Nagpur: As the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) prepares to host Pranab Mukherjee—its most illustrious guest ever and that too from an opposing ideological school—it’s putting out little about the former president’s programme at its Nagpur headquarters on Thursday.
The RSS, whose right-wing and pro-Hindutva thinking is at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum of Mukherjee’s secular Congress, has invited the former president to the valedictory programme of a training camp for RSS volunteers.
Mukherjee, who before becoming the President, held top portfolios such as finance, home, and defence, in various governments, is not the first non-RSS personality to have been invited at the quintessential RSS event. But he is certainly the most striking and politically important.
Mukherjee arrived in Nagpur on Wednesday evening amid intense speculation among RSS cadres and Congress party functionaries over the details of his programme at the RSS’ Reshimbagh campus.
It is not clear, for instance, if Mukherjee will visit the memorial of RSS founder Keshav Hedgewar to pay his respects, as most visitors do. “It depends entirely on his wish and schedule here. According to the schedule, the valedictory programme begins at 6.30pm tomorrow. Pranabda would speak first, followed by Mohanji (RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat). We do not know yet if Pranabda would take a round of the campus," said Anil Sambare, Vidarbha Prant Prachar Pramukh of the RSS. He said Mukherjee may have dinner at the RSS headquarters after the event.
If Mukherjee visits the memorial and pays respects, that would be “a momentous event by itself", said another RSS leader in Nagpur, who did not wish to be named. “Bharatiya sabhyata (Indian civilization) teaches respect for the elders and the dead even if they are your ideological opponents. Pranabda would be respecting this tradition if he goes to the memorial. Nothing wrong or political in it," said the RSS leader.
Mukherjee’s “very presence at the RSS event would serve the purpose that RSS wanted to serve, which is mutual respect for two diverse but nationalistic streams of Indian society", the leader quoted above said.
Congress leaders in Nagpur, who have been fighting turf wars with the RSS all these years, are astounded by the event and the buzz it has caused. Congress veteran and former Nagpur MP Vilas Muttemwar said all he was doing is look at the events in “stunned silence".
“What reaction can I give now? I am a very small person to react. The party should react. Some senior party leaders have suggested that he teach secularism to the RSS and I can only hope he does. All we can do now is wait for his speech," Muttemwar said.
Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram has asked Mukherjee to teach secularism to the RSS, while former Congress minister Jairam Ramesh urged the former President to decline the invitation.
However, veteran Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde said last week in Nagpur that Mukherjee was a “secular person and it was important in that sense that he accepted the invite".
Another local Congress leader and former Maharashtra minister said on condition of anonymity that the RSS had pulled off a “political and ideological earthquake" by inviting a “hard-core Congressman". “Mukherjee would definitely speak his mind but what our senior leaders don’t understand is the impact the RSS has already made," this Congress leader said.