Arrogance manifests itself in many ways. A dictator thinks he is born to rule forever. An ideology that has for some time gained a hold over the masses thinks it is invincible because it alone is right. A party that has managed to win a massive mandate in an election imagines it has earned permanent ownership of the people’s support.
Goethe put it well in his tragedy Faust: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.” Life does not take dictates from any theory or organisation. Life rejects arrogance in both ideology and practice, and makes the arrogant bite the dust without them knowing when, where and how. In the last elections, people punished the Congress by giving it only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. Among the several reasons for its debacle was this: Many Congressmen believed, and behaved as if, their party had the birth right to govern India.
That arrogance has now become the hallmark of the BJP. Soon after 2014, its haughty leaders fancied the idea of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. The BJP began to treat the Congress, and also much of the rest of the Opposition, with contempt. Barring the interlude of the Emergency, never since 1947 have the relations between the ruling and the main Opposition party been as fraught as now.
Against this dark backdrop, a ray of hope appeared when Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak (chief) of the RSS, said in Pune two months ago, “‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ is just a political slogan. It does not belong to the language of the RSS.” He further remarked, “We have to include everyone in the process of nation-building, including those who oppose us. Since the RSS is the mentor of the BJP, Bhagwat ought to have given this gyan soon after the Modi-Shah duo coined this egotistical slogan. Better late than never.
Bhagwat also deserves our praise for going a step further and initiating a dialogue with “those who oppose us”. His invitation to former President Pranab Mukherjee to address a gathering of RSS trainees in Nagpur on June 7, and the latter’s acceptance of the request, mark a welcome breakthrough in our national discourse, which has remained stifled for a long time due to dogmatism and intolerance (from many sides, including the RSS) and its inevitable outcome: Samvaad-heenata (lack of dialogue) and sahayog-heenata(lack of cooperation).
His Twitter account describes Pranabda modestly as “Citizen Mukherjee”. Having served as the President of India with great acclaim, he now has a non-party identity, even though he has been a lifelong Congressman. In Rashtrapati Bhavan, his conduct was exemplarily non-partisan. Therefore, going by his track record, one can be sure the former President will give ample expression to his thoughts and concerns about our nation when he goes to Nagpur. We should not forget that after 2014, and especially towards the end of his tenure in 2017, he had repeatedly articulated his angst over the growing climate of intolerance. The need to defend secularism was a regular theme in his speeches.
Therefore, in Nagpur the nation expects Pranabda to tell the RSS that its goal of making India a Hindu Rashtra violates the core constitutional principle of secularism. He should also urge the RSS to become equidistant from all political parties — and therefore end its special relationship with the BJP — if it wants to be truthful to its own declaration of being a non-political organisation.
No dialogue can be one-sided. If those who are critical of the RSS choose to keep their eyes and minds closed to what is good about the organisation (its patriotism, its cadres’ selfless and disciplined social service) or are afraid of saying publicly what their eyes have seen and their minds have known, lest they are branded as “Hindutva sympathisers”, they should stay away from dialogue. They should stick to their traditional business of diatribe — of calling the RSS a “fascist” organisation and of practising in intellectual life the very vice, untouchability, which they rightly denounce in social life. Indian communists have excelled in this kind of ideological arrogance. Predictably, life has already taught them a sobering lesson. Today, in the collective national mindspace, their share has shrunk to far less than the equivalent of the Congress’s share in the Lok Sabha.
As a well-wisher of the Congress, here is my advice to its president. Rahul Gandhi should not blindly follow the communists’ example of denouncing everything about the RSS. Pranabda’s visit should be the beginning of a wider process of dialogue between the Congress and RSS-BJP, between Muslim organisations and RSS-BJP, and also between the Left and RSS-BJP, resulting in much-needed consensus and cooperation on major national challenges. Our national discourse needs to become future-focused, rather than remain past-obsessed. Constructive dialogue is a precondition for India’s equitable development, social cohesion and the healthy growth of our democracy. The Congress will emerge stronger from this dialogue because, more than any other party, it best represents India’s inclusive culture and constitutional ideals.
Rahul Gandhi should remind himself of the fine words he spoke when he took over as Congress president in December 2017. “I want the Congress to become an instrument for dialogue between all of us. From all corners of our great country. And our dialogue will always be led by light and affection.” Therefore, following Pranabda’s example, Rahul should visit Nagpur or, better still, invite Bhagwat to his home in New Delhi. He should know that even Mahatma Gandhi visited RSS congregations, not once but twice, and even appreciated some of its good qualities. This is because of his conviction, which is as relevant now as it was then, that our common Indianness transcends our differences — and that cooperation-promoting dialogue is the only way to reduce our differences, strengthen India’s unity and accelerate its rise.