Ideally speaking,the conclusion of the third-year annual training camp of the RSS is a routine affair for those who have been tracking it closely. However, the focus of national and international media on the event made it - "The most watched speech" by a Congress leader in the recent past.
When you ask the Swayamsewaks about the media attention, they say - "We have been listening to stalwarts from different walks of life in the past too. Pranab Da is an erudite nationalist that we are waiting to listen."
Looking back, three key takeaways define the outcome of Pranab Mukherjee's speech in the backdrop of the national narrative going forward -
Let us face the reality straight. The shift in the stand of Congress party post the speech of Pranab Mukherjee is an acknowledgement of their mistake of ridiculing and criticising him on his acceptance of the invitation to speak at the concluding function of the third-year annual training camp of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Having done that, they have given away the narrative of tolerance and dialogue that they were preaching in the past four years. Congress President Rahul Gandhi in the past has repeatedly taken an extreme view of branding RSS as an untouchable organization, even going to the extreme of branding it as a "terrorist" organisation. I remember senior Congress leaders coming up with insincere politically-convenient terms such as"Hindu terror". By visiting the RSS event, Pranab Mukherjee has not just silenced them, but in a way, brought these inherent lies out in the public domain. Now every time Sri Rahul Gandhi will spread the message of an "intolerant RSS", the public will see through it and remember PranabDa sharing stage with Sri Mohan Bhagwat. It is just not sharing of stage, it is also his public acceptance and communication of RSS as a socio-economic cultural organisation working for the nation. His message in the visitor's book at RSS founder KB Hedgewar's birthplace read - "I have come here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India". The event will also nudge critics who had an extreme view against the RSS amidst extreme media vilification in past decade to reconsider, dig deep and maybe alter their opinion. This will also nudge them to go through primary sources and make a more informed reasoning in being supporters or critics of the RSS.
It was for the first time that the RSS chief spoke before a visiting dignitary. Essence of his speech was to accept, acknowledge and elucidate different paths, thought process on national and social issues; albeit keeping in mind the commonality to take Indian "samaj" forward. He also mentioned "Maryada" civility in public discourse, focused on "vyakti nirman"( development of the individual's personality) as the goal of Sangh, and the message of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" - 'World Is one family - that he wanted listeners and people to take home. He also responded to his critics who used to accuse the Sangh of being exclusionary. His remark - "Saare bhartiya mere apne hain" reflects an inclusive pluralistic Indian civilizational ethos. This nationalism, and "Bharatiya" defines the speech of Sri Pranab Mukherjee too. His emphasis on tracing the Indian State back to 4th century BC mirrored the Sangh's stance "of India being not just a geographical boundary but a civilization". By quoting Kautilya's Shlok from Arthshashtra that "In the happiness of people lies the happiness of state", he took forward Bhagwat's remark of "vyakti nirman". Plurality, dialogue, exchange of ideas and a necessity to reconcile competing interests was a response to his critics in Congress who questioned his decision. He commanded a natural acceptance in the audience managing both Patel and Nehru in the same speech. Lastly, and above all the DNA of his speech was Nationalism, even going to the extent of laying the roadmap for "automatic Nationalism'". This was a befitting response to those who abused Nationalism, and made an industry out of abusing the armed forces, and siding with terrorists. Pranab Da's commonality in pluralism, inclusion and diversity was Automatic Nationalism, Patriotism and "Bhartiyata" - which he defined as the "soul of India.
The campaign of the proposed combined opposition in 2019 was trying to build a narrative to - "Stop Modi" to "save democracy". They advanced secularism to save the "democracy in danger". The speeches focused largely on curtailment of freedom of speech. Prominent authors like Arundhati Roy have in the past consistently been a votary of "Azaad Kashmir", even going to the extent of claiming it "tragic" for people to have elected Narendra Modi in 2014. The similarity in the message of Pranab Da to that of RSS Chief Sri Mohan Bhagwat will make such attacks superficial. These attacks till now have not received any electoral legitimacy by the voters. After Pranab Da's address the moral legitimacy of the preachers might have suffered a big blow. After all, what can be more democratic than an exchange of views with your political and ideological rival. Not that PranabDa is in active politics, but it is important to note that he comes from the Congress party. With this, the Sangh has set the record straight - It is willing to exchange views with all erudite social reformers, irrespective of their political lineage.
To cut it short - "Bye bye hashtags on intolerance and 'Democracy is in Danger/Save the Constitution'".
This meeting has unconsciously given PM Narendra Modi an edge to set the narrative for 2019. It is up to him to decide when and how. Time will tell.
(Pradip Bhandari is the founder of Jan Ki Baat)