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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 27 New Delhi June 23, 2018

Pranabda Makes a Visit but why Now?

Sunday 24 June 2018, by Badri Raina

In current parlance, here is my “takeaway†on Pranab Mukherjee’s so tantalizing visit to the RSS Headquarters in Nagpur:

First, why was he invited? However Mohanji Bhagwat may have underplayed the occur-rence as a rather routine and innocent one, the invite was clearly loaded with political purpose.

That India is now run by an RSS-led Bharatiya Janata Party is all very well, but inviting a former President of the Republic to the RSS’ organisational den is quite another matter.

One thing is for sure: as Bhagwat cannily said in a speech intended to forestall the chief address of the evening, there was no intention to learn new things from the sagacious Mr Mukherjee. Dialogue may have been lauded but it was always going to be a dialogue of the deaf. Leopards do not change their spots because someone of great pharmaceutical knowledge brings them a new brand of soap.

The event, let us not fool ourselves, was smartly intended to enhance the political acceptability of the Sangh. After all, Mr Mukherjee did end up endorsing the late Hedgewar as a great son of India. Coming from a former President—an office that watches over the constitutional uprightness of the realm—this was a coup. That Mr Mukherjee, in deference to the office he had held lastly, did not insist on the national tricolour to be unfourled or the national anthem to be sung must be counted as further acquiescence to a body of thought that accepted the tricolour some two years after Independence as a tactical necessity in order that the ban on it could be lifted in 1949.

A second purpose that the RSS could well have had in mind is to cause disruption among thinking Congressmen and women with respect to the propriety or otherwise of Mr Mukherjee making such a visit—under the present conditions, a most useful thing to do from the point of view of the Sangh. Although the Congress has come to quickly clear the ground on this, post Mr Mukherjee’s speech at Nagpur, the RSS can claim to have had some success in causing a flutter among Congessmen and women. Indeed, Mr Mukherjee’s own daughter felt obliged to publicly underscore her father’s naivete in the matter, and the ways in which the Sangh propaganda machinery would not but use his visit, in fair and foul manner; think that already there is a video doing the rounds which shows Mr Mukherjee with a black RSS cap on his head.

A third purpose might have been to undercut Rahul Gandhi as he prepares to show up at a Bhiwandi court to answer charges of defa-mation against the RSS on June 12.

So why did Mr Mukherjee accept the invitation, given that he is no RSS man, although, interestingly, in his speech of all the foreign interventions and incursions he counted he cited only Muslims as “invaders†.

There can be no doubt that the thought of telling off the Sangh view of nationalism, identity, culture, patriotism in a speech delivered in their den must have seemed an act of great political enhancement. This need not be denied. But it would be grossly underrating Mr Mukherjee’s acumen to think that he went there hoping he would teach the RSS a lesson they would actually learn. Just as Bhagwatji explicitly did not think that Mr Mukerjee would be converted to the Sangh cause once he was welcomed at Nagpur.

In this context, Mr Mukherjee’s sense of occasion must be lauded: after all as clips from his speech will continue to be aired, he will continue to be praised for having articulated a critique that others, including Rahul Gandhi, are upbraided for voicing in and out. It must be conceded that in this Mr Mukherjee understood how he could bear the weight of the office he had held before Shri Kovind took over to put on record a view of pluralist nationalism and composite culture that had informed and driven the Freedom Movement, That his articulation here was ringing and unambiguous must go to his great credit and hopefully to the aid of many struggling to push back revanchist and communal alternatives. In recalling Western nationalisms after the Westphalia Treaty of 1648 which came to be based on univocal axes of religion, language, race, Mr Mukherjee did well obliquely to suggest that after all the nationalism that the RSS espouses is more Western in character than indigenous. A monumental irony there. Whereas the national movement built by multifaceted Indian leaderships was uniquely inclusive, pluralist, assimilatve and therefore, had secularism as the soul and article of faith. For this, one must be thankful to Mr Mukherjee.

Where will this event lead, if anywhere? To put the matter baldly, can Mr Mukherjee hope that as a result of his ringing articulation of the Nehruvian view of our modern history the Indian National Congress might call upon him to be the face of the new Opposition which is now in the making. After all, the post of the Republic’s chief executive is one he has always thought his deserving.

The anwser must be that this is highly unlikely, fresh enthusiastic Congress cadres may not be expected to give up easily on Rahul Gandhi.

But that still leaves scope, in Mr Mukherjee’s likely considerations, that a “Third Front “of secular formations may indeed call upon him to take the lead to give Mr Modi a Presidential-type of contest, come 2019. This cannot be ruled out. Should such a thing eventuate, the Congress would indeed be put to considerable difficulty in working out its options—a circumstance that may thus altogether go to favour the possibility of a Modi comeback.

For now, the RSS may not gloat too much at the visit, given that Mr Mukherjee very squarely poured cold water on its ideological world-view. However astute Bhagwatji’s formulations were, inevitably the notion of a Hindu Rashtra remained central to its projection. And only the very gullible would argue that this view will see a secular and pluralist transformation as a result of Mr Mukherjee’s intervention. The Sangh has never till now repudiated the notion of a Savarkarite citizenship of India, or Shri Golwalker’s stipulations on being Muslim in India. Till such repudiation happens, in all likelihood never, the Sangh, however it pitches for supremacy, will remain the “other†of the mainstream Republican thought.

It will be interesting to see, nonetheless, how influential media houses play out the event of Mr Mukherjee’s visit. This for the reason that the obscene centralisation of wealth now in India—a Corporate dream always—will not but continue to push Corporate media owners to tilt in favour of an equally centralised political dispensation in which democratic processes and idealisms about equity and welfare are relegated to lip-service at husting times.

It is tempting to stipulate that none of these tactical pushes and pulls may come to be of any great account in the next General Elections; one has the gut feeling that a wave of anger now in evidence across the length and breadth of the country may reduce electoral minutae to irrelevance.

(Courtesy: sabrang.india)

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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