It is amusing to see that there should be such strong reactions within the Congress over Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to accept an invitation to speak at a function of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on Thursday, where the former President of India even described the founder of the RSS as a “great son of Mother India”. The total ostracism of the RSS from the Indian political psyche started immediately after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse of the RSS. Ever since, there has been no tolerance of the RSS in the polity of the country, and people who have made even the slightest efforts towards a more tolerant view of the RSS have generally been looked down upon as unpatriotic or even anti-national individuals who have to be shown the door. As such, the invitation extended by the RSS to former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to speak at one of its functions at the Sangh’s headquarters in Nagpur did not go down well with the Congress at all. After all, he was a veteran Congress leader and ideologue, and any concession made to the total isolation of the RSS (that had become a high point of the Congress over the years) could not but cause great distress to lakhs of Congress workers all over the country. Prominent among those critical of Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to address the RSS meeting is his own daughter. What many of his critics seem to overlook is that he was also President of India, and a former President’s willingness to accord due recognition to a major political entity of the country that had been consigned to the wilderness must be seen as a positive approach to such matters.
What is sought to be totally overlooked is the main theme of Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the RSS headquarters. His emphasis was very rightly on the importance of tolerance for a democratic country. He was of the view that any attempt to define India through “religion, dogma or intolerance” will only dilute the country’s existence. He emphasized the point he was trying to make about the need for tolerance by saying that intolerance would only dilute India’s national identity, and that Indian nationalism emanated from universalism, assimilation and co-existence. “In India, we derive our strength from tolerance, and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity,” he added. Given Pranab Mukherjee’s stand on tolerance, many people are likely to view his attitude as one of letting bygones be bygones. He is obviously out to ensure that one single sin committed many years ago should not permanently condemn a major political entity to the doghouse for all times to come, and that there should be the willingness to forgive past wrongs. This is very much an aspect of the tolerance that he advocates.
There are a lot of people who have found fault with Pranab Mukherjee’s speech for his failure to mention the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by an RSS activist even in passing. What people need to do is to ask themselves what is the rational and acceptable kind of conduct in such situations. At a time when a former President of the country as well as a veteran Congress leader is out to extend the olive branch to a political entity that had committed a major crime in the past, does it help matters to rake up an unhappy crime of the past to mend strained relations? What purpose would have been served by a reiteration of a past event only too well known to all Indians? If Pranab Mukherjee was out to mend matters and open a door to a new relationship based on forgiveness, he could not have done things better than what he did on Thursday.