There was a lot of suspense hanging over the former president Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur but contrary to the popular expectations, it was resoundingly applauded because Mukherjee hit all the right notes, as was expected, when he spoke of India’s soul residing in pluralism and tolerance, and then went further to declare that India’s concept of nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy but its unity in diversity.
RSS knew it too well that Mukherjee would not speak their language of Hindutva and lavish praise on Hindu nationalism. The Sangh’s decision to invite him to its own backyard gave an impression that it perhaps wants to rethink its strategy of demonising and terrorising the religious minorities.
Still, we have neither a profound reason nor indisputable evidence to believe that the RSS is in process to substitute the rainbow hues for the saffron colour it prefers. It may for a change occasionally speak of pluralism and composite culture, but we know it too well that it is part of their famed doublespeak.
Perhaps the political pundits jumped the gun in criticising Pranab Mukherjee for his visit to RSS HQ. The ex President has the credentials and the knowledge of Indian politics, history and tradition to address the RSS recruits and also the ones who gathered there and watched him on TV as a learned professor who gave them a master class in India’s unity in diversity.
Mukherjee began his speech with India’s glorious past in ancient times which was eulogized by travelers from across the world and during his speech Chankaya, Chandragupta and whole lot of others came in for reference.
He reminded them of India’s pluralism, tolerance, secularism and inclusiveness and hoped that the RSS would come out with a reply admitting its mistakes and doing course-correction. Mukherjee especially highlighted the imperative to free public discourse from all forms of violence, besides putting compassion, harmony and non-violence as the centre stage of public life.
There was a déjà vu moment when Mukherjee, a Congress veteran, reminded Modi government of following “rajdharma” founded upon diversity, non-violence, multi-culturalism and assimilation of ideas. It was the same famous phrase used by Vajpayee for Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat after the 2002 riots.
He also reminded the prime minister that happiness of the ruler lies in the happiness of people and their welfare is his welfare. It was an effort to point out the unchecked exercise of authority and attack on institutions in the garb of self-professed definition of pseudo- nationalism by the present Govt.
He talked about how the 2500 years of the history of conquerors and rulers failed to change the nation’s 5000 year old civilization. He explained as how each conqueror had been assimilated and absorbed in the great culture of India. He went on to quote Tagore and said that the Bharat, as he understands, is an assimilation of various indomitable waves that came and assimilated into the ocean of Indian society.
He also warned that any attempt to define India through religion, hatred, dogmas and intolerance will dilute our existence and stressed on the need of freeing public discourses must from all forms of violence. Mr Mukherjee said that the trust in India as a country is eternal and Indian nationalism had evolved through ages but the most important thing which lies at the centre of it was `Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam’ or the thought of universal brotherhood.
He further added that it is people who are at the centre of all activities of the State and nothing should be done to divide them. The real aim of the State should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against our enemies which are poverty, disease and deprivation and only then we could create a nation where Nationalism flows seamlessly.
Pranab Mukherjee emphasised that hatred, intolerance dilute our national identity as every day we observe increased violence around us. It’s time to free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical or verbal and we must move away from anger and violence towards peace, harmony and happiness.
Mukherjee summed up by telling RSS cadres “From our Constitution flows our nationalism and democracy is not a gift to us but a sacred task. Our Constitution is a magna carta of socio economic transformation of India which represents the aspiration of millions of Indian”.
He gave an example of Kautilya who had said “In the happiness of the people lies the happiness of the king. Their welfare is the king’s welfare.” He ended his speech by quoting Gandhi who had said, “Indian nationalism was not exclusive, aggressive or destructive”.
Pranab Mukherjee’s speech should remind BJP, the meaning of nationalism. Mukherjee’s thrust was on virtues of plurality, social and cultural diversity, divergent opinions, inclusiveness, secularism and democracy.
Mr Mukherjee has reminded the RSS of the great history of India and he also taught the RSS that India’s beauty lies in its unity in diversity, tolerance for difference of ideas and its multiple religions and languages. We hope, RSS is listening.
Disclaimer: These views are solely of the author.