Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s description of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s founder KB Hedgewar as a “great son of Mother India” and his speech later in the day has found many takers in the Hindutva organisation.

Reading the statement as Mukherjee’s endorsement of the RSS’s nationalism, the organisation’s communication head Arun Kumar said, “Mukherjee’s speech defined the RSS ideology that we are a ‘one nation’ with a dignified history that assimilates different religions and culture,” according to The Times of India.

Mukherjee described Hedgewar as “a great son” on Thursday evening when he visited Hedgewar’s birthplace in Maharashtra’s Nagpur. Later in the day, he spoke of tolerance, pluralism, nationalism and patriotism. He was the guest of honour at the RSS’s Tritiya Varsh concluding ceremony – a graduation event for RSS workers after a three-year course.

He spoke about the nation, nationalism and patriotism, and then launched into a quick overview of Indian history, covering the Gupta and Maurya empires, the “Muslim invaders” and the British Raj, before talking about pluralism and secularism.

This was a very useful message for RSS cadres, Arun Kumar told The Times of India. He claimed that it told the trainees that there should be no “ideological untouchability” and that India’s culture is distinct.

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav also praised Mukherjee’s address. “His speech and Bhagwatji’s address are in a way complementary to each other. Nation first is the core message,” Madhav said, in reference to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comments before Mukherjee’s speech. “Democracy and striving for the welfare of all is described by both as the core of ancient Indian nationalism.”

Controversial move

Mukherjee’s decision to attend the event caused consternation in the Congress, with senior leader Ahmed Patel on Wednesday tweeting his displeasure at the former president’s decision. His daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee also criticised him, saying his speech at the event may not make a lasting impression, but the visuals will.

A few Congress leaders had earlier downplayed Mukherjee’s decision, while leaders such as Jairam Ramesh, Ramesh Chennithala and CK Jaffer Sharief had urged him to reconsider his decision. Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram had asked Mukherjee to tell the RSS what is wrong with their ideology.

After the speech, however, the Congress said Mukherjee had shown the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh the “mirror of truth” with his speech.