There has been unseemly outrage amongst certain sections of the political class on former President Pranab Mukherjee’s acceptance of an invitation to be chief guest for the concluding ceremony of the RSS’s Tritiya Varsh Training programme. But no swayamsevak has expressed reservations on a Congress stalwart being invited to an RSS platform. We need to understand the roots of the difference in the two responses.
Mukherjee has spent decades in public life. The invitation was extended to him so that swayamsevaks have an opportunity to listen to his ideas on matters of social and national significance. He will also get an opportunity to have a first-hand experience of the Sangh. Such an exchange of views and ideas is intrinsic to the Bharatiya concept of dialogue. Why, then, this undemocratic opposition to the exchange of ideas?
The ideological roots of this opposition are predictable. Most voices in the country’s intellectual spectrum are from an ideology that is alien to India and has been rejected the world over for its high level of intolerance and use of violent means to achieve conformity — that is, Communism. Their idea of “thought conformity” rejects healthy exchange among diverse stakeholders. There is a lazy assumption that if you are not of a so-called leftist persuasion, you are a “right winger” by default — as a result, you are seen as someone who should be criticised and publicly shamed.
A few years ago, at the same programme, an invitation was extended to renowned social activist and Magsaysay Award winner, Abhay Bang. At that time, eminent socialists in Maharashtra were up in arms against Bang’s decision to accept the invitation. Many opinion articles in their Marathi mouthpiece, Sadhana, were critical of Bang. He responded by saying that he was going to the function to present his views, so why the opposition? Bang went on to praise the open-mindedness of the RSS, which had invited him, despite knowing his views. He submitted the text of his speech to Sadhana for publication. However, the magazine in which Bang had been a regular contributor — and claimed to be the vanguard of free speech — refused to publish the speech.
In 2010, I met Keshavan Nair, a CPM trade union leader from Kollam in Kerala. He had been expelled from the party for writing two articles in a local paper on “Science in the Vedas”. Singed by this hypocrisy, Nair decided to write extensively on the communists and published a book, Beyond Red. The blurb carries a quote from the book: “The freedom communists give you is to praise them.”
Once when I was visiting Kolkata as a prachar pramukh — the CPM-led Left Front held office in the state then — the local unit of the RSS tried to schedule appointments with the editors of The Statesman, The Indian Express, The Times of India, Vartaman and a left-leaning newspaper. The editors of all the newspapers, other than the one with communist leanings, acceded to the request. We were told that the editor of this newspaper did not want to waste his time by meeting me.
A couple of years ago, Dattatreya Hosabale and I were invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival to put forth the views of the RSS. We decided to accept the invitation. Individuals like Sitaram Yechury and MA Baby boycotted the festival because the RSS had been given a platform to air its views despite the fact that the Sangh is increasingly finding acceptance all over Bharat. Their elitist definition of free expression precludes any attempt to understand the RSS. But what is the motivation for such a protest? Is it their fear that should the RSS be given an opportunity to reach out to a larger audience, the veil of misunderstanding will be lifted and their lies will be exposed?
There is, however, a contrasting example. A few years ago, a delegation from the Communist Party of China (CPC), visited India. They were interested in a meeting with the Sangh. The CPC being a political party, it was obvious that they meet leaders of different political parties in India. But why did they want to meet people from the Sangh? They explained that as a cadre-based party, the CPC wanted an exchange of ideas with the Sangh, another cadre-based outfit. I responded with a point of difference: “CPC is a political party that works for state power and through state power while the the RSS believes in working directly with the society, and with the support of people.” Despite such differences, we had a gracious meeting.
A lack of original thinking in their ranks has led the Congress and other political parties to outsource their “intellectual space” to people from different schools of communism. The fourth Sarsanghchalak, Rajju Bhaiya, had a deep friendship with a senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh. Once, when Shri Guruji was visiting Prayag, this Congress politician was invited for an interaction with him, along with other prominent citizens. However, this politician regretfully declined, stating his presence would lead to unnecessary unpleasant chatter amongst his colleagues in the party. Rajju Bhaiya was startled and asked him whether such an interaction would indeed create a controversy. Shocked by the response he received, Rajju Bhaiya replied that in the Sangh, nobody would doubt his intentions if he were to be seen with a Congress leader. In fact, they would assume that he must be explaining the Sangh to his friend.
History is repeating itself after all these years. A towering leader, also the former president of the nation, is being questioned by junior leaders. The roots of this differing response lie in the Bharatiya and non-Bharatiya perspectives on dialogue. We welcome the decision of Pranabda, who has resisted all attempts to discourage him from attending this event, and look forward to his words of wisdom in Nagpur.