Pranab Mukherjee's speech seems to have stirred a hornet's nest. Here are a few reactions:
All eyes were fixed on former President and Congress veteran, Pranab Mukherjee, when he took the stage to address RSS swayamsevaks in Nagpur on Thursday. Several Congress bigwigs had expressed their disapproval after Mukherjee had accepted the invitation, and the ‘secular’ party was rather squeamish about their representative addressing their ideological nemesis on a valedictory event.
However, after the event was over, the Congress heaved a sigh of relief and reconsidered the erstwhile castigating comments that were hurled at the former President of India.
What the Congress has said:
Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, who addressed a press conference after Mukherjee’s address, questioned if the RSS and the BJP will change their “character, thought process and orientation” on Indian nationalism and “accept the sagacious advice of their guest Pranab Mukherjee”.
Standing by Mukherjee’s words, Surjewala challenged the RSS and its offspring BJP, asking, “Is RSS ready to admit its mistakes and adapt India's pluralism, secularism and diversity? Will RSS give up its prejudice towards women and the marginalised? Will it give up its inherent character of subjugation and violence?"
The Congress, however, seemed particularly jolted when Mukherjee called RSS founder K B Hedgewar as a "great son of Mother India". So much was their disdain that Anand Sharma blamed Mukherjee’s statement for causing anguish among millions of Congress workers who “believed in pluralism, diversity and the foundational values of the Indian Republic”. To Mukherjee’s assertion of dialogue between adversaries, Sharma said, “Dialogue can only be with those who are willing to listen, absorb and change."However, Sharma seemed to have jumped the gun while making such comments. Later, he took to Twitter and expressed his reverence for Mukherjee’s speech.
Pranam Pranab da, you have emerged proud and taller from Nagpur. There was never any doubt about your strength of character, moral courage, conviction and commitment to uphold the secular constitutional democracy.
— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) June 8, 2018
Even Mukherjee's daughter Sharmishtha took to social media after the senior leader's photograph sharing the dias with RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat.
You told RSS about the richness and diversity of India’s pluralism. Hope they will reflect and absorb your message.— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) June 8, 2018
See, this is exactly what I was fearing & warned my father about. Not even few hours have passed, but BJP/RSS dirty tricks dept is at work in full swing! https://t.co/dII3nBSxb6
— Sharmistha Mukherjee (@Sharmistha_GK) June 7, 2018
What the RSS has said
The RSS, on the contrary, seemed to be selectively oblivious to Congress’ criticism. Asserting that the Congress veteran endorsed their nationalistic credentials in his speech, RSS communication head Arun Kumar told the press, "Mukherjee's speech defined the RSS ideology that we are a 'one nation' with a dignified history that assimilates different religions and culture."
RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat said the “debate” around Mukherjee addressing RSS workers was “meaningless” and that “no citizen was an outsider for the RSS”. He added, “There are times when we have differences. But we are all sons of the same soil. We are all the same even in this diversity."
What the Left has said:
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury criticised Pranab Mukherjee for not mentioning “Mahatma Gandhi and his assassination” at the event while addressing RSS workers on the issue of Indian nationalism.
In the "history capsule" delivered by Pranab Mukherjee at the RSS headquarters, the absence of Mahatma Gandhi and his assassination speaks volumes.— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) June 7, 2018
He would have done well to remind the RSS of its own history - banned thrice by Congress governments, first time by Sardar Patel, following Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. "RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death", Patel wrote to Golwalkar.
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) June 7, 2018
What the BJP has said
Praising Mukherjee’s speech at the Tritiya Varga Varsha in Nagpur, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav told the press that Mukherjee’s words complimented those of Mohan Bhagwat. He added,”Democracy and striving for the welfare of all is described by both as the core of ancient Indian nationalism."Earlier, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had welcomed Pranab Mukherjee’s decision of accepting RSS’ invitation, saying RSS was not Pakistan's ISI but an organisation of nationalists. He had said, "Mukherjee's acceptance of the invitation is a good start. Political untouchability is not good."