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
So, why did RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat invite Mukherjee?
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.