Sage-like words in unquiet times

Sage-like words in unquiet times

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur should become a lesson for the modern-day leaders who have shown verbal intolerance towards Pranab Da ever since the news came out that the former President had accepted the invitation of RSS. 

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur should become a lesson for the modern-day leaders who have shown verbal intolerance towards Pranab Da ever since the news came out that the former President had accepted the invitation of RSS.

What is shocking is that in the run-up to the event, Mukherjee had received a number of calls and letters from Congress leaders as well as others not to attend the RSS event in the "interest of secularism." However, the astute politician had refused to react to the calls, only saying he would respond to everything in his speech.

Mukherjee is a mature and experienced politician who has spent decades in public life. He has well-evolved ideas on matters that are of social and national significance. A Congress party veteran for over four decades, he has been a guiding personality even for leaders like the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In fact, he was the most trusted lieutenant of the ‘Iron Lady’ and was equally respected by Rajiv Gandhi.

When even those like me who had the privilege of interacting with him on some occasions in late 80’s know that Pranab would never cross his Lakshman Rekha and would speak like a statesman, it is sad that those who were with him in the Congress for decades together could not trust him to stay objective and keep nation’s interests above all else. During my interactions with Pranab Da, it used to give me a feeling that I was back in the university listening to a philosopher. He used to explain things in minute detail but never bored the listener. His speeches in Parliament were also heard with rapt attention.

In fact, they used to be so well-drafted that the opposition used to find it difficult to counter his arguments. He had been part of the Congress party and saw the leaders of four generations from the Nehru family. Yet, it was surprising that the Congress leaders became jittery and made all kinds of comments and finally when he spoke, most of them had to eat their humble pie. Of course, some people still refuse to see the reality; may be, because, their ego does not permit them to accept reality, or could be some other reason.

The former President during his 40-minute speech largely remained non-sectarian and yet asserted his Nehruvian beliefs. His speech clearly reflected the current political scenario. He demolished the criticism of his adversaries that he had attempted to hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s style of functioning during the last few years.

Pranab Da has certainly opened doors to come into limelight and figure in public discussions. It now remains to be seen if he would also play the role of a guide, advisor and philosopher to the fifth generation young and upcoming leader in Congress, Rahul Gandhi, as the elections approach.

The former President made several scholarly observations: “Our national identity has emerged through the principle of coexistence and multiplicity of cultures. This is what makes India special. We derive our strength from pluralism and diversity. Any attempt at defining our national identity through dogma, religion and intolerance will only lead to the dilution of national identity.”

By referring to the history of past 2,500 years or more, he laid great emphasis on the need for adherence to facts and truth, if the nation’s identity was to be protected. This should be seen in the context of the modern trend of fake news and misinformation, thanks to advancement of technology.

He seems to have sounded a word of caution that technology should be used for betterment of society and not to destroy it through misuse for narrow gains. If this aspect was ignored it could adversely affect the national identity was the clear and loud message he gave.

No doubt, Mukherjee hit all the right notes, as was expected, when he spoke of India’s soul residing in pluralism and tolerance, and then went on to declare that “India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy”. When Pranab Da said that, “happiness of people is the happiness of ruler, their welfare is his welfare,” he was apparently referring to the need for strict adherence of Rajadharma. It sounded as if it was more of an advice to the Prime Minister that there should be no unchecked exercise of authority.

The main thrust of his speech was on inclusiveness, secularism and democracy. The greatness of his speech was that he clearly expressed his concern for increased violence but took all care to ensure that it is not attributed to one single organisation.

The former President made it clear that all political parties should galvanise all their might to fight against poverty, diseases and deprivation. Nationalism can be achieved only when they achieve such targets and not by sloganeering was what he told the present-day politicians.

Summing up the present day political situation and what the society needs, Pranab Da in his distinctly Nehruvian address told the RSS in particular that every day, we see increased violence around us. “We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence — physical or verbal. We must move away from anger and violence to peace, harmony and happiness.

I am addressing the trainees, you are young and highly trained. Please pray for peace. Our motherland is asking for that and needs that. Every time a woman and child is hurt, the soul of India is wounded. While we have done well in many macro-economic areas. But we have not fared well in the World Happiness Index. We rank 133rd.

When we go to Parliament, just above the lift at gate number 6, there is a quote by Kautilya, 'In the happiness of the people lies in the happiness of the king. Their welfare is the king's welfare.' Kautilya placed people at the Centre even before India's constitution was laid down. As Gandhi ji said, 'Indian nationalism was not exclusive, aggressive or destructive.’ Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture which makes us one nation. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy.

It is the perennial universalism of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1,600 dialects in their everyday lives, practice seven major religion, belong to three major ethnic groups — Aryans, Mongoloids and Dravidians — live under one system, one flag, and one identity of being Bharatiya and have no enemies and the soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance.” In short, he made it clear that in a democracy, informed and reasoned public discussion is necessary. Divergent stands in public discourse have to be recognized. It now remains to be seen as to how many takers would be there for these words of wisdom”

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