Why Pranab Mukherjee going to an RSS function is raising eyebrows

Former President Pranab Mukherjee on May 29 accepted the RSS invitation to attend a funtion on June 7 at the Sangh headquarters in Nagpur.
When former President Pranab Mukherjee on May 29 accepted an invitation to attend a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) event on June 7, comments and reactions started pouring in from different corners of the political landscape and left many Congress leaders wondering as to how this happened.

Although the Congress refrained from commenting on the news officially, several leaders expressed their surprise over Mukherjeee's decision.

Congress leader and former Union minister C K Jaffer Sharif and former MP Hanumanthappa expressed their "shock and dismay" over the former President's decision. In a joint letter, they wrote that being a person with a secular image in politics for decades in the Congress, Mukherjee going to an RSS event ahead of next year's general elections did not seem approriate.

"I am unable to understand the compelling reasons. However, I personally feel that a person of your stature, being secular in politics for decades, having served in various capacities, including the highest position of Rashtrapati, visiting Sangh Parivar at this point in time before Parliament elections is not proper," the letter read.

These Congress leaders have reasons to be surprised on this recent development as the Congress has always rejected the ideology of the RSS, or at least this is how they have projected themselves. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has time and again attacked RSS and their ideology of 'Hindutva'. He is even involved in a defamation case filed by an RSS functionary after Rahul alleged in one of his rallies that RSS was behind the killing of Mahatma Gandhi.

Pranab Mukherjee himself as a Congress leader and then finance minister had moved a political resolution and asked the central government to investigate the links between RSS and terrorists.

Congress has a history of oppposing the RSS views in some or the other way, with its leaders attacking it to different degrees.

Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter to chief ministers in December 1947 had expressed his concern over RSS' acivities and said that the path that the Sangh was following would prove to be a problem for India.

"We have a great deal of evidence to show that the RSS is an organisation which is in the nature of a private army and which is definitely proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines... the Nazi party brought Germany to ruins and I have little doubt that if these tendencies are allowed to spread and increase in India, they would do enormous injury to India," the letter read.

The Nehru government had also banned the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi's assasination in 1948 for its alleged role in the killing of the Father of the Nation.

Sardar Patel, too, though having a softer stance towards RSS, had accused it of spreading "communal tension".

At one instance, Patel had attacked the RSS, saying he would not allow any communal organisation to throw the conutry into disintegration.

“We will not allow the RSS or any other communal organisation to throw the country back on the path of slavery or disintegration... I am a soldier, and in my time I have fought against formidable forces… If I feel that such a fight is necessitated for the country’s good, I shall not hesitate to fight even my own son.”

Over the years, the Congress and many of its leaders -- including Pranab Mukherjee -- who claim to follow the secular path, have accused the RSS of peddling communal tensions and disharmony in the society. Thus, it is natural that Congress was "stunned and shocked" when the former Congressman, who himself had been critical of the RSS in the past, accepted the invitation to attend a function of the same organisation.