Former president Pranab Mukherjee will be addressing the valedictory function of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) Sangh Shiksha Varg — a training camp for the volunteers — at the headquarters in Nagpur on 7 June. But his acceptance of this offer to be a part of an RSS event has created a furore considering Mukherjee has been a Congressman all throughout his political career and the party's views are ideologically opposite to that of the RSS.
Thus, the Congress party members are rather taken aback by this development. A Congress leader, who requested anonymity, told The Times of India that "Mukherjee’s very presence at the RSS camp could prove to be bad optics for Congress and the ‘secular’ camp".
"A 'secular' patriarch visiting the RSS headquarters would be the ultimate approval for the body that is still considered 'untouchable' by Congress and whom Rahul Gandhi includes in every attack he launches on Modi," he said.
But, according to the The Times Of India report, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi dubbed Mukherjee's decision as "no indication of his beliefs". "Judge him by what he says and what are his established beliefs in 50 years of his political life", Singhvi was quoted as saying.
However, some speculate that Mukherjee will speak to the RSS gathering on the "real sense" of nationalism — a discourse that could turn out to be a critique of the “exclusivist” view associated with the Hindutva camp, the report said.
Meanwhile, former railways minister and senior Congress leader CK Jaffer Sharief wrote a letter to Mukherjee asking him to reconsider his call to attend the event. "Congressmen besides secular people are stunned to hear the news and are agitated on the situation and are hopeful that yourself will reconsider the idea. I once again request you to reconsider and avoid visiting Sangh Parivar in the interest of secularism and the country," Shareif wrote in his letter which was also signed by former MP H Hanumanthappa, stated another Times of India report.
A few partymen, however, backed Mukherjee, albeit in an indirect manner. "He is an intelligent person. He has been the President of India. He is secular-minded. So there will be no change in his behaviour by going there. He will remain the same,” former union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told The Indian Express.
While others chose to keep the ball in Mukherjee's court. "Ask Pranab Mukherjee. The only comment we have is no comment," said Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan adding that he believed the RSS and Congress had markedly different ideologies and thus Mukherjee's decision was not in line to that thought, reported NDTV.
Echoing his sentiments was Congress veteran M Veerappa Moily who, as per The Indian Express report, said Mukherjee cannot go for the event if he is “dedicated to the Congress ideology”.
However, another senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid urged people to have faith in the "wise" ex-president. “Trust him not just for his true allegiance to the idea of India, but also for being sagacious and wiser than us", Khurshid said as per The Indian Express report.
Meanwhile, former Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit asked if this invitation to Mukherjee meant that the RSS was accepting his views about them. "Pranab-da has often called the RSS anti-national, unpatriotic, immoral, dubious, fraud and vicious. This means the RSS accepts whatever Pranab Mukherjee has said about them", Dixit said according to the NDTV report.
Speaking for the BJP camp, however, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari described Mukherjee's move as a "good start" and condemned "political untouchability"- as per several media reports.
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Updated Date: May 30, 2018 11:02:47 IST