Decoded: Pranab Mukherjee's Discovery of India in the Birthplace of RSS
In his speech at the very sanctum sanctorum of the RSS in Nagpur, former president Pranab Mukherjee defined nationhood for the Sangh’s 700-odd cadets.
Nagpur: The RSS flag was slowly hoisted to the sounds of trumpets, marking the beginning of the ceremony. Former president Pranab Mukherjee looked straight ahead while others on the podium executed the RSS salute to the Hindu Dhwaj (Hindu flag).
After an elaborate drill and a welcome address by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Pranab Mukherjee introduced the subject of his speech — Nation, Nationalism and Patriotism.
Defining Indian nationhood and nationalism are inherent and fundamental to the Sangh ideology, a raison d'etre. The second RSS chief, MS Golwalkar, wrote a book titled We or Our Nationhood Defined in 1939. Golwalkar defined Indian nationhood through unity or commonness of five elements —geographical, language, race, religion and culture.
In the first decade of this century, with the expansion of both the RSS and the BJP, there is evidence to suggest the Sangh started to dissociate itself from ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’.
A report published in The Hindu in 2002 quotes the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee claiming that his party had never put its stamp of approval on the book. A Times of India report of 2009 similarly quoted a booklet released by the RSS, asserting that the book neither represents "the views of the grown Guruji nor of the RSS".
In his speech at the very sanctum sanctorum of the RSS, Pranab Mukherjee set out on the discovery of India and defined its nationhood for the 700-odd cadets listening in rapt silence in the Reshimbagh Grounds in Nagpur, and for millions more outside.
The former president of India defined the modern Indian state through SN Banerjee's speech at the Congress plenary in 1985, Bal Gangadhar Tilak's call for Swaraj, Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India and Sardar Patel's efforts in territorial consolidation after Independence.
And then Pranab came to the crux of his argument, constructing Indian nationalism through ‘constitutional patriotism'.
“From our Constitution flows our nationalism which consists of an appreciation of our shared diversity, a readiness to enact one's citizenship at different levels; the ability to self-correct and learn from other,” he said.
And then, as if deconstructing the five articles of nationhood defined in MS Golwalkar's book, Pranab averred: "India's nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy. It is perennial universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1,600 dialects in their everyday lives, practise seven major religions, belong to three major ethnic groups — Aryans, Mongoloids and Dravidians — live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Bharatiya and have no enemies.”
In his brief articulation of the history of India, Pranab skipped the Partition of India. Perhaps there is a reason why he did so. India was born on the percept of one nationhood, while Pakistan defined itself on its duality.
Towards the end of his speech, Pranab explained why he was at the Nagpur headquarters of the RSS addressing the valedictory function for the organisations third-year training programme.
"In a democracy, informed and reasoned public engagement on all issues of national importance is essential," he said. A dialogue is necessary and only through "dialogue can we develop the understanding to solve complex problems without an unhealthy strife within our polity", he said.
In his welcome address, Mohan Bhagwat touched upon the controversy surrounding Pranab’s trip to Nagpur. "Pranab Da will remain Pranab Da and RSS will remain RSS.”
The dialogue, however, must continue. Even in the post-truth era.
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