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Future Historians Won’t Be Kind to Pranab’s Speech at RSS HQ

Like an ambivalent and timid Congressman, Pranab Mukherjee chose a middle path of offending none and pleasing all.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
“Multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special,” Pranab Da told would be RSS pracharaks in Nagpur.
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The act of acceptance was a bold move. Some would say a very controversial one as well. For a lifelong Congressman with a strong legacy to protect, it needed courage on the part of former President Pranab Mukherjee to agree to an invitation from a host, he clearly knew, does not subscribe to his publicly stated worldview.

By delivering a stinging speech, he had the option to become an Albert Camus. But like an ambivalent and timid Congressman, he chose a middle path of offending none and pleasing all.

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Camus, an atheist and an acclaimed French philosopher, was once invited to address Christians at the Dominican Monastery. Camus, like Pranab Da, knew what he was getting into. But unlike Pranab, Camus chose to remain direct and forthright.

Here is a small snippet of what Camus said:

What I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. When a Spanish bishop blesses political executions, he ceases to be a bishop or a Christian or even a man; he is a dog.
Albert Camus’ address to the Dominican Monastery

Granted that Pranab Da would not have acted like Camus. He could at least have said that “only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds.”

Do RSS leaders say what they actually believe in?

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Hardly Any Difference Between Speeches of Pranab and Bhagwat

“Diversity is our hallmark..Difference of opinion is natural..Diversity is beautiful….” These are some of the words of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Didn’t he extoll the virtues of pluralism, liberalism, secularism, inclusion and multiplicity?

These are precisely the kind of things Pranab Mukherjee reiterated in his speech at the RSS headquarters.

“Multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special,” Pranab Da told would be RSS pracharaks in Nagpur.

“The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance…Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy,” Pranab Da emphasised.

All very nice words to say. But there was a preface to the eventual pious words by Pranab. He gave a brief outline of Indian history describing various events that have made us what we are today.

While he glowingly talked about the Maurya dynasty, the Gupta dynasty, immense contributions of centres of excellence like Nalanda, Taxila and Vikramshila, a stretch of nearly 1,200 years was implied to be a dark age as “Muslim invaders” and British mercantile groups dominated the period.

By making a statement like this, did not Pranab Babu endorse the RSS view of Indian history?

There is no denying that Muslims came here as invaders. Did they remain invaders all through? What kind of message was he trying to send by referring to “Muslim invaders” and 600 years that followed?

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Is the RSS Sum Total of What Its Important Leaders Say?

More than anyone else, Pranab Babu knows what the RSS actually stands for. It is one thing to say that the RSS stands for plurality, real secularism as opposed to pseudo secularism, diversity (Bhagwat used the word vividhta multiple times in his speech) and inclusion.

But what RSS volunteers do on the ground is completely at variance with what they say.

How does Mandir Nirman (construction of a temple) become Rashtra Nirman (nation building)? Why does inter-faith marriage become Love Jihad and the innocuous act of buying a property in an area inhabited by people of other religions, Land Jihad?

How come Muslims become Pakistanis and Babur ki aulad (children of Babur)? When does my acharan (way of life), a word which Bhagwat used many times in his speech, become superior to all other ways of life? Why the insistence on a particular Hindu way of life and the propensity to impose the same on all others?

These are certainly not the kind of words, slogans or acts used in pursuit of promoting plurality. They are not aimed at celebrating diversity.

Did Pranab Babu miss a chance by not highlighting these intimidating aspects of the RSS? Why did he not tell the audience that mob lynching in the name of cow protection has nothing to do with nation building?

Why did he not remind his audience that whileVashudhaiv Kutumbkam (the world is one) is fine, the greatest living example of the principle, Mahatma Gandhi, deserved utmost respect from the sympathisers of RSS?

Why did he not say that nation building exercise by constantly inventing common enemy from within and outside is a seriously flawed approach?

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Future historians will hold him responsible for such omissions.

There is no denying that the RSS has begun to permeate our lives in a manner never seen before. Making sense of the organisation through constant dialogue is therefore imperative.

But the dialogue has to be honest and frank. Not on please all terms. Pranab Da deserves the credit for initiating the dialogue. He perhaps erred in agreeing to non-offensive terms.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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