Pranab Mukherjee, Mohan Bhagwat's consensus on nationalism was heartening, highlighted importance of engagement

7 June, 2018 will go down as a memorable day in India’s social and national discourse. It reiterated that the best way to deal with a contrasting ideology is through dialogue and engagement, not through venomous diatribe, as some of our desperate Opposition leaders would have us believe. What was particularly surprising and reassuring was the extent of similarity between the thoughts of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and former president Pranab Mukherjee.

Let me first quickly sum up some of the key points made by both the RSS chief and our former president.

What Mohan Bhagwat said :

— RSS is not meant to organise the Hindu society alone, but the entire society.
— History will hold the Hindu community as primarily answerable for setting the national discourse; hence the focus on Hindu community.
— Our land had abundant natural resources. As such, we never had to explore foreign lands for our needs. But at the same time, we were extremely accommodative of others who came in and settled here.
— While we must celebrate this diversity, we are also all one – every individual born here is an offspring of Bharat Mata and Bharat Mata is the mother to all.
— All of us owe our present existence to a civilization spanning many thousand years and our genes have remained the same for 4,000 years.
— The nature or character of an individual is influenced by his/her habits. The cumulative characters of individual citizens influence a nation’s character. The RSS works on individuals with a view to best leverage their core character to the task of nation building.

Pranab Mukherjee and Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur. PTI

Pranab Mukherjee and Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur. PTI

What Pranab Mukherjee said:

— Indian nationalism is derived from universalism. It has at its core the Sanskrit dictum “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.
— Mukerjee chronicled the history of the last 2,500 years, showcasing how the change of rulers (or their faith) had not impacted the country’s culture.
— Mukherjee quoted from Kautilya’s Arthashastra — Praja Sukh Raagya: Prajanam tu hite hitam: Na Atmapriyam hitam ragya, Prajanam tu Priyam hitam (Translated into English, this means, “A king’s satisfaction lies in the satisfaction of his citizens; his interests lie in the interests of his citizens. A king’s personal likes or wants don’t serve the interests of the kingdom; his citizens’ likes or wants being taken care of, do!”

By quoting from Kautilya a verse which best demonstrates the essence of democracy, Pranab Mukherjee actually asserted that democracy, while it may be a recent experience for the world, existed in India 1,800 years ago.

That two stalwarts from two divergent ideologies should think alike on the issue of nationalism augurs well for India’s cultural nationalism and her democracy. It also asserts that India in a true sense, along with possibly the United States, is what can be ideally described as a spiritual democracy.

By its simplest inference, spiritual democracy would mean dwelling upon the role of each individual in the dynamics of democracy. Now, in a nation as diversified as ours, patriotism and nationalism are subject to the vagaries of individual internalisation and interpretation.

This is where one would want certain cultural symbols that date back many thousand years and which are innate to our civilisation, to be respected and adopted by all. To my understanding, the native language (Sanskrit), science (yoga), nature worship (Ganga, Sun God among others) and Ram rajya (social justice) are emblems which transcend religion, creed or race. They represent all that is good and pure about the land. It is when such cultural emblems are met with resistance or ridicule that the seeds of discord are sown.

At the core of this resistance lies a restrictive mindset which refuses to acknowledge history which pre-dates the 12th century (when the first Islamic invasion took place), and a history which pre-dates the origin of Islam. And here, I must assert that one of the biggest fallacies of our history education is that our history has always been from the point of view of rulers. What is equally critical in the evolution of a society is the role of individuals and organisations. This is where the study of ancient institutions like Takshila, Vikramshila or Nalanda, or individuals such as Adi Shankaracharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Dara Shikoh, Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekanand become more relevant in understanding the social and cultural discourse of the time.

Now, let us come to two specific and recent conflict points, which among others, act as impediments in our vision of spiritual democracy — ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai.’

As much as I would dislike anything to be imposed upon me, the point is: Why should something which invokes a sense of national pride and duty be seen as an imposition in the first place? Why does it not come naturally for a section of our population?

Vande Mataram, a poem composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in the 1870s, was adopted as the national song in 1937 in a working committee meeting of the Congress. Why should the same Congress today feel so apologetic about Vande Mataram?

Vande Mataram represents a beautiful emotion. It represents a beautiful and ancient language. To be honest, most Indians are likely to falter if they are asked to sing it impromptu. But therein also lies the need to invoke symbols which stood at the core of our historical journey. It is perfectly fine if people simply stand in reverence and try to soak in the essence of the verses. The problem arises when a section of the population comes with a mindset to deride symbols which the majority of the population considers intrinsic to our civilisational journey.

A couple of weeks ago, on a TV debate, I asked the MIM MLA from Byculla, Waris Pathan, why it was so difficult for him to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ inside the Maharashtra Assembly — for which he had been suspended. He didn’t have a specific answer and argued, “ I can say anything else like ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Saare Jahan se Achha’ but not Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”

I believe that impositions, though avoidable, take place as a response to habitual intolerance. A positive acceptance, on the other hand facilitates mutual assimilation.

In 2002, the RSS had initiated the formation of Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRS). The idea was to build cultural synergies and leverage them into the essence of “Bharatiyat”. Today, the MRS has over 10,000 members. I have interacted with a few of them. The clarity and pride which the MRS members show on the issue of cultural nationalism is absolutely amazing and an eye-opener for our pretentious and apologetic ‘secular’ brigade.

I finally come to a dispute which has created a lot of friction in our national discourse in the last few decades — the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in Ayodhya. Recently, I was on a TV debate on the issue when someone shouted, “Why should only a temple be built at Ayodha? Why not both?” A Muslim panelist shot back, “If a Ram temple is not built in Ayodhya, where else would it be built?” To another Islamic scholar, this panelist shot back, “How can you call a place a mosque when namaz has not been offered there for 50 years? You know that is against the principles of Islam.”

One can’t wish away the unfortunate scars which history has inflicted upon us. And one of the biggest scars has been the demolition of 40,000 temples over a period of 600 years. This has inflicted an injury to the soul, which needs healing. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who understood the importance of this healing, took the initiative of reviving the Somnath temple.

Ram is the soul of India. He stands for maryada (rectitude in public life). He stands for social justice, which implies he belongs to all. It will be exceptionally healthy for the country if our Muslim brethren embrace the pride of ancient India..

The day the Muslim brethren believe that the right place for a Ram temple is indeed the place where he was born, the bluff of ‘imposter secular-democrats” who fill the present-day Congress party will be called. It will usher in a new era of spiritual democracy founded on unpretentious cultural nationalism.

The author is a BJP leader and tweets @tuhins. Views expressed are personal.

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Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 11:02:37 IST

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