Last Sunday morning, a senior Congress leader, believed to be close to former President Pranab Mukherjee, confirmed what was initially thought to be a mere rumour. He told me that Pranab babu has indeed accepted an invite by RSS to deliver the keynote address at a convocation programme at its headquarters in Nagpur on June 7.
A seasoned politician, Pranab was never finicky about his political friends. Be it the ruling party, opposition or members of the regional parties, he has always maintained a good rapport with everyone.
While the BJP and the Congress are political rivals, many BJP leaders have a warm relationship with Pranab babu. He used to go for his morning walks with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Once, he even mentioned in a Bengali daily that Vajpayee ji stands out among all the parliamentarians he knew. It is also well-known that during his tenure as President, he twice invited RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for lunch. Many Congress leaders were miffed by this.
But Pranab’s good relations with the BJP leadership didn’t end with Vajpayee. Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always taken his views and advice in important matters. They said PM Modi used to send his cabinet ministers to discuss matters with Pranab even after his tenure as President ended. Take for e.g, Nirmala Sitharaman who went to meet Pranab babu the very next day after she was appointed the Defence Minister.
So far so good. But how can Pranab end up going to the RSS headquarters?
While Pranab is a religious person, he is well-known for his secular credentials. During his presidential term when PM Modi requested him to visit Israel, Pranab insisted that he would visit Palestine too. Such was his accountability towards his secular beliefs. Hence, his decision to attend the RSS convocation didn’t go down well with most Congressmen.
It is possible that Pranab will explain himself on June 7 in Nagpur.
Few questions still lie unanswered. Maybe Pranab will preach for patriotism and nationalism in Nagpur. He may speak about the non-feasibility of the thought of setting up of a Hindu country. He may also give a lecture on secularism and the peaceful coexistence of all religions. But will that message travel to the other parts of India? Will the people of rural India, villages and smaller towns of Bengal ever come to know what he exactly said in Nagpur? Perhaps the only memory they will retain is that the reverent Brahmin of Kirnahar went to the RSS headquarters.
The activities of the RSS have increased in Bengal and the number of sakhas have gone up over the last few years. The BJP is also flexing its muscles in Bengal and has rose to become the second-most powerful political party in the state after Trinamool.