Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s 7 June visit to the RSS headquarters has created much more than the proverbial storm in the tea cup. To use another cliche that seems apt, it has really set the cat among the pigeons. Congress leaders are perplexed – what is Pranab da up to?
Does his acceptance of the Sangh’s invitation to address trainees at their annual camp signal that he is willing to re-enter ‘active’ politics if the situation so demands?
Speculation is rife that the person who is at times referred to as ‘The Best Prime Minister that India Never Had’ is willing to give it another shot. He may be 82, but then wasn’t Morarji Desai crowned grudgingly at almost the same age? Mahatir’s election in Malaysia at 92 is also being cited.
Unfair to Malign Pranab Mukherjee
There is no constitutional bar to exclude an ex-President from the prime ministerial sweepstakes. It is true that till date no ex-President has entered this contest but the very first Indian head of State, CR Rajagopalachari, had no inhibitions about being sworn as the chief minister of (erstwhile) Madras after leaving what is now called the Rashtrapati Bhawan as the Governor General. He too, like Pranab da, was considered a wise man, an exceptional repository of knowledge, conventions and parliamentary practice.
It is very unfair to suggest that Pranab Mukherjee did what he did just to get even with the coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi that has worked tirelessly to malign him and cut him down to size.
His ‘loyalty’ to the ‘dynasty’ has always been suspect in the circle of sycophants, and this is what is believed to have denied him the job after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and again in 2004 when Dr Manmohan Singh was nominated as the PM by Sonia Gandhi. Nor can it be denied that many other senior Congress leaders have participated willingly or unwillingly in humiliating him when he was a Cabinet Minister.
His spat with P Chidambaram had led Pranab da to sulk for a few days before a patch-up could be worked out. There are other incidents that have left painful scars. Some of these disappointments have been mentioned in his memoirs.
Antagonising RSS Will Be Counter-Intuitive
Let us not forget that Pranab da has acted with great grace and tact as the President and even his harshest detractors can’t find fault with his copy-book style of functioning. Under these circumstances it is extremely churlish to suggest that an experienced politician and Congressman like himself can fall into the so-called trap set for him by the Sangh Parivar that scares the Congress’s secular brigade more than a pit of poisonous vipers.
Further, critics of the Modi-Shah regime never tire of pointing out the declining levels of tolerance in public life and the dangerously shrinking space for disagreements. Agreed that the RSS continues as a self styled ‘cultural organisation’ with its tentacles deep in our body politic, but it is not yet banned or illegal.
It can claim the same freedoms and rights that are available to others. Even if one concedes that its clandestine operations cause serious apprehensions in most liberal democratic citizens’ minds, the problem can’t be solved by treating it as untouchable.
Painting the RSS in the darkest black with a broad brush has only proved counter productive. Call them names – ‘Murderers of Gandhi’, ‘Fascists and Nazis in Khaki shorts and black caps’ – it will only harden the resolve of the members, their family and friends to react violently. Most young Indians aren’t interested in receiving revisionist lessons in European history of inter-war years.
Is RSS Responsible for EVERY Act of Intolerance?
Nor can any unbiased person believe that the RSS alone has been engineering all the communal riots. The Congress can’t wash the stains of the 1984 Sikh genocide off its hands. Salman Khurshid wasn’t far from the truth when he admitted that ‘Hamare Haath Bhi Khoon se Range Hain!’ The appeasement of various minorities to keep their vote bank intact has been developed as a fine art by the Congress.
This is the principal reason that triggered the Tsunami-like wave that propelled Modi to victory in 2014. Parrot-like rants against the RSS can have only one effect: it will make people immune to the presence of the ‘deadly virus’.
The RSS may choose to remain deaf to the sage advice given by the ex-President but nothing stops us – those who are not remote-controlled by Nagpur, will pause and ponder over his speech. The pluralist ‘Idea of India’ is not a patent owned by the Nehru-Gandhi clan or the Congress party. India, at the close of the second decade of the 21st century, is not Europe in decline between inter-war years in the last century.
The Partition and communal riots in its aftermath are treated as history – a past that can only burden us. The country has experienced many traumatic events that we recall as shared experience – living memory.
Forget RSS for a moment. Think seriously and objectively about the reality of tolerance and pluralism in contemporary India – in our individual and social lives. Is all intolerance, caste and communal prejudice that poison our lives due to the RSS? Do we really believe in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is one family)?
Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter is right – words are soon forgotten, but images persist. But when images are recalled, we think in words again. Let wise words not be forgotten or glossed over so easily.
(Padma Shri awardee Professor Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic, food critic and historian. He tweets @PushpeshPant. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)