June 09, 2018

India: The Sangh parivar appeared jubilant after Pranab Mukherjee's visit to the RSS headquarters

The Telegraph

Sangh hears its own voice
J.P. YADAV Jun 09, 2018 00:00 IST

A picture the RSS tweeted with the following caption: Former President of India Sh. Pranab Mukherjee pays tribute to Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of RSS, at Smriti Mandir, Nagpur

New Delhi: The Sangh parivar appeared jubilant after Pranab Mukherjee's visit to the RSS headquarters, claiming the views on nationalism the former President voiced were no different from its own and underlining that this was a rare occasion when a national leader had acknowledged "the great contribution" of its "unsung" founder.

Even the sidelined and otherwise silent L.K. Advani was moved to issue a statement, in which he commended both Mukherjee and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

"There was significant concord and resonance in the views expressed by both leaders. Both of them highlighted the essential unity of India, which accepts and respects all diversities including the pluralism of faiths," the BJP veteran said. He described Mukherjee's visit to Nagpur on Thursday as "a significant event in our country's contemporary history".

Advani's junior colleague R. Balashankar, a member of the BJP central committee on training and former editor of the RSS-affiliated weekly Organiser, could not hold back his glee or resist a stab at the Opposition in an article he wrote on ndtv.com titled "With Pranab visit, BJP smiles, RSS gains, and Congress seethes".

The Congress, which had counted Mukherjee as one of its tallest leaders, has reacted cautiously to the visit but has not been able to hide its unease. Its leaders have largely tried to focus on the message of "pluralism and tolerance" in Mukherjee's speech.

But the disappointment broke through in former Union minister Manish Tewari's question on Twitter: "Why did you choose to go to the RSS headquarters & deliver homilies on nationalism? Whatever the motivation was, it will be seen as just an attempt to mainstream RSS...."

Others in the Opposition camp appeared on the same page. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: "If asked, I would not have gone."

On Thursday, he had asked why Mukherjee had not brought up Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in his speech.

"The warmth of welcome and the personal chemistry between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Mr Mukherjee will be debated for long but the message the former President delivered has elevated the RSS to a new height in national esteem," Balashankar wrote.

"As Mr Mukherjee's daughter... said, the visual will stay alive. But what actually will gladden the RSS hearts is that the former President's speech sounded like a Sangh baudhik (intellectual), almost an endorsement of what RSS Sarsanghchalak Bhagwat said from the same platform," he added.

Mukherjee's daughter Sharmistha had tweeted her opposition to her father's decision to accept the RSS invite, saying his speech would be forgotten but the visuals would remain and those would be "circulated with fake statements".

The RSS Twitter handle, which goes for days without any activity, was buzzing during the visit.

Pictures of Mukherjee paying tribute to RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar and second RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, standing up for the Sangh prayer and watching the saffron flag being hoisted were posted in quick succession.

"Pranabda & Mohanji (Mohan Bhagwat) offered their homage at the Samadhi of Pujya Dr Hedgewarji," read the caption to one picture.

Ahead of the event, there were rumours that Mukherjee had refused to pay homage to Hedgewar and Golwalkar. But not only did he go, the former President described the RSS founder as "a great son of Mother India" in the visitors' book at his birthplace.

"This is perhaps one of those rare occasions when a national leader acknowledged the great contribution to nation-building of RSS founder...(who) has remained unsung and unrecognised outside Sangh parivar for long," Balashankar wrote.

He described the visit as of "tremendous political and organisational advantage" to the RSS, adding: "For all time to come, it (the RSS) will gloat about it."

Advani, whose own "respectful homage" to Muhammad Ali Jinnah at his mausoleum in Karachi in 2005 had infuriated the Sangh, described Pranab as a "statesman who strongly believes in the necessity of dialogue and cooperation among people of various ideological and political backgrounds".

"As a lifelong swayamsevak of the RSS, I believe that these two national leaders have truly set a praiseworthy example of dialogue transcending ideological affiliations and differences," he added.