Former president Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday warned that any attempt to define India through "religion, dogma or intolerance" will only dilute the country's existence, as he attended an RSS event amid criticism by several of his party leaders including his own daughter.
Mukherjee said intolerance will only dilute India' national identity and Indian nationalism emanated from universalism, assimilation and co-existence.
"In India, we derive our strength from tolerance and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity," he said.
"I am here to share my understanding on nation, nationalism and patriotism about our country which is 'Bharat'," said Mukherjee, who served as President of India between 2012 and 2017.
"We must free our public discourse from all kinds of fear and violence," he said.
"People are at the centre of all activities of the State and nothing should be done to divide them. The aim of the State should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against poverty, disease and deprivation. Only then can we create a nation where nationalism flows automatically," Mukherjee said.
"Many languages and religion under come under one flag. Every day, we see increased violence around us. We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence — physical or verbal. We must move away from anger and violence to peace, harmony and happiness," he further said.
"Every time a woman and child is hurt, the soul of India is wounded. While we have done well in many macroeconomic areas, we have not fared well in the World Happiness Index. We rank 133rd," the former president said.
"Democracy is not a gift to us but a sacred task. And our Constitution is a Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation of India. It represents the aspirations of millions of Indians. And from our Constitution, flows our nationalism," he also said.
Mukherjee also said that the concept of modern India was "articulated from various Indian leaders, it was not bound by race or religion."
"Our national identity has emerged through a long drawn process of confluence and assimilation. The multiplicity and pluralism separate us from others," he said.
Earlier in the day, Mukherjee described KB Hedgewar as a "great son of Mother India' as he visited the birthplace of the RSS founding sarsanghachalak.
"Today, I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India," Mukherjee wrote in a visitor's book at Hedgewar's birthplace ahead of his much-anticipated speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
Before the former president spoke, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the debate over Mukherjee's decision to attend the RSS event was "meaningless" and no one is an outsider for his organisation.
While the Sangh is often described as a Hindu right-wing organisation, it calls itself a nationalist and cultural organisation rather than a political or religious one. It was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar on 27 September, 1925 on Vijayadashami day at his house in Nagpur.
Mukherjee's decision to attent the RSS event has already triggered a major political slugfest with several Congress leaders criticising his decision.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel expressed his disapproval at former president Pranab Mukherjee visiting the RSS headquarters in Nagpur and said he did not expect this from him.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 22:02 PM