Former Presidents taking part in any function usually does not become big news or turn into controversy.
And the main reason for that is that they generally avoid controversial programs. The sentiments behind this are that they should not ruin the dignity of a position that they once held. However, when Pranab Kumar Mukherjee accepted the invite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to an event at their Nagpur headquarters, it sparked debates in the society. Pranab attended the valedictory function of the RSS’s third-year officers’ training camp at its headquarters. The fact that he chose to grace the event organised by the RSS which is the ideological parent of BJP with his presence precisely at a time when Congress, his (former) party began forming alliances against the BJP, has led to widespread displeasure in the Congress. He had then said that whatever he had to say, he would say only in Nagpur. Whatever the case, he spoke about tolerance and pluralism while addressing the youth Swamsevaks of the RSS. India’s national identity has emerged through assimilation of cultures and coexistence. Pranab Mukherjee’s remark that India’s nationalism lies deep rooted in plurality is also a reply to the Sangh Parivar’s ‘one-culture’ thesis.
As far as RSS is concerned, Pranab’s visit is a big gain for them. Firstly, even a former President blesses it with acceptability. Secondly, a senior leader of the Congress who was once a likely prospect for the Prime Minister post embraces the RSS ignoring the displeasure from his party. This is expected to help BJP in states where the Congress plans to engage in a fierce battle with them this year. On the other hand, how did all this benefit Pranab Mukherjee? We can ignore the backroom rumours that he has some future plans in his mind. He can sit gratified that he could talk about pluralism at the RSS headquarters and address the young RSS cadres about the Nehruvian version of Indian nationalism and talk at least a sentence about Gandhiji. No doubt, the statement that even while the differences remain, doors should remain open for dialogue and debate, is the core of democracy. He also talked about ahimsa to the RSS workers. It can also be argued that he pointed out that the motherland urges the people to shed violence, anger and conflict and come to the path of peace and happiness, and remarked that Indian nationalism is not to be understood in relation to any one language, religion or enemy, and these could be seen as a rejection of the narrow outlook of M S Golwalkar.
But there lies the problem. Even when he speaks to those who differ in ideology Pranab Mukherjee is hesitant to openly mention the differences. . Hearing his speech, one would think that he only makes several generalizations and commonplace exhortations. It is because the principles he spoke of - including tolerance and peace - are also what Sangh Parivar brags about. The main problem here is that they do not walk the talk. When dwelling on such contradictions, the assassination of Gandhi will have to be mentioned; so also the demolition of Babri Masjid, the heinous murders of many starting from Mohammed Akhlaq, and the fact that there was no criticism let alone any major step against the atrocities on part of the government, also will have to be brought up. Talking to those one disagrees with, does not consist in repeating the general principles which they themselves do not reject. Even while speaking about the history of India, Pranab presented a version of the British and the hardline Hindu wing.
It is difficult to see any reflection of constitutional nationalism, which Pranab upholds, even in Pranab's words calling KB Hedgevar as India's great son. The India of Hedgevar's dream is not the India Pranab defines. Would it be possible to see those who described Muslims as poison-hissing yavana snakes, deserving to face extinction- to become 'dead as the dodo' -as role models? Although the RSS distanced itself from the vitriolic book of Golwalkar, the one he revered as his guru was Hedgevar.
Selfless dedication to his philosophy was a virtue of Hedgevar. But his philosophy had little compatibility with those of Gandhi or even of Pranab himself. Even Sardar Patel, whom RSS has adopted now, had pointed out that. When the former president ended his speech with 'vande mataram' at the session, which had neither the national flag nor national anthem, he leaves behind the doubt whether he was convincing the RSS of his ideals or he was striking a chord with their ideas.