  by  alien  political-cultural  invasions. RSS workers, as part of the wider Janata Party were also imprisoned during the Internal Emergency. But, to the surprise of junior politicians,  Mukherjee’s   speech  did not touch these controversial issues and  highlighted the essential unity of India which accepts and respects all diversities including the pluralism of faiths.

Former Presidents of India are regarded as citizens of  the country without any party affiliation.  But, they are not barred from leading an active life not excluding politics.  In the US, after tenure as President,  John Quincy Adam became a member of the House  of Representatives in the State of Massachusetts; John Tyler  entered  the Confederate House of Representatives;  William Taft became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

After all, the RSS has legal existence in the country and conducts vigorous learning and training programmes.  Useful interaction between people from different background can go a long way in creating a climate of peaceful coexistence of different ideologies taking the nation towards unity and integrity.

The RSS event is not without a follow up. Congress  Iftar,  it is reported, is extending  invitation to the same former President,  and when it comes through, it will even the political balance  that was upset  at  Nagpur recently. However,  if  the occasion is used for a get-together  of like-minded political  parties to reinforce their unity of purpose  as expected  by  some partners, the effect will be different.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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