Pranab to RSS: follow Constitution

The controversy over former president Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Nagpur to attend a function at the RSS headquarters was unnecessary, and it looks especially so after the event. Pranab is a dyed-in-the-wool Congress man of the Nehruvian persuasion and had served that party for over 60 years. But there was nothing wrong in his accepting the invitation and speaking his mind on the RSS stage. The RSS, as the ideological parent organisation of BJP, the dominant political party today, has come to occupy a prominent position in the country’s discourse, and it feels confident enough to have Pranab speak to its cadre. The Congress feels insecure and threatened, and so it reacted accordingly. It was perhaps uncomfortable with Pranab being seen in the company of the RSS. The discomfort has eased after the former president’s address, which was an enunciation of the ideas that the Congress has thought it has always held on to.  

It was contended that the visit by Pranab, who has always opposed the RSS worldview, to the organisation’s home ground would send out a wrong message. But, like any citizen, Pranab has the democratic right to go anywhere and speak his mind. It would be odd to question the exercise of this right. Gandhiji had addressed RSS volunteers in Delhi in September 1947 and spoke his mind to them. Pranab’s visit perhaps had a symbolic value, and the RSS may have wanted to derive greater legitimacy from Pranab’s presence. But the controversy brought more attention to the visit and may have benefitted the RSS more than it perhaps expected.

It is important to note what Pranab said, however, standing on an RSS podium. He asserted that the soul of India lies in its plurality, secularism, tolerance and inclusiveness and any attempt to define its nationhood in terms of divisive dogmas and categories would dilute the national identity. This is the idea of India as envisioned in the Constitution and the Nehruvian tradition of nationalism. It is well-known that the RSS view is different. Having had the grace to listen to the opposite view, it is now for the RSS to examine the gulf between the two views of nationalism — cultural and constitutional — and to make efforts to bridge that gulf in its own ideology and its articulation. For, after all, once we, the people of India, gave ourselves the Constitution, the life and ideas of the nation must run according to it. The Congress must also examine how it has come to lose the battle of articulation, perception and practice and see if it can help the RSS rethink its views. There is need for mutual engagement and dialogue. Pranab’s visit to Nagpur has underlined this.

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Pranab to RSS: follow Constitution

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