Former President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday delivered the much-anticipated address at an RSS event and said that attempts to define our nation on religion, region, hatred and intolerance will lead to “dilution” of our country’s identity.
“Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogma and identities or religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity. We celebrate our diversity,” said Mukherjee.
The former president hailed the diversity in Indian society and its rich history, saying that the country derives its strength from pluralism.
“Soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance. This plurality appeared with assimilation of ideas over centuries,” he said.
On secularism the former president said, “Our national identity has emerged after a long drawn procedure of confluence and assimilation, the multiple cultures and faiths make us special and tolerant. Secularism is a matter of faith for us.”
Mukherjee who served as the President of India from 2012 to 2017 said that we must free our public discourse from all kinds of fear and violence.
“It is Perennial Universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects, practice seven major religions and belong to three major ethnic groups, who live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Bahrtiya,” the former president said as he proceeded to reflect on the vast pluralism enshrined in the Indian society. “India’s nationhood is not one language, one enemy and one religion,” he added.
He spoke on the necessity to fight a war against poverty, disease and deprivation for nationalism to persist.
“People are at the centre of all activities of the State and nothing should be done to divide them. The aim of the State should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against poverty, disease and deprivation. Only then can we create a nation where Nationalism flows automatically,” he said.
Mukherjee further elucidated his idea of nationalism by quoting Mahatma Gandhi. “As Gandhi ji explained Indian nationalism was not exclusive nor aggressive nor destructive,” he said.
Mukherjee cited an excerpt from former Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s book, “Discovery of India”, where he had written on secularism’s importance in the context of India.
“It was this very nationalism that Pandit Nehru so vividly expressed in the book ‘Discovery of India’, he wrote, “I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and other groups in India.” he said.
Earlier today, Mukherjee was welcomed by senior RSS functionaries, including Bhagwat, on his arrival at the RSS headquarters.
Mukherjee who arrived in Nagpur last evening was invited by the RSS to deliver a valedictory address at its Shiksha Varg — an annual training camp, meant for swayamsevaks in their third year in the organization. The RSS holds training camps for first, second and third-year swayamsewaks.
Before Mukherjee’s address, RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat said that this event has taken place in the past as well and discussion surrounding Mukherjee’s presence at this event is inconsequential.
“Why was he invited? Why he accepted it? This discussion is preposterous,” he said.
Bahgwat added that RSS has never barred anyone from adopting the organization’s ideology.
“We have never refused anyone who wished to join our organisation because this is not what our culture teaches us. Despite all the differences, everyone is a child of Bharat Mata and should be accepted,” he added.
Shortly before his address, the former president visited the birthplace of the RSS founding Sarsanghachalak Keshav Baliram Hedgewar ahead of his much-anticipated speech
“Today I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India,” Mukherjee wrote in the guest book at Hedgewar’s birthplace in Nagpur.
The Hedgewar home was also the venue of the first ever meeting of the RSS which he founded in September 1925.
Mukherjee’s acceptance of the RSS’ invitation last month had raised several eyebrows. Several Congress leaders, including his daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee, were shocked with Mukherjee’s acceptance of the RSS’ invite and had asked him to reconsider it.
Yesterday, Sharmistha Mukherjee, who is also a Congress leader, had taken to Twitter and expressed her apprehensions on Mukherjee’s visit.
“By going to Nagpur, you are giving BJP/RSS full handle to plant false stories, spread falls rumours as today and making it somewhat believable. And this is just the beginning!” She tweeted.
A visibly dismayed Congress said that Mukherjee’s decision has “anguished millions of Congress workers and all those who believed in pluralism, diversity and the foundational values of the Indian Republic”.
The right-wing organization was banned on February 4, 1948, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The ban was lifted on July 11, 1949, after then Sarsanghchalak MS Golwalkar gave an undertaking that the organization would abide by the Indian Constitution.
The RSS said that it is the greatness of the former president to accept their invitation.
Shortly before Mukherjee’s address, the right-wing organization in a blog had endorsed the former’s decision, saying that the event will prove to be an “invaluable” opportunity to listen to his views.
Mukherjee had earlier said he will reveal his thoughts at the event itself.