Pranab Da under the shade of saffron

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 6/10/2018 10:27:38 AM

The Greeks used the subterfuge of the Trojan horse with a hidden army inside it and entered the citadel of Troy to conquer the independent city. Former president and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee had no Trojan horse with a hidden secret (or did he) as he crossed the lakshman rekha to enter the bastion of the RSS. All he carried with him are vague shadows of Nehruvian ideas and words. He said more or less what he was expected to say. But, as expected, he conquered not a single heart wearing the saffron robe. The only hearts he conquered were those sitting outside the ramparts of RSS' Nagpur headquarters, those who have faith in the plural and tolerant spirit of the Indian constitution. Pranab's words mirrored the aspirations of the many liberals of the country and appealed solely to their sensibilities. In doing so, he criticised many things that the RSS stands for and yet praised the organisation. In short, he used only a fraction of the ideals he professes to believe in.
There are many liberals who are going head over heels in describing the event of Mukherjee addressing RSS pracharaks at their Nagpur headquarter as the showcasing of the ability of Indians to dialogue with their ideological enemies. Many are also wishfully concluding that the heavy Hindutva-dosed fresh pass-outs of the RSS got a chance to follow up their years of training and drilling of venomous hatred with an eloquent speech by the former president on pluralism and that the true essence and values of tolerance would sensitise them to plural sensibilities as well. There are only few who are extremely critical of Pranab's very visit to Nagpur calling it a legitimization of RSS.
Was this indeed a dialogue in terms of content or the purpose? Dialogue means to enter into a discussion with or without the burden of resolving a problem. It essentially means, there is a two way conversation between the speaker and the listener and an interaction vice versa. Pranab Mukherjee's listeners in Nagpur were least bit interested in his respect for pluralism and his celebration of diversity, or his words, "Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity." The RSS pracharaks indoctrinated on liberal doses of hatred against minorities and prepared as warriors to establish a Hindu nation obviously have no appetite for such a discourse. They are trained to spread hatred and anti-minority propaganda and use every opportunity to unleash new tirades like 'Love Jehad' and 'cow slaughter' to browbeat and bully the Muslims, Dalit, Christians and other minorities, even lynch them; also intimidate and kill those who speak of maintaining plural ethos and rake up minority issues. They are not trained to think and certainly not trained to accommodate a different viewpoint. Could they be expected to listen and absorb the views that Pranab Mukherjee wanted to share with them?
To understand the import of Pranab Mukherjee addressing the RSS pracharaks at their Nagpur headquarter, we must begin at the very raison d'être of the event. More than trying to fathom why Pranab Mukherjee was inspired to go there, it is important to engage with the question of what was in it for the RSS. Mukherjee may be inspired by the idea of carving a larger role and relevance for himself in future Indian political scenario by creating an image that transcends the Congress tag and the ideological barriers. But surely the RSS had other designs. The organization has appropriated several leaders of the liberal camp, including Sardar Patel and Gandhi, in the past and selectively used their engagement with the RSS to falsely and mischievously project that such leaders were in approval of RSS ideas, convictions and actions. Mukherjee may become another iconic tool in its hands for pedaling the theory of its universal appeal, without even lending an ear to what he said. They will also try and get greater legitimacy for their heroes by using the moment in which Mukherjee bent backwards to please his hosts by calling the RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar "a great son of Mother India". Hedgewar, who wanted to create a Hindu nation and likened Muslims to snakes, stood for everything that is opposed to what Mukherjee said. Worse still, they will use selective contents of Mukherjee's speech for an image make-over of RSS from hatred and hooliganism to tolerance with penchant for dialogue and intellectualism. As RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, while setting the ground before Pranab Mukherjee spoke, said, "RSS swayamsevaks have the heart to accommodate divergent opinions". Indications as to how the RSS would use the event to its advantage are already visible.
Eventually it becomes irrelevant that Pranab Mukherjee had the full freedom to speak. He may have taken on the RSS in its empire but his by and large theoretical thesis can also be seen as hinging on moderation rather than a scathing critique. Mukherjee was careful not to punctuate his address with examples of hooliganism, intolerance and terrorism where RSS was the main patron or brain-child. He did not take them head-on, even though he should have. He was also cautious in focusing on ancient Indian history but skirted the medieval period that coincides with the rise of Muslim rulers. He didn't speak of the immense contribution of the Muslim rulers to the fields of art, literature, science, technology and in the infusion of a composite culture. He did not even speak of the colonial British empire uniting the many million Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Dalits, tribals and many others in their fight against the imperial powers; or about the ideas that disunited them.
He carefully let the content of his speech be ambiguous enough to suit both sides of the ideological divide. The words eventually will be interpreted in multiple ways, or forgotten. What will remain would be a memory of swayamsewaks doing their jarring drills and taking oaths with Pranab Mukherjee presiding over the event and giving it far more respectability than it deserved, and ultimately lending greater legitimacy to RSS and its pretentious contribution to the strengthening of democratic character of the country.
The Trojan horse in Nagpur was never Pranab Mukherjee's. Filled with its ammunition of propaganda and selective images, it belonged to the RSS which has won the larger battle. Pranab Mukherjee is not the loser. He is merely guilty of giving the trophy to them on a platter.



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