In the end, Congressmen heaved a sigh of relief. While addressing a programme organised by the RSS at its headquarters in Nagpur, former President and former senior Congress leader and Cabinet Minister Pranab Mukherjee did not shower praise on the organisation. So elated was the party that it even went to the extent of saying there were elements in the speech which the Bharatiya Janata Party should focus on and implement. In an unguarded moment, a television commentator sympathetic to the Congress said the BJP must learn lessons from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s address which preceded that of Mukherjee and stressed on inclusiveness.
But the Congress cannot get away by explaining the event so easily. In the first place, its vehement opposition — expressed by some Congressmen in tones that were insulting — to the former President’s acceptance of the invite from the RSS, hasn’t been forgotten. Then there is Mukherjee’s praise for RSS founder KB Hedgewar, whom he called a “great son of mother India”. The Congress has no answer to that. The Congress has made much of that part of the speech in which Mukherjee strongly advocates inclusiveness, tolerance and secularism.
But then those were precisely the sentiments in Bhagwat’s address as well, and the BJP too has often spoken of genuine tolerance, secularism and inclusiveness minus appeasement. All said, there were two observations which Mukherjee made which should make the Congress sit up and take note of. The first concerns nationalism. The former President said national identity was above all other identities — he was obviously referring to religion, caste and region.
The RSS too has maintained before and since independence that the nation comes first, religion later. The second is that a dialogue with those holding conflicting ideological positions is an essential ingredient of a democracy. Contrast this with the intolerance the Congress has demonstrated in dealing with the RSS. It has flung wild allegations against the organisation and refused to engage in a dialogue with it. Indeed, the Congress has found fault with everything the RSS says or does. Mukherjee showed the way by attending this RSS event, even though throughout his life he opposed the RSS’s ideology. On its part, the RSS has shown exemplary tolerance to opposing views, and Bhagwat rightly observed that the controversy over the former President attending an RSS meet was meaningless, and that even after the event, “RSS will be RSS and Pranab Mukherjee would be Pranab Mukherjee”. It’s time the Congress takes a leaf out of Mukherjee’s statesmanship.