If there is one thing former President Pranab Mukherjee’s much-anticipated address to a gathering of RSS workers at the Sangh’s Nagpur headquarters has done, it shows up the pathetic hypocrisy of the Congress party. So nervous was the Congress over what Pranab da, who served the party for over five decades, would say that some of its leaders betrayed starkly their insecurities that he would laud the RSS and thereby expose the hollowness of their diatribes against it.
It started with mild suggestions that the octogenarian leader should not share a platform with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat but as the date for the workers meet that the former President was to address drew near, there was a discernible shrillness in the tone and tenor of those in the Congress who bent over backwards in a show of servility to the First Family of the party—the Sonia Gandhi-Rahul duo that calls the shots in the party. His own daughter Sharmishtha, who is a Congress leader, was drafted to dissuade him from attending the passing out function for new RSS recruits.
The party that had launched a campaign against the so-called ‘intolerance’ of the BJP to contrary views a couple of years ago was showing signs of intolerance towards a leader who had served it for decades in various capacities, inherently suspicious of such a senior leader.
There was a time when internal dissent within the Congress party was allowed, albeit grudgingly. There were the dissenters in the shape of Young Turks like Chandrashekhar, Mohan Dharia and Rajesh Pilot, who had the courage to speak up against the established order while being in the party. Right since Sonia Gandhi muzzled dissent and threw out the powerful Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma, and Tariq Anwar from the party for questioning dynastic succession, any contrary opinion was either not expressed or if it was, it was frowned upon by party bigwigs.
Mukherjee laments privately to this day how he was to be the natural choice for prime minister in 2004 but was overlooked by Sonia Gandhi who preferred the more pliable and conformist Manmohan Singh to don the mantle so that he could be at her beck and call. Then again, when Sonia deemed her son Rahul to be ready to succeed her as party president, she conveniently manipulated Pranab to be the party’s choice for president so that he may be out of Rahul’s path.
Mukherjee has not forgotten it and at the back of the minds of minions like Anand Sharma and Ahmed Patel was the fear that at the RSS meet he may say something that embarrasses the Sonia-Rahul duo. What they miscalculated was that Pranab da was schooled in the Congress culture in his entire life as a politician.
Nevertheless, it is significant that Mukherjee steered clear of criticising or pontificating to the RSS about values like secularism, nationalism and patriotism. Indeed, he did talk about all these and also about liberal thinking but without pointing fingers at the RSS, alluding to the values that have been passed down through generations.
He talked of how various civilisations and religions left their deep imprint on the people and the country and of how India was an amalgam of cultures of these civilisations.
His observation that the soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance, this plurality came with assimilation of ideas over centuries and that secularism was a matter of faith for us summed up his ideas without seeming to push them down the throats of the audience. The message was subtle, yet effective. The ruling dispensation of the BJP has lessons to imbibe from it as does the Congress.