President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday hosted lunch for a most unlikely guest, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The move is significant and is loaded with multiple implications simply because for the first time a president invited an RSS chief to be his revered guest, and that too not just for an exchange of thoughts but to break bread with him. It has surprised many in the national capital as well as outside, setting off a chain of speculations.
Incidentally, the honour of having lunch in the grand ambience of the Rashtrapati Bhawan came on a day when two senior ministers — Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu — of the Narendra Modi government drove to Sonia Gandhi's residence and later to Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPM) chief Sitaram Yechuri's place to try and build a consensus over a presidential candidate. While no names were discussed in the meetings, Singh and Naidu's arrival at 10 Janpath for discussions with the Congress president and later with CPM chief was interesting and being taken as a confidence building measure, if not anything else.
The private talk among senior leaders in the corridors of power in Delhi was, broadly, of three kinds:
First, a source, who knows Bhagwat well and has a deep understanding of the functioning of RSS told Firstpost that Bhagwat had met Mukherjee earlier also, on two separate occasions, and thus this was not for the first time that the two were meeting. It was, of course, for the first time ever that the RSS chief had gone to the Rashtrapati Bhawan on a private and exclusive luncheon invite of the president.
He, however, said that not much should be read in Bhagwat's luncheon with the president. "It was a courtesy or a goodwill meet over lunch. If this meeting had taken place two months earlier, then you or anybody else had a reason to read its possible varied implications," he said.
What he meant was that it is now clear that Mukherjee is on his way out and would demit office on 25 July. It is almost certain that he is not getting a second term in office. There was, thus, no need to speculate whether this meeting could change that situation.
Second, there are others who suggest that the luncheon meeting could create a "pregnant with possibilities" situation. Their argument is that nothing should be taken final until Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces the name of BJP presidential candidate. The proverb, "a week is a long time in politics", is quoted to give strength to their argument. Modi and Mukherjee shared excellent relation in the last three years. In fact, even in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary election, Modi in his public speeches used to talk a lot about the strength of Mukherjee as a leader.
Modi respects Pranab as a leader and as the President of India, but the kind of numbers he (Modi) commands in the Parliament and in state Assemblies, and the kind of expectations that Sangh Parivar workers have, it was generally considered as a done deal that this time around the BJP would like to have someone from their own ranks to be President. A leader from BJP-RSS has been prime minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi) and vice president (Bhairon Singh Shekhawat) but it never had one from amongst them as president.
Third, the fact that the RSS chief was a revered guest of the president on a very personal lunch speaks a lot about the changed status of RSS and the acceptability it has attained in Indian political and administrative structure. Mukherjee has been a seasoned Congress leader and is respected for his knowledge and depth. It is likely that in his long political career as Congress leader and union minister in various governments, Mukherjee would have gone through many reports against RSS and been part of various strategy meetings where RSS would have been identified as an enemy.
That's why his invite to Bhagwat for an exclusive luncheon, or his earlier meetings with him, were no ordinary event in the capital. Sources said this luncheon was planned over a month ago but was kept for a later date so that they could downplay its speculative implications.
There is another argument that if you consider Indian political history since Independence then BJP had been in power at the centre only for nine years. The RSS too had been evolving over the years. Former prime minister Vajpayee had famously said, "I too am a Swayamsewak." But the RSS did not have the same confidence in his political leadership and government or vice versa as they have in today's Modi-Amit Shah dispensation.
President Mukherjee's lunch with Bhagwat surely writes a fresh chapter in RSS history and elsewhere.
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 20:16 PM