In a profoundly loaded political move, former President Pranab Mukherjee, together with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), sent out a powerful message to the country in his address at the RSS event on Thursday evening that his is still very much around in the troubled political arena and the vast goodwill and tall stature that he has as a public figure cut across the sharp political divide dogging the nation.
Obviously, the step taken by the 82-year-old former President by visiting and delivering a speech at the RSS headquarters would further rattle the Congress which has been his party until elected as President about six years ago.
Pranab and the RSS, both tried though obliquely to wade through and breach the controlling family circuit of his old party which is now headed and run mainly by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress is yet to come out of its silo formed by the Nehru-Gandhi family and the RSS and its virtual progeny the BJP have been resenting it and often attacking the family posing an existential crisis to the Congress and Nehruvian legacy.
The animosity between the Congress and the Sangh Parivar has come now to the tether with the approaching countrywide general elections next summer and a few Assembly polls billed before that.
Pranab appears to nurse a great sense of deprivation by the very fact that despite his long standing in public life he could not become the country’s prime minister when the opportunity came at least twice--after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and in 2004 because of the stranglehold of the Gandhi family over the Congress party.
Now, as another round of parliamentary polls are around the corner, he seems to have decided to flaunt his statesmanship which cannot be matched either by his contemporaries or the upcoming leaders in the party’s rung like Rahul Gandhi.
The long overview of the country’s uninterrupted march of history given by Pranab was marked by citing strong cultural and moral force that India collectively could retain and summon to move forward to this democratic era. The points made by him signified the need for leaders and statesman of high stature since the country deserved better. And this claim was endorsed by his hosts from the RSS through their sheer warmth and bonhomie shown to Pranab. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat too shared Pranab’s viewpoints though saying that Pranab would remain Pranab even after visiting the Nagpur seat of the RSS.
In fact, Pranab tried to do a kind of neutral or common positioning vis-à-vis political divide as is the RSS refrain of not participating in politics directly or otherwise and yet influencing politics to the hilt through its veiled control over both society and its affairs. The critics and observers of politics are not going to miss the subtle and roundabout move to pose a challenge to the Congress on the part of both the RSS and Pranab. Together the two tried today to improve their moral position to intervene as saviours of what is called as wider national interests.
Today’s entire Nagpur exercise was meant to hoist Pranab as the tallest statesman of the country and this can be put to harness at an appropriate point of time given the flux the country has come to face amid its perpetual election mode ever since the loss of power by the Congress and its efforts to regain it now.
The Congress on its part has reacted bitterly to this evening’s Nagpur spectacle executed rather successfully to challenge the present leadership of the Congress. Its newly elected president Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the RSS and the BJP has thus virtually been answered by both Pranab and the RSS leadership, posing a new challenge before him and his party.
In a way, the latest events at the RSS bastion boil down to playing soft secularism by the RSS via hosting Pranab. This is akin to the soft Hindutva that Rahul Gandhi opted for and tried by visiting temples during his recent election campaigns in Gujarat and Karnataka. Couched in a language of need for unity and harmony despite diversity and plurality, Pranab’s talk was meant to build bridges across the political divide and with an eye on the future course that the choppy waters of politics may take in a few months and the year to come.