On Thursday evening, when sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat got on to the podium to speak at an event of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Nagpur, he knew he was writing a new chapter not just in the history of his organisation but also that of contemporary politics in India. He also knew he had accomplished something that millions of swayamsewaks had aspired to for long.
Bhagwat was aware that for the next half an hour or so, he would have the nation's attention like no other RSS sarsanghchalak had had since it was founded in 1925. He knew people would be hooked to their television screens the way they would be for an important match, and he was aware that he had an unparalleled opportunity to make people understand what the RSS stood for — an opportunity to try to repair the image of his organisation, which for long was perceived as closed and secretive.
What used to be a routine annual event for the RSS — the graduation of new recruits from the RSS shiksha varga in Nagpur — had turned into a historic event. For the hype leading to the event, Bhagwat could thank the Congress and the left-wing brigade. Their criticism of former president Pranab Mukherjee for agreeing to be the chief guest of the function brought it into clearer focus than ever before.
From the perspective of the Sangh Parivar and right-wing supporters, Bhagwat deserves credit for building a relationship of trust and mutual respect with Mukherjee during his tenure as president of India, because of which he had agreed to be the chief guest of the event. Also, given Mukherjee's stature, not just as a veteran politician and president but also one with professorial command over subjects such as Indian history, society, polity and the Constitution, he would have known what his association with the RSS would mean for the organisation. It could not have been an easy decision.
No one would understand better than Bhagwat the kind of impact Mukherjee’s visit to Nagpur would have. Before extending the invitation to the former president, he must have deliberated on it for long and thought of how to play the gracious host. The rapport they share is evident in Mukherjee's schedule — he arrived in Nagpur a day before the event, spent the evening with RSS functionaries and left a day later.
Sources told Firstpost that Mukherjee had informally agreed to visit the RSS headquarters when had they met at a luncheon at the Rashtrapati Bhavan when his term as president was nearing an end. The RSS chief has followed up with him several times, and Mukherjee, true to his word, obliged.
The highlight of the day would be Mukherjee's praise of RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar after visiting his home — now a memorial — in Nagpur. “Today, I came here to pay my respectful homage to a great son of Mother India,” he had said. His statement grants greater legitimacy and wider acceptability to the organisation, giving the RSS a strong weapon to counter those who perceive it as a political untouchable.
When Bhagwat rose to speak, he began with all the right words — praising Mukherjee’s credentials and emphasising that the RSS was not an organisation for Hindus alone but for all Indians. “How can one Indian be an alien to another Indian,” he said, adding that India has always believed in "unity in diversity". This was a clear rebuttal of accusations that the RSS was a "Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva" organisation.
"People should realise that we are working for the betterment of the same country," Bhagwat said. "No matter what language, ideology or religion we follow, the RSS believes in the welfare of the society. People could differ in their opinions and ways, but we are all sons of the same soil and all the same even in this diversity."
While the RSS chief is aware that he would not be able to change critics' opinions of his organisation, he was glad he could at least make an attempt to change perceptions.
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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 16:27:24 IST