Pranab Mukherjee is a consummate politician. Yet, sometimes politicians falling in that class also trip up. For a person who understands the historical moorings of the Congress party, its avowed ideals and the challenges it faces, he must have given deep thought before he acquiesced to stand in the midst of forces that have had a visceral hatred for what the Congress has always stood for.
The RSS propagates a kind of religious fervour, far removed from the essentials of Hinduism. It seeks a form of revanche which manifests itself in levels of intolerance, that have since 2014, witnessed a turbulent India trying to come to terms with the civilisational values she historically cherished. There are two parallel ideologies at play. One that is sanctioned by the Constitution and the other that is constitutionally abhorrent. One that seeks to uphold the values of our Republic, the other that endeavours to emasculate those values. One embraces nationalism and patriotism as concepts that are associated with citizenship, the other seeks to redefine both concepts. When provoked, people must, to prove their patriotism, say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, otherwise they are slapped around. The silence of the RSS is a sign of approbation. All those who condemn this government’s turns and u-turns in our policy towards Pakistan or criticise the army’s use of pellets with children losing their eyesight in Kashmir are targeted for being anti-national. We are required to follow majoritarian impositions to prove both our patriotism and nationalism.
This majoritarian cultural mindset is antithetical to what we peace-loving citizens have always stood for. The thoughts of K B Hedgewar provide the breeding ground for RSS ideologues. The aspirations of the RSS are not limited to capturing the reins of power. They seek transformation of India and assertion of Hindu pride badly bruised by centuries of dominance. Innocent victims of violence at the hands of obscurantist mindsets are setting an example of such assertion. Today, it is not the BJP but the RSS that seeks to guide India to realise her destiny, in direct contrast to the BJP of the Vajpayee era. This majoritarian culture muffles free speech of all those opposed to it; celebrates violence with impunity; decides on what we should eat and how we should dress; issues diktats on what we should trade in and how we must trade; derides and punishes if we marry outside the narrow confines of their prejudices; seeks conformist forms of artistic expression and decides on the heroes and villains of history which need not emerge from scholarship; ensures that children’s textbooks align with majoritarian thought processes and makes universities laboratories of conflict by demoralising those holding contrarian views. To achieve all or some of the above, the recruitment of RSS pracharaks in the several layers of government is part of the national agenda. All this is a precursor of things to come including government control of all channels of communication. To top it all, the RSS through rumours and misinformation evokes societal frenzy, treating those on the other side as the enemy. Corrupted social media platforms are used to spread rumours, breed hatred and help the majoritarian cause.
The lathi is not a weapon to be used for self-defence. We have been shaken by images of lathis lacerating innocent victims for following their vocations. The bizarre sight of the flow of lathis is in sharp contrast to stratified thoughts and static minds that wield them. The trappings of discipline along with a moulded mindset provide for an uncompromising authoritarian culture. To see Pranab Mukherjee in their midst was almost surreal. He surely had not gone there to convince the RSS top brass. Nor could his valedictory address be an occasion for a dialogue. To give the RSS lessons in the history of a multi-cultural, tolerant India and the true meaning of nationalism and patriotism was akin to pouring water off a duck’s back. So why did he go? He certainly did not go there to prove his credentials. His long years of public service did not need public articulation and that too within the ranks of those whose purpose in life is to deconstruct the legacy of India.
Yet, I don’t think his presence gives legitimacy to obscurantist forces that seek to paint India saffron. The Congress need not be unduly perturbed. He did not go there as a representative of the party. Had that been so, he would not have given any space to those who are seeking to prosecute the Congress president. He went there, I think, to symbolise the forces that represent the mainstream of Indian politics reasserting itself. That he could have done the same without embarrassing mainstream India was a matter of his choice. That choice was a misstep. To have him pay respect to the bhagwa jhanda and refer to Hedgewar as a great son of India will be moments that will be savoured by the RSS: Moments embarrassing for the idea of India. This is the time for the Congress to be the uncompromising mainstream of politics, undiluted by this hyphenated moment.