Pranab Mukherjee at RSS event in Nagpur
In the run up to his visit to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS) headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday, former president Pranab Mukherjee
had told people in the Congress that “engagement with the RSS
was not an endorsement of its views”.
Also read: Pranab Mukherjee has shown mirror to RSS at their HQ: Congress
On Thursday evening, Mukherjee discharged himself honourably. He spoke to the RSS
cadres of the importance of pluralism, non-violence and tolerance for preserving national unity. Mukherjee had gone to the RSS
headquarters in the hope that his visit would help bridge an ideological divide. It remains to be seen if his visit would lead to a dialogue between the RSS
and its ideological opponents in the Congress and other parties.
It is true that the RSS
received much publicity because of Mukherjee’s visit. A case could be made, as some in the Congress have, that the RSS
was seeking legitimacy, which it got because of Mukherjee’s visit. The former president visited the house of RSS
founder K B Hedgewar, and said he has come there to pay homage to a great son of India. However, the RSS
is currently at the height of its influence and can live, if it so chooses, without this legitimacy.
Also read: Pranab Mukherjee at RSS Meet: Secularism, inclusion matter of faith for us
The highlight of the evening wasn’t just Mukherjee’s speech, but what RSS
chief Mohan Bhagwat
said in his address to the RSS
cadres. It is important to pay attention to Bhagwat’s speech in the current political context.
Apart from expanding on the RSS
philosophy, Bhagwat cautioned how power, in the absence of humility, can become destructive. A couple of years back, Bhagwat had told an RSS
gathering that the Sangh didn’t believe in hero worship and cult of one leader.
Bhagwat said power without humility can turn into “danavi”, or a demonic force. He said only the “dusht”, or evil people, use power to harass other people. Bhagwat persisted with this line at some length. He didn’t name names, but the import of his words is unlikely to be lost on the current political leadership of the country.
Also read: As Pranab prepares for RSS event, here's how Congress leaders feel about it
To those who have visited him recently, Mukherjee has defended his acceptance of the RSS
invite to say that “politics of untouchability” should be shed. Senior RSS
leadership has also asked its ideological rivals to abandon their political of untouchability of not engaging with the RSS.
It should be welcomed that Bhagwat invited Mukherjee, that the two of them shared the dais and told Indians about their respective philosophies.
It is possible that Bhagwat sees the dangers of the path currently being pursued by the BJP and Sangh, but is unsure if they will accept his word for it if he were to tell it to RSS
cadres. This is where Mukherjee’s speech at the RSS
event is important.
In his speech, the former president implored the RSS
cadres to follow the path of non-violence, gave a brief history of the 5,000 years of assimilation that India’s civilization has experienced and spoke about the need for India’s inclusive nationalism to survive. He said there was a need to abjure violence, both verbal and physical.
Interestingly, none of the prominent non-Congress politicians, particularly of the Hindi heartland, have criticised Mukherjee for visiting RSS
headquarters. They understand the dangers of the continued religious polarisation that the BJP/RSS
are currently pursuing in northern Indian states.
It is also important to note that none in the BJP, apart from Nitin Gadkari, who is considered close to the RSS, had welcomed Mukherjee's visit. It was only in the last couple of days that BJP spokespersons adopted the RSS
line and supported the visit. It also coincides with BJP chief Amit Shah
visiting some of his party's miffed allies.
Therefore, there is more to Bhagwat’s invite to Mukherjee, and his acceptance of that invite, than which meets the eye.