Nagpur: Former President Pranab Mukherjee told an RSS event Thursday that “pluralism and tolerance were the soul of India” while stressing on the importance of conversation to iron out religious or ideological differences.
Mukherjee’s decision to address a valedictory session of an RSS event in Nagpur had caused much heartburn to his daughter and the Congress party, exposing its insecurities about their veteran leader walking confidently into the opposition’s den.
But Mukherjee has always risen above politics.
In one of his key remarks, the former president said, "Soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance. This plurality came with the assimilation of ideas over centuries. Secularism is a matter of faith for us."
A speech that emphasised on being tolerant and secular and focused on respecting the Constitution and diversity of the country seems to lie a hidden message to the RSS -- a Hindutva organisation.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee said, "Our constitution represents the hopes and aspirations of billion-plus people of India" while adding that "hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity."
In his speech, the Congress veteran also said, "Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogma and identities or religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our identity."
The decision of Pranab Mukherjee to accept the RSS invite evoked a sharp response from the Congress with Anand Sharma tweeting that the move has anguished millions of party workers and all those who believed in pluralism, diversity and the foundational values of the Indian Republic.
It was also reportedly said that Sonia Gandhi, former Congress chief, was so miffed with Pranab Mukherjee’s decision that she asked her political aide Ahmed Patel to tweet on Wednesday night, "I did not expect this from you Pranab da."
Even, Pranab Mukherjee's daughter, Sharmishtha Mukherjee, objected to his decision saying that no one, not even the RSS, really expected his speech to endorse the views of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
She added, "But the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain and those will be circulated with fake statements."
Some of the Congress leaders also reportedly believed that the senior leader might have a change of heart and along with it, change of ideology.
However, soon after the former president made his speech, the Congress, which was earlier critical about the party veteran's decision, did a complete U-turn.
Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that Pranab Mukherjee has shown the mirror to the RSS at their headquarters while speaking of plurality, tolerance and multiculturism.
Surjewala said, "Shri Pranab Mukherjee has reminded the RSS of the history of India. He taught the RSS that India's beauty lies in its tolerance for differences of ideas, religions and languages."
"Is the RSS ready to listen?" Surjewala asked.
Congress leader Anand Sharma, who was anguished over Pranab Mukherjee's decision few hours ago, soon changed his stance and said, "We did not see the tricolour go up or the national anthem being sung at the RSS HQ. There was never any doubt of Pranab Mukherjee's ability to articulate and his conviction, but for dialogue the other side must listen and change. Hope RSS does it."
Earlier, addressing the event, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat thanked Pranab Mukherjee for taking out time to understand the organisation.
Reacting to the controversy over the former president's speech, Bhagwat said, “This is an annual event. The debate on why he accepted the invite to come here is meaningless”.
The RSS chief further said that the organisation does not discriminate between Indian citizens. "No Indian citizen is an alien for us. RSS believes in unity in diversity. Every citizen born in India is an Indian. It is his/her right to worship our motherland," he added.
Earlier on Thursday, another move that shocked the Congress was Pranab Mukherjee's impromptu visit to RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar's birthplace and describing him as a “great son of Mother India".
“Today I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India,” Mukherjee wrote in a visitor’s book at Hedgewar’s birthplace ahead of his much-anticipated speech at the RSS headquarters.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee, who never really spoke on the controversy that was generated soon after his decision was reported, and only said "whatever I have to say, I will say in Nagpur" has finally made the address on Thursday.
If the RSS is going to learn the lessons that the former president "reportedly" intended at teaching the organisation or not, but an analysis of the speech is going to be the key topic of discussions in the political corridors and in the media in the coming days....