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Pranab Mukherjee’s RSS ‘masterstroke’ proves to be a ‘googly’ that deceived left, right and centre

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New Delhi, June 8: Former President and veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee's much-talked-about short trip to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra on Thursday evening can be described in a single line: He came, he saw, he conquered!

At 82, Pranab babu aptly sent a strong message that he is still "politically relevant", even to his once adversary which sought his validation in times of political uncertainty. He exacted a sweet revenge on the Congress which at least on two occasions denied him the post of Prime Minister, a fact he lamented openly in his memoir --The Coalition Years: 1996-2012--unveiled last year.

pranab mukherjee

Or did the seasoned and astute leader, who spent almost 50 years of his political life singing paeans to secularism and democracy, risk everything that he has earned in his lifetime by embracing the "communal forces"?

Or did the "much-maligned" RSS get the maximum mileage by successfully pulling up a stunt of inviting a loyal Congressman to its den and thereby getting legitimacy by the opponents?

One can interpret Mukherjee's decision to grace the concluding function of RSS' "Tritiya Varsh Varg" or third-year course as its chief guest depending on which side of the political fence one sits on. But in the entire hullabaloo, much-fueled by the media, the Congress has emerged as a biggest loser.

First attempts to dissuade, followed by frowning and ending with a dose of praise, the Congress' reaction to Mukherjee's visit to the RSS headquarters saw a whole range of emotions which the man at the centre of the storm decided to give a royal ignore.

While he asserted that India's "nationalism" flows from its Constitution in his speech, at the same time Mukherjee described RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar as "a great son of Mother India".

Before his much-anticipated speech at the RSS headquarters, Mukherjee while paying tributes to Hedgewar at his birthplace wrote in a visitor's book, "Today I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India."

The one line was enough to set the tone and toner of his visit which caused an equal amount of confusion, consternation and celebrations in various political camps. When he finally spoke after the 40-minute-long speech by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Mukherjee invoked Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel and said the "soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance".

He also reminded the mostly Hindi-speaking swayamsevaks in English that "India's nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy". The only one current grievance of the nation that got mention in his speech was the rise in rape cases when he said "every time a child or woman is brutalised, the soul of India is wounded".

Rest of the issues like mob lynchings, cow politics, Dalit atrocities, 'love jihad' and others got buried under the carpet. He did mention about the "divisive politics" by stating that "nothing should be done to divide the people". But it was too veiled a message to be understood by even those who were listening to him live.

In spite of his speech being hailed by many as "catholic and Nehruvian", others continued to raise questions over the President-politician's RSS sojourn. The critics highlighted the fact that why Mukherjee did not mention about several ban imposed on the right-wing group and Mahatma Gandhi's assassination-- a taint the sangh parivar is unlikely to get rid of soon.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted: "In the 'history capsule' delivered by Pranab Mukherjee at the RSS headquarters, the absence of Mahatma Gandhi and his assassination speaks volumes."

He added, "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."

After former Congress president Sonia Gandhi's close-aide Ahmed Patel's rebuke on Twitter, "I did not expect this from Pranabda", and Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma's expression of "anguish" caused to millions of Congress workers by Mukherjee, as the day came to an end, the Congress took a more friendly approach by citing the fact that the former President "has shown mirror of truth to the RSS".

In all this frequent change of heart by the Congress, the RSS and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had the last laugh.

BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav tweeted: "Great address by Dr Pranab Mukharjee (sic) at Nagpur. His address n Dr Bhagwat's address r in a way complementary to each other. Nation First is d core message of both."

Or did maverick "Citizen Pranab" (as his Twitter handle describes him) manage to trick the BJP and the RSS too by lambasting (in a veiled manner) their ideologies in their home turf?

Interpret at your own peril!

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