This Article is From Jun 08, 2018

With Pranab Visit, BJP Smiles, RSS Gains, And Congress Seethes

"I came here to pay respects to great son of Mother India," wrote former President of India Pranab Mukherjee in the visitors' book at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. This is perhaps one of those rare occasions when a national leader acknowledged the great contribution to nation-building of RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The RSS founder has remained unsung and unrecognized outside the Sangh Parivaar for long. The former President by specially mentioning Dr Hedgewar in a way set the tone and trend for his first visit to the Sangh's head office. The warmth of the welcome and the personal chemistry between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Mr Mukherjee will be debated for long but the message the former President delivered has elevated the RSS to a new height in national esteem.

This has wide-ranging political significance. The Congress will find it difficult to target the Sangh the way it used to. The Sangh's acceptability and credibility have grown higher because of this visit. The convergence of views between Mr Mukherjee and Mr Bhagwat is of great national importance. It shows that when it comes to nationalism, patriotism and unity, all sensible Indians think alike.

The concluding function of the RSS' third-year annual training camp in 2018 has created history with the former President and veteran former Congress leader addressing it in a manner that has delighted the entire Sangh cadre. The Congress is understandably annoyed, and so is the large anti-Sangh brigade, but the medium, message and the context have great political and social import, which the Congress will find difficult to digest for a long time.

It is of tremendous political and organizational advantage to the RSS. For all time to come, it will gloat about it. As Mr Mukherjee's daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee said, the visual will stay alive. But what actually will gladden the RSS hearts is that the former President's speech sounded like a Sangh baudhik, almost an endorsement of what RSS Sarsanghachalak Bhagawat said from the same platform. Detractors would have expected Mr Mukherjee to give a long lecture on secularism, or a public discourse on points of disagreement with RSS. As it turned out, Mr Mukherjee's speech looked more like a lesson for the Congress to come to terms with India's long-cherished and often misinterpreted history and for it to learn to be respectful of our composite heritage, tolerance and shared national moorings.

Why would Mr Mukherjee's speech dishearten and embarrass Congress? Because the Congress under Smt. Sonia Gandhi has been promoting a narrative that Indian nationhood is a creation of the Indian Constitution of 1950. Whereas Mr Mukherjee underlined that the Constitution of India is a product of the values the nation nurtured and cherished for 5,000 years. Congress leader Manish Tiwari correctly analysed the speech when he said it was professorial and a deviation from the stand Mr Mukherjee used to take as a Congress leader.

What is the political message here for both the Congress and the Sangh? Is the former President positioning himself as a statesman or more as an acceptable face representing a wider national ethos? Mr Mukherjee today is the most senior, eminent and respected leader from the older generation. His credentials as a Congress leader, seasoned administrator and custodian of the values that shaped India are undisputed. His speech at the RSS function, as senior Sangh functionary J Nandakumar said, was very much in sync with RSS thought. He said the Muslim invaders or the British traders who subjugated India could not change the assimilative, integral unity in diversity of India. To stress the point of the uniqueness of Indian nationalism, he quoted Dr S Radhakrishnan, Gandhi-ji, Nehru, Tagore and Vincent Smith. Mr Mukherjee, explaining the ideas of nation, nationalism and patriotism, emphasized how the Indian approach was different from the Western idea of nationalism. Here, he sounded much like a RSS leader. The fact that he earlier in the day described RSS founder KB Hedgewar as a great son of India, and hours later patiently watched the RSS drill and prayer before his speech exhibited great ease and bonhomie. 

Clearly, Mr Mukherjee has become very close to the Sangh Parivaar, which will inevitably draw great mileage out of this. He has also upset his Congress friends. He has emerged an iconic figure for a wider spectrum of Indians.

Earlier, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had addressed RSS functions. As Dr Bhagwat mentioned, the Sangh used to invite great personalities to address Sangh Swayamsevaks. This is part of Sangh tradition, Mr Bhagwat emphasized, saying that the Sangh has always wooed powerful personalities to attend its programmes for widening its reach and national image. But arguably, Mr Mukherjee is the most high profile and most discussed visitor in the recent past. How this visit will shape the future of Indian polity is the moot point.

(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)

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