Pranab’s audacious outreach to the RSS


The former president told the Hindutva organization that the country needs peace, not strife

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore)

There was an interesting sartorial statement made by former President Pranab Mukherjee when he visited the headquarters of RashtriyaSwayasevakSangh (RSS) at Nagpur on June 7 to speak at the valedictory function of the third-year trainees. He wore the white dhoti and kurta of fine Bengal cotton and a black Nehru jacket with the silver chain of his clock hanging out from the waistcoat pocket. He looked the Bengali bhadralok patrician and looked much younger than his 80 years. The RSS Sarsanghchalak, Dr Mohan Bhagwat, was wearing the uniform of white and khaki trousers and a black beret cap. The RSS uniform, which was worn by all the others and the volunteers who were passing outwas anything but Indian in cultural terms.

DrBhagwat in his western uniform profusely quoted from Sanskrit texts and emphasised the need to be strong to make the nation great, Mukherjee at home in his home-spun nationalist dress spoke of Indian history as part of a globalised world from ancient times, and how visitors from abroad, including the Greek, Megasthenes, and the Chinese Fa-Hian and Huan-Tsang,had written about India. He referred to the Muslim invaders but said that all those who came into India were absorbed into the nation, and quoted from Rabindranath Tagore to make his point. Bhagwat and Mukherjee remained true to their ideological orientations on the occasion.

The torturous question is whether a former Congressman and a former president of the Republic, Mukherjee, should have gone to the RSS headquarters in the first place? Many Congress people, including his daughter, Sharmishtha Mukherjee, were troubled. It would seem that his speech had dispelled their anguish. Mukherjee did not make any ideological compromise with the Hindutvaorganisation.

And there were two things he said in his speech which were addressed to the RSS directly. First, he referred to the need for a dialogue in a democracy “not only to balance the competing interests but also to reconcile them” and then he directly told the volunteers who were passing out: “We have lived with pain and strife for long enough. You are young, disciplined, well trained and highly educated. Please wish for peace, harmony and happiness. Our Motherland is asking for that. Our Motherland deserves that.” Mukherjee told RSS leaders and foot-soldiers not to create trouble. It is unlikely that the RSS brass and the rank-and-file will pay heed. DrBhagwat made it clear that after the former president’s speech Pranab Mukherjee will remain Pranab Mukherjee and the RSS will remain RSS.

It would appear that it was a wasted effort on the part of Citizen Mukherjee to have reasoned with the RSS. It would be inaccurate to think so. Even if Mukherjee’s words were to have no impact on the RSS, it was necessary that the former president should have told them what needed to be told. He was clear in his mind that it was necessary to speak with them and not worry whether it made any impact. There is an incident in the Mahabharata when Krishna goes as an emissary on behalf of the Pandavas to Hastinapur to tell Dhritarashtra and his sons that peace is better than war. Of course, Duryodhana scoffed at the offer and he had with his associated had even tried to abduct the emissary.

It would be unfair to compare the RSS to quarrelsome Kauravas because that would be stretching the analogy from the epic to a breaking point. The fact is that the RSS’ and that of the BharatiyaJanata Party’s (BJP’s) view of nationalism is belligerent and intolerant. Mukherjee had told them that Indian nationalism is not intolerant and that it does not need an enemy. There is need to do more than parse the speeches of DrBhagwat and Citizen Mukherjee. There is feverish speculation that the cunning politician that Mukherjee is, the visit to the RSS headquarters was no innocent formality that he was reaching out to the RSS and trying to wean them away from the BJP in the run up to the 2019 LokSabha election! It is quite an audacious gamble and it is not beyond Mukherjee to have had a go at it. In the absence of hard evidence, it has to be treated as pure speculation. But it is not implausible.

It is important to remember that in 2009 the RSS had officially expressed the view that it was good that the BJP did not win. So, there are times when the RSS would not vote for the BJP, either with its heart or with its feet. The truth is that in a (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi-dominated right-wing polity, the RSS is trying to retain its identity. Mukherjee’s advice could be of some help, of some solace to the militant Hindutva organization that is being edged out.


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