Nagpur: Delivering a distinctly Nehruvian address, former President Pranab Mukherjee told Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday that the “soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance".

Mukherjee told the RSS cadres that he had “internalised these truths during his 50-year-long public life as a parliamentarian and administrator."

“This plurality of our society has come through assimilation of ideas over centuries. Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture which makes us one nation. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy. It is the perennial universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1,600 dialects in their everyday lives, practice seven major religion, belong to three major ethnic groups — Aryans, Mongoloids and Dravidians — live under one system, one flag, and one identity of being Bharatiya and have no enemies," Mukherjee said in a 41-minute address at the valedictory programme of RSS volunteers’ 25-day training camp at the Reshimbagh campus.

Mukherjee, who spoke in English and copies of whose speech were distributed to the press by the RSS, told the organisation’s cadres that “since they were trained and disciplined", they should endeavour to free “our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal".

As much as Mukherjee’s speech was addressed to the RSS, which avowedly chases the vision of a Hindu Rashtra, it was also very clearly aimed at his critics, most of them from the Congress, who objected to his accepting the RSS invitation. Without giving the RSS even a left-handed compliment, Mukherjee also spoke about the ideals dear to the RSS—Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The whole universe is my family) and Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramayah (let all be happy, let all be free from all malaises).

The former president, who while in office had met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat twice, began his speech after the Sarsanghachalak who was on the dias had spoken—a departure from RSS practice. Mukherjee began his address saying he would “share with you my understanding of the concepts of nation, nationalism, and patriotism in the context of India".

The former president recalled that India was always an open society and defined Indian nationalism as “universalism", which was distinct from the one based on a defined territory, a single language, shared religion, and a common enemy. He also quoted from Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’, saying “nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and other groups in India".

Before coming to the Reshimbagh campus, Mukherjee went to the home of RSS founder Keshav Hedgewar where Hedgewar held the first RSS shakha (congregation of RSS volunteers) in 1925.

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