At RSS Headquarters, former President Pranab Mukherjee preaches tolerance

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New Delhi, June 8: Warning that hatred and intolerance diluted national identity, former President and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday spoke from an RSS platform to declare nationalism was not bound by race or religion.

As his visit to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur to address new recruits of the organisation sparked criticism from Congress leaders, including his daughter, Mukherjee cautioned that any attempt to define India through “religion, dogma or intolerance” would only dilute the country’s existence.

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His half-an-hour address had a lesson for everyone. To the RSS, the former President recalled “vasudhaiv kutumbakam” (the world is one family) as the soul of Indian nationalism; to new Sangh recruits he spoke of the need for harmony; to his parent party Congress, he emphasised the need for dialogue and to PM Narendra Modi, he quoted Kautilya’s lessons in governance.

Unfazed by the fact that he was standing with people he had ideologically opposed all his life, Mukherjee used the occasion to drive home “diversity and acceptance” as the bedrock of Indian nationalism and to remind the pracharaks of the need for unity.

“We derive our strength from tolerance. We accept and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity. Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity,” the former President said.

To sceptics, including his daughter Sharmishtha, the ex-President said informed public engagement was essential in democracy. “A dialogue is necessary not only to balance competing interests, but also to reconcile them. We may argue, may agree, may not agree but we cannot deny the existence of multiplicity of opinions,” he said.

Wading through India’s past, Mukherjee spoke of how through 3,500 years of being ruled by dynasts, India’s 5,000 years of civilisational unity remained unchanged while foreign elements were absorbed to create a new synthesis of national unity.

“Multiplicity of cultures, faith and languages makes us special,” Mukherjee repeated to 707 pracharaks, passing out after rigorous RSS training. He carefully dotted his speech with quotes from S Radhakrishnan, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bal Gangadhar Tilak to hammer home his point. “When Tilak spoke of swaraj, he meant a swaraj for people encompassing all castes and religions and languages.”

He lauded the Constitution at a gathering full of RSS sympathisers, saying, “For us, democracy is not a gift, but a sacred trust… The Constitution is not a legal document but a Magna Carta for the socio-economic transformation of society. From our Constitution flows our nationalism.”

The former President also commented on the “routine of violence” in the country, saying India may be the fastest growing economy but it was lagging on the World Happiness Index.

“You are young. I must tell you that manifestations of rage are tearing our social fabric. We must free public discourse of violence, both physical and verbal. We must move from anger and conflict to love and harmony. Our motherland is asking for happiness. Our motherland deserves happiness,” Mukherjee said as he marveled the fact that 1.3 billion Indians used 120 languages, 1,600 dialects, followed seven major religions, belonged to three ethnic groups and still stood united under one flag, one Constitution and one identity.

“This is Bhartiyata,” the former President said at the RSS headquarters after he had paid tributes to Sangh founder KB Hedgewar, calling him a “great son of Mother India”. Earlier, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke of the irrelevance of controversy around Mukherjee’s visit.

Source Tribune India