Pranab Mukherjee in his speech at an RSS function in Nagpur said the national identity of India is of integration.
Erstwhile President Pranab Mukherjee, speaking at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur, said that efforts to define India’s nationhood based on religion would “dilute our nationality.”
He added that “the soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance,” in what some analysts and politicians saw as a strong message to the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In the course of a nearly thirty-five minutes speech delivered in English, Mukherjee delved into the concepts of nationhood, nationalism, and patriotism; and tolerantly quoted Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Kautilya, Lokmanya Tilak and Surendranath Banerjee, an erstwhile Congress party president during the British Raj.
“Secularism and inclusion is a matter of faith for us. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one nation,” said Mukherjee, an erstwhile Congress leader for about four decades.
“When I shut my eyes and dream of India, I am mesmerized that 1.3 billion people speak 122 languages, practice seven major religions and belong to three major ethnic groups. Yet, they are under one system, one flag, one Constitution and one identity, which we may call Bharatiya or Indian,” Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee’s visit to the RSS headquarters had invoked sharp responses with several leaders of his party, including his daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee criticising his decision.
RSS chief Bhagwat referred to the controversy in his introductory speech and said it was improper. “There can be a difference of opinion and debate but we must keep the Maryada. For one destination, people can take different paths. Diversity is good for India,” he said.
The speech got two-way support with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav wrote in Twitter soon after: “Great address by Dr. Pranab Mukharjee at Nagpur. His address and Dr. Bhagwat’s address are in a way complementary to each other. Nation First is the core message of both.”
RSS mouthpiece Arun Kumar called Mukherjee’s speech as that of an “elder statesman”. “We welcome his speech and the points he raised on issues such as nationalism, patriotism, and the need to end all types of intolerance and violence.”
The Congress party maintained that it respected different shades of opinion and discussions. “As Indians and as Congressmen, we encourage and believe in the democratic dialogue and recognize the right and sanctity of dialogue across different thought processes,” Surjewala said. “But a dialogue is only possible in a democratic order with an open mind and willingness to change, accept and adapt to the other person’s point of view.”
“He particularly reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi that happiness of people is the happiness of ruler, their welfare is his welfare,” Surjewala added.