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Pranab Da Makes a Visit but why Now?


Was one of the motives to undercut Rahul Gandhi as he prepares to appear before a Bhiwandi Court on the issue if ‘RSS Involvement’ in the Gandhi Assassination?

In current parlance, here is my  “takeaway” on Pranab Mukerjee’s so tantalizing  visit to the RSS Headquarters in Nagpur:

First, why was he invited?  However Mohan ji Bhagwat may have underplayed the occurrence as a rather routine and innocent one, the invite was clearly loaded with political purpose.

That India is now run by an RSS-led Bharatiya Janata Party is all very well, but inviting a former President of the Republic to RSS’s organizational den is quite another matter.

One thing is for sure: as Bhagwat cannily said in a speech intended to forestall  the chief address of the evening, there was no intention to learn new things from the sagacious Mr,Mukerjee.  Dialogue may have been lauded but it was always going to be a dialogue of the deaf, Leopards do not change their spots because someone of great  pharmaceutical knowledge brings  them a new brand of soap.

The event, let us not fool ourselves, was smartly intended to enhance the political acceptability of the  Sangh.  After all, Mr. Mukerjee did end up endorsing the late Hedgewar as a great son of India.  Coming from a former President—an office that  watches s over the Constitutional  uprightness of the realm—this was a coup. That Mr.Mukerjee, in deference to the office he had held lastly, did not insist on the national tricolor to be unfurled or the national anthem to be sung must be counted as further acquiescence  to a body of thought that accepted the tricolor some two years after Independence as a  tactical necessity in order that the ban on it could be lifted in 1949.

A second purpose that the RSS could well have had in mind  is to cause disruption among thinking Congress men and women with respect to the propriety or otherwise of Mr. Mukerjee making such a visit—underthe present conditions, a most useful thing to do from the point of view of the Sangh. Although the Congress has come to quickly clear the ground on this, post Mr. Mukerjee’s speech at Nagpur, the RSS  can claim to h ave had some success in causing a flutter among Congess men and women.  Indeed, Mr. Mukerjee’s own daughter felt obliged to publicly underscore her father’s naivete in the matter, and the ways in which the Sangh propaganda machinery would not but use his visit, in fair and foul  manner; th ink that already there is a video doing the  rounds which shows Mr. Mukerjee with a black RSS cap on his head.

A third purpose might have been to undercut Rahul  Gandhi as he prepares to s how up at a Bhiwandi court to  answer charges of defamation against the RSS on June 12.

So why did Mr. Mukerjee accept the invitation, given that he is no RSS man, although, interestingly, in his speech of all the foreign interventions and incursions he counted he cited only Muslims as “invaders.”

There can be no  doubt  that the thought of telling off  the Sangh view of  nationalism, identity, culture, patriotism in a speech delivered in their den must  have  seemed an act of great political enhancement,  This need not be denied,  But it would grossly  underrating Mr. Mukerjees’s  acumen  to think that he went there hoping he would teach the RSS a lesson they would actually learn. Just as Bhagwat ji explicitly did not think that Mr. Mukerjee would be converted to the Sangh cause once he was  welcomed at Nagpur.

In this context, Mr. Mukerjee’s sense of occasion must be lauded: after all as clips from his speech will continue to be aired, he will continue to be praised  for having articulated a critique that others, including Rahul Gandhi, are upbraided for voicing in and out. It must  be  conceded that in this Mr. Mukerjee understood how he could bear the weight of the office he had held before Shri Kovind took over to put on record a view of  pluralist nationalism and composite culture that had informed and driven the Freedom Movement,  That his articulation here was ringing and unambiguous must go to his great credit and hopefully to the aid of many struggling to push back revanchist and communal alternatives.  In recalling western nationalisms after t he Westphalia Treaty of 1648 which came  to be based on univocal axes  of religion, language, race, Mr. Mukerjee did well obliquely to suggest that after all the nationalism that t he RSS espouses is more western in character than indigenous.  A monumental irony there.  Whereas the national movement built by multifaceted Indian  leaderships was uniquely inclusive,  pluralist, assimilative and therefore, had secularism as the soul and  article of faith.  For this, one must be thankful to Mr. Mukerjee.

Where will this event lead, if anywhere?  To put the matter baldly, can Mr. Mukerjee hope that as a result of his ringing articulation of the Nehruvian view of our modern history the Indian National Congress might call upon him to be the face of the new opposition which is now in the making.  After all, the post of the Republic’s chief executive is one he has always thought his deserving.

The answer must be that this is highly unlikely,  fresh enthusiastic Congress cadres may not be expected to give up easily on Rahul Gandhi.

But that still leaves scope, in Mr. Mukerjee’s likely considerations, that a  “third Front “of secular formations may indeed call  upon  him to take the lead to give Mr. Modi a  Presidential-type of contest, come 2019.   This cannot be ruled out,.  Should such a thing eventuate, the Congress would indeed be put to considerable difficulty  in working out its options—a circumstance that may thus altogether go to favour the possibility of a Modi come back.

For now, the RSS may not gloat too much at the visit, given that Mr.Mukerjee very squarely poured cold water on its ideological world-view.  However astute Bhagwat ji’s  formulations were, inevitably  the notion of a Hindu Rashtra remained  central  to its projection.  And only the very gullible would argue that this view will see a secular and pluralist transformation as  a result of Mr. Mukerjee’s intervention.  The Sangh has never till now repudiated the notion of a Savarkarite citizenship of India, or Shri Golwalkers’ stipulations on being Muslim in India.  Till such repudiation happens, in all likelihood never, the Sangh, however it pitches for supremacy, will remain the “other”  of mainstream Republican thought.

It will be interesting to see, nonetheless, how influential media houses play out the event of Mr. Mukerjee’s visit.  This for the reason that  the obscene centralization of wealth now in India—a Corporate dream always—will not but continue to push Corporate media owners to tilt in favour of an equally  centralized political dispensation in which democratic processes and idealisms about equity and welfare are relegated to lip service at husting times.

It is tempting to stipulate that none of these tactical pushes and pulls may come  to be any great account in the next General Elections; one has the gut feeling that  a wave of anger now in  evidence across  the length and breadth of the country may reduce electoral minutiae to irrelevance.

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