The Congress on Monday downplayed former President Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to address about 600 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers at the organisation’s headquarters in Nagpur on June 7.
“Pranab Mukherjee left politics on assumption of the presidency,” the party’s spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told The Times of India. “His speaking at any convocation is absolutely no indication of his beliefs nor of the content of what he is yet to say. Judge him by what he says and what his established beliefs during 50 years of political life are.”
Several senior Congress leaders, including AK Antony, declined to comment on the matter, saying they were unaware of the veteran Congressman’s programme. The party’s spokesperson Manish Tewari said the former president, and not the Congress, should be asked why he had accepted the RSS’ invitation.
“He is an intelligent person,” former Union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told The Indian Express. “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.”
Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit claimed that Mukherjee had often called the RSS anti-national and unpatriotic. “I am sure the RSS must know how Mukherjee feels about it,” Dikshit told NDTV. “And it has called such a person. This means the RSS accepts whatever Pranab Mukherjee has said about them.”
Meanwhile, an unidentified senior leader of the RSS told The Indian Express that Mukherjee had met the organisation’s chief, Mohan Bhagwat, at least four times since leaving Rashtrapati Bhavan in July last year. “The first meeting between the two happened when Mukherjee was president,” he said. “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.”
The RSS leader said the organisation has a tradition of inviting people who do not accept its ideological positions. “In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi had attended a Sangh shibir [camp] at Wardha and held discussions with the first Sarsanghchalak (chief) of RSS, KB Hedgewar on the future of Bharat,” the organisation’s mouthpiece Organiser said in an article.