Pranab Mukherjee stays true to his beliefs

Former president Pranab Mukherjee made his presence felt at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur last week on June seventh with uneasy and doubting Congressmen finally heaving a big sigh of relief. He expressed his beliefs forcefully to those who held a different view in their own lair.

Steering clear of the work by the RSS, he brought to the fore this country’s secular credentials coupled with being tolerant and inclusive. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, he maintained the “soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance”. Mukherjee might be a difficult political personality to gauge even as the motive of this trip might not be revealed. At the same time, the wily politician in him is bound to have taken into account the Congress strategy in the next general elections less than a year away in 2019.

It will also be naive to assume that his stay in Rashtrapati Bhawan as the First Citizen has made him apolitical. True to his pledge, he discharged his duties and responsibilities while enconsed in Rashtrapati Bhawan as a “copybook President”. The discriminating viewed his address in Nagpur as a payback to the country’s oldest political party for depriving him of the highest executive office of the prime minister at least twice. He was forthright that any attempt to define India through “religion, dogma or intolerance” would inevitably dilute the country’s existence. He drew pointed attention to ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) as the soul of Indian nationalism’.

To the assembled Sangh recruits, he underlined the need for harmony and dialogue, and outlined Kautilya’s lessons in governance. The existence of multiplicity of opinions cannot be denied and underlined that the Constitution is not a legal document but a Magna Carta for socio-economic transformation of society. “From our Constitution flows out nationalism”, Mukherjee maintained rising above party affiliations.

Essentially, he sought to throw up ideas rather than foisting his beliefs on the assemblage. Impartial observers pointed out in this era of polarisation, one should remain guarded about politics being pursued on the basis of lies and half truths. Therefore, it becomes necessary for a healthy democracy to have a dialogue with every organisation.

By going to Nagpur, Mukherjee has shown that he is a Gandhian and that nobody is a pariah or an untouchable. This assumes relevance and importance especially as the BJP is not only holding power at the Centre but is at the helm of affairs in no less than 20 states in the country. While the realities of the situation cannot be wished away, it required to be tackled with realism rather than dismissing those at the helm of affairs of the country out of hand. It has also become necessary to overcome ideological intolerance and growing distrust.

It may be recalled that despite disagreeing with the philosophy of the RSS, Mahatma Gandhi participated in a similar programme before independence. Considering their role in the 1962 war against China, Jawaharlal Nehru invited the RSS to participate in the Republic Day parade.

It is significant that the former president assiduously refrained from criticising or pontificating to the RSS. He paid homage to its founder K B Hedgewar at the place of his cremation which inevitably raised eyebrows in certain circles before addressing the Sangh recruits. He recalled how the various civilisations and religions left their deep imprint on the people leading to this country being an amalgam of cultures of these civilisations. As a private citizen, there was no need for him to reveal anything to the country.

At the same time, what cannot be dismissed out of hand is the ideology of the RSS to transform this country into a “Hindu Rashtra” wherein the minorities will have to adopt the Hindu culture. The RSS has several other organisations to spread this ideology having serious repercussions.

As a former “pracharak” of the RSS, Narendra Modi is occupying the seat of power as the Head of Government in the majestic South Block on the Raisina Hill in the national capital. Its Front organisations are whipping up a climate of fear and hatred not against minorities alone but all those refusing to accept their brand of Hindutva.

Their three point agenda to which its political arm or the BJP is committed pertains to building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, having a Uniform Civil Code and abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution according special status to Jammu and Kashmir. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership from 1999-2004, there was a common minimum agenda of governance evolved by the 27 odd coalition partners with the BJP in the vanguard.

With the Congress taking exception to Mukherjee going to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, the former Head of State did some plain speaking without beating about the bush. On its part, the RSS was under no illusion about the former President toeing their line of thinking and thought process. This enhanced Mukherjee’s status as a statesman and a diehard Congressman with the RSS thinking aloud through its mouthpeice that he might well be the opposition’s Prime Ministerial nominee in case Modi fails to secure a second consecutive five-year term as Prime Minister next year.

The RSS managed a coup of sorts in having Mukherjee speak on their campus and is bound to take advantage of this in the run up to the 2019 general elections. It is bound to be used to counter Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s no holds barred attack against the RSS.

The million Dollar question is will Mukherjee’s observations at the RSS headquarters lead to introspection in the Congress party to effect changes pertaining to Hindu sensibilities while ensuring the minorities feel assured about their security and other interests being protected?

T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.

Free Press Journal