Former President Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran Congress leader, will address an event of the RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the organisation frequently criticised by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Mukherjee will deliver the main address at a function organised on June 7 in Nagpur for RSS cadre training to become full-time volunteers or pracharaks.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP and several ministers visit its headquarters in Nagpur. Congress president Rahul Gandhi accuses the organisation of trying to divide the country on religious lines.
A Congress leader said it was Mukherjee who had moved the political resolution at the AICC’s Burari plenary session in 2010, asking the then UPA government to “investigate links between terrorists and the RSS and its sister organisations that have been uncovered in some recent cases”.
Several top party leaders, including A K Antony, declined to comment, saying that they were unaware of Mukherjee’s programme. “He is an intelligent person. He has been the President of India. He is secular minded. So there will be no change in his behaviour by going there. He will remain the same,” former Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told The Indian Express.
“I think the best person to answer that question is the former President himself. The invitation was extended to him. He has accepted the invitation. Ostensibly he is going. So therefore, if there are any queries with regard to that, he is the best person to answer that,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari when asked how the party viewed Mukherjee’s decision.
“Why are you asking me? Ask other senior leaders,” was the reaction of another senior leader.
Mukherjee has been with the Congress almost all his life. In fact, when he demitted the office of the President last year, veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar had written that “freed of his constitutional constraints, a retired Pranabda could well become the Congress party’s principal counselor and help guide it back from its present nadir closer to the zenith.”
Asked about his view, Aiyar, who was suspended from the Congress last year, said he was not sure whether Mukherjee had accepted the invitation. “As far as I have read, he has been invited but he will be giving his decision at the appropriate time… I am sure that he is weighing it in his mind and I am sure he is consulting others as well. So, this is quite the wrong time for an outsider to comment.”
Meanwhile, RSS sources in Nagpur said Mukherjee had met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at least four times after leaving Rashtrapati Bhavan. “The first meeting between the two happened when Mukherjee was President. Subsequently, the two met at least four times. Frequent exchanges do blunt the sharp edges of difference of opinion. This paved the way for Mukherjee to accept the invitation,” said a senior functionary.
Sources added that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari may have facilitated the meetings between Mukherjee and Bhagwat.
“Also, the RSS has a tradition of inviting people not belonging to its ideological line of thinking to two of its most important programmes in Nagpur — the annual camp and foundation day. In 2007, former Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis was invited,” said the functionary.