Will Pranab Da Uphold His Nehruvian Ideals While Addressing RSS?
Pranab Mukherjee’s acceptance of an invitation to address RSS cadres has not gone down well with the Congress.
The reaction to former President Pranab Mukherjee’s acceptance of an invitation to address RSS cadres has been quite mixed. “Why did the former Congress stalwart agree to address RSS volunteers? There is a risk of him endorsing the divisive RSS ideology,” an agitated friend said to me.
“There is a risk of him diluting his lifelong commitment to secularism. What was the need to attend a function of an organisation he ideologically opposed all through his life,” asked another friend.
However, the reaction of a respected editor I have always admired was quite balanced: “What is important is what he will say there. As a former President, he is entitled to address gatherings of influential organisations. The RSS certainly is one.”
I concur with the views of the respected editor. As a liberal (which Pranab Mukherjee has been), one should never shun the possibility of dialogue.
The question now is, what will he say, as he is required to speak on nationalism. A glance at his recent speeches will give us a fair idea of what is to come on 7 June at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
Celebration of Diversity
All through his long and illustrious public life, avowed espousal of the theme of unity in diversity has been very close to Pranab da’s heart. Let’s quote a paragraph here from his farewell speech at the prestigious Central Hall of Parliament on 23 July 2017.
I had the privilege of being a witness and a participant in the unfolding scenario of the emergence of a great India. An India where 130 crore people belonging to three major ethnic groups – Aryans, Dravidians and Mongoloids – practising seven major religions and speaking 122 languages in daily lives, live under one Constitution, one flag and one administrative system.Pranab Mukherjee, Former President of India
In most of his speeches, the veteran leader has spoken candidly about peaceful co-existence of people following different religions, speaking different dialects and hailing from diverse ethnic groups.
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He harped on the same theme days before demitting office as the President of the Republic at a National Herald function, and exhorted all of us to carefully preserve what has been achieved since Independence.
He said: “What we have achieved in the last 70 years, surely, is not merely some steel plants or dams or some power houses, it is much more than that. When we adopted the Constitution – please shut your eyes, and keep in your memory when you are old enough, when you are young, please turn the pages of history – a blood bath was taking place, communal violence was on an unprecedented scale… In that context, to have a secular democratic Constitution was not easy. It was not merely a theoretical proposition and Pandit ji (Jawaharlal Nehru) himself concurred. When he was once asked, after the general elections of 1957, that, ‘Mr Nehru, you have surpassed the average tenure of any British Prime Minister except Sir Robert Walpole, what do you feel has been the most challenging job to you in more than 10 years?’ His reply was, ‘to convert a highly religious country into one with modern and secular beliefs.’”
Will the veteran leader be as emphatic in his assertions while addressing future RSS pracharaks?
After all, the RSS has never been a votary of the ‘unity in diversity’ theory. The Hindu organisation, on the contrary, has been aggressively pushing a worldview that wants to subsume everything under a monolithic Hindu umbrella.
Vilification of Nehruvian Legacy
At the same National Herald function, Pranab da was very critical of the flourishing culture of vigilantism. He said, “In the face of growing menace of hooligans, sadly under the garb of nationalism, we are witness to lynching mobs taking lives of innocent ‘others’.”
The veteran leader also asked us to reject vigilantism and to instead be vigilant “to save the basic tenets of our country.”
The basic tenets of our country, according to Pranab Mukherjee, are the co-existence of seven religious and three ethnic groups living under one Constitution, one flag and one administrative system.
The recent spate of burgeoning vigilantism is being attributed to the rising militarisation of the majority community under the guidance of RSS and its affiliates. In fact, the recent report on Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar, raising weapon-wielding cadres to teach ‘anti-nationals’ a lesson, is just one of many manifestations of growing vigilantism.
It was precisely because of such tendencies that our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru cautioned us against the perils of majority communalism. “The communalism of a majority is apt to be taken for nationalism,” Nehru had said in 1961.
Despite their constant denials, activities of the RSS and its affiliates have given the impression of spawning majority communalism. Being a self-proclaimed follower of Nehruvian secularism, will Pranab Mukherjee ask would-be RSS pracharaks to mend their ways? Knowing Pranab da, one can safely assume that he won’t mince words while driving home the values he has always cherished.
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