The news of former President Pranab Mukherjee attending an RSS event in Nagpur on June 7 has a sparked a massive outrage with the Congress and BJP firing salvos at each other. While the Congress was left red-faced on reports that the former President has accepted the invitation to be the Chief Guest at a key event of the right-wing organisation, the Bharatiya Janata Party missed no time in describing the RSS a nationalist organisation.
Speaking to reporters, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said that ‘political untouchability’ has no place in a democracy. “Anyone being invited for an RSS event has the right to decide whether to accept it or not. This kind of political untouchability is not correct in a democracy. Everyone should meet, discuss, exchange thoughts and wherever there is a difference of opinion, it must be given due respect.”
“It is good if Pranab Da is coming. Sangh is not linked to ISI or not an organisation of Pakistan. It is an organisation of nationalists,” he added.
Gadkari’s remark comes in the wake of reports that Mukherjee will on June 7 visit the RSS headquarters in Nagpur where he will address 700 workers attending the Trutiya Varsha. This has stunned many of the Congress leaders. Party leader Sandeep Dixit noted that Pranab Mukherjee was of the belief that there is no organisation worse than RSS in the country. He sought to know from the RSS whether it agrees with Pranab’s view about the Sangh. “He was our leader, we have spoken to each other many times on BJP and RSS. According to Pranabda, there is no party worse than the RSS in the country (Pranab da ki mansha ke hisaab se, RSS se jyada ghatiya aur ganda sansthan Hindustan mein koi aur nahi hai).”
“He had questioned the morality of the RSS and talked about corruption in the RSS… described it as communal, anti-national, unpatriotic. According to him, RSS is also the most dangerous institution for the country. We were of the view that the organisation should be thrown out of the country.”
“Does this mean that you (RSS) are endorsing the views of the person whom you are inviting? They (RSS) should clarify this,” he said.
Majid Memon of the NCP said that Pranab Mukherjee should have politely turned down the RSS invitation. “As an individual person, Pranab Mukherjee had a record of being extremely a secular person during his sting as a minister in various Congress governments and as President. When an invitation was sent to him from Nagpur, it is my individual view that Pranabda would have opted to politely decline this, expecting that people would start talking probably he is changing his stand.”
The CPI(M) has slammed Pranab Mukherjee for choosing to accept an invitation by the RSS. Party spokesperson Faud Halim said that the former President should have avoided the invite. “By being present, Pranab Mukherjee would be doing a disservice to the ideas he has lived with all his life. He would also be doing a disservice to his position of former President of India.”
Meanwhile, firebrand BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said that Pranab Mukherjee has demitted office and has full rights to decide on attending any event. “He is now a retired person. Throughout his life, he remained a Congressman but it doesn’t mean that he will not change. Circumstances change from time to time.” Swamy added that Jawahar Lal Nehru had invited the RSS to participate in the Republic Day parade.
He said that people are gradually getting to know the real face of the RSS. “It (RSS) has volunteers in each corner of the country and world. If they are inviting Pranab, why he should not accept it?”
RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha said that the Sangh has been inviting people from various walks of the life for its events for long. “RSS has been inviting people from different walks of the life like art, culture, literature etc. Jai Prakash Narayan had attended the Sangh Shiksha Vard. Pranab Mukherjee is another JP to attend the event.”
The RSS has also issued a statement saying there was nothing surprising about its invitation being extended to Pranab Mukherjee. It noted that it is the tradition of the Sangh to invite prominent personalities to its events. “Former President Zakir Hussain too had attended their events and praised the RSS,” it said.