Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Jun 2018 10:54:30

Former President Pranab Mukherjee will grace the valedictory function of the 3rd Year Officers’ Training Camp (OTC) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur on June 7. 

THIS news item saw many politically-oriented persons in the country lose their sleep. Since the news was aired, countless people in the political arena felt terribly uneasy and shocked that Mr. Mukherjee, a staunch Congressman for all his life, has agreed to attend the RSS function. Appeals have come from every possible quarter urging him to change his mind. Some rabid political leaders even went to a ridiculous extent of suggesting that Mr. Mukherjee carry a lock with him as he goes to the RSS function, and lock the organisation’s front door so that the RSS is shut forever. Though nobody takes such ridiculous statements seriously, the country came to know the kind of dirty uneasiness prevailing in political community if a Pranab Mukherjee decided to attend an RSS function.

Whether Mr. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee really attends the function or succumbs to pressure from all quarters and cancels his trip to Nagpur, only time will tell. But Indian democracy must thank Mr. Mukherjee for agreeing to attend the function and honour the RSS invitation. For, by initially saying ‘yes’ to RSS, Mr. Mukherjee has challenged a twisted political narrative the country has been putting up with for the past few decades, declaring that RSS is an anathema to India’s secular democracy. Now, the issue will get discussed in detail, no matter the high-decibel political cacophony that would go on until the June 7 programme. And if those who are opposing Mr. Mukherjee’s decision to attend the RSS function get an opportunity to shout their lungs out in protest, then those who welcome the development also will have an opportunity to put forward their point of view. In any democracy, such debates are necessary so that contrarian points of view get exposed to public scrutiny, no matter their political colour and ideological tilt.

The biggest objection to Mr. Mukherjee’s decision to attend the RSS function is that by so doing, he would declare his support to an opposing political ideology. So silly have some such arguments been that sensible people do not know how to respond to those nonsensical statements. They do not know whether they should respond at all to such arguments in the first place. The most critical point that this episode is highlighting is that if Mr. Mukherjee attends the valedictory function of the RSS 3rd year Officers’ Training Camp, then he will have a very appropriate opportunity to state his opinion about the parallel political narratives that the country has been witnessing for decades now. If expresses his reservations or opposition to the RSS ideology, then the RSS, too, would get an opportunity to state its point of view equally forcefully. And the ensuing churning of thoughts and ideas will certainly benefit Indian democracy like never before.

If democracy is a marketplace for criss-cross ideas, if it is a cauldron in which all inputs go through a serious churning, then such opportunities must be grabbed. For, the most important aspect of churning, any churning, is that it separates two critical elements in the fluid -- cream and scum. Both these elements emerge from churning. And then, the choice is often left for the people to make -- pick up the cream for use and throw away the scum. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the visit of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee to the RSS function would offer a great opportunity of a systematic churning so necessary to put to use the process of democratic mechanism so that the people get a chance to decide what is right and what is not right in ideological terms.

Of course, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is not an ordinary person. That he was President of India, is one detail of his illustrious career in public life. More importantly, he has been one of the saner elements in Indian politics. It was because of this dimension of his personality that Mr. Mukherjee had to suffer in politics, so much so that he was denied a legitimate claim to prime ministership at the nick of the last moment more than once. But the man endured all that, and proved not just to be a survivor but also to be a leader of thought. He might have indulged in one-sided ideological oneupmanship as well. Yet, through all that, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee came to be known as a saner element in the otherwise rabid ideological battles that have marked India’s domestic politics in the past four decades. He has often been recognised as a person who would never give up his belief just for the sake of some honour.

When such a person is invited to the RSS platform, what is wrong? For, such a person will only enhance the quality of political discourse in the country, and also possibly pave a way for development of possibilities of national agreement on issues that the country had refused to get engaged with. In fact, when Mr. Mukherjee attends the RSS function and speaks out his views on issues larger than party politics, then he will only promote a true and genuine discussion on an issue of ideological quarantine into which the Left-of-the-Centre political elements have pushed the RSS. That would be a very important moment in domestic democratic discourse.

Of course, such arguments based on sanity may not appeal to the opponents of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They will never stop opposing Mr. Mukherjee’s decision and may even impose sanctions against him. If they do so, they will make one point clear about themselves -- that they do not respect the most basic creed of democracy: We agree to disagree. That is the crux of the episode.