New Delhi, May 30:
Former president Pranab Mukherjee accepting an invite from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to be the chief guest at a function at its headquarters on June 7 has snowballed into a controversy with a senior Congress leader urging him to reconsider his decision in the interest of secularism.
While the Congress avoided a comment on the issue, party leader and former union minister CK Jaffer Sharief said, “His decision to go to RSS is surprising and shocking. Being a Congress man life-long, going to RSS suddenly like this…he can’t ignore his background. He didn’t take anyone into confidence, he’s suddenly going, ANI reported.
Sharief, in a letter to Mukherjee, asked if the RSS accepted what the former president said as a minister and Congress leader about the Sangh being the “worst” outfit which was “communal”, “anti-national” and “unpatriotic”.
The RSS praised the 82-year-old leader for accepting the invite saying, “This isn’t surprising for those who know and understand the Sangh, because RSS has always invited prominent people of the society in its programmes. This time, we invited Dr Pranab Mukherjee and it’s his greatness that he has accepted our invitation,” read a statement from the RSS.
The former president will address the Third Year Sangha Shiksha Varga (SSV), which is held at the RSS headquarters annually in Nagpur.
Sharief expressed surprise over the move and said he like other secular people was “stunned” to hear about his attending the RSS function. “I personally think that a person of your stature, being secular and in politics for decades, having served in various capacity including the highest position of Rashtrapati, visiting Sangh Parivar at this point in time before Parliament elections is not proper.
“Congressmen besides secular people are stunned to hear the news and are agitated on the situation and are hopeful that yourself will reconsider the idea.
“I once again request you to reconsider and avoid visiting Sangh Parivar in the interest of secularism and the country,” Shareif said in his letter which was also signed by former MP H Hanumanthappa.
Incidentally, Sharief has backed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the President post, saying nobody should doubt his patriotism just because he was from “one school of thought”.
“I personally believe nobody should find fault with Mohan Bhagwat’s name being considered as a choice for the presidentship of our country,” Sharief had said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2017.
The 83-year-old leader had exhorted all minorities, including Muslims, not to have “any fear or crisis of confidence” in Bhagwat’s name being considered for the post.
“No comments”, was Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan’s response when asked about Mukherjee visiting the RSS headquarters.
He said since the event is yet to happen he would not comment on it and the Congress will formulate its thoughts once the event takes place.
“The event has not happened. I have come to know about it from media reports and am collecting further details. At present I have no comments to offer till the event takes place,” he told reporters at the AICC office.
Former MP and Delhi Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit said as a Congress leader and minister, Mukherjee has spoken about the RSS and the BJP many times on various issues and dubbed it as “bad” and “worst” outfit, which is “communal” and “anti-national”.
“Pranab Mukherjee used to say that the RSS is the worst organisation in the country. Its leaders have no morals and RSS is corrupt and spreads lies. He (Mukherjee) has also said that the RSS is anti-national, unpatriotic and communal.
“If the RSS has invited a person with such views, does this mean that the RSS admits that his (Pranab’s) views about the organisation were correct,” Dikshit asked.
Dikshit is the son of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari said that there was nothing wrong in inviting Congress leader and former president Pranab Mukherjee for a programme organised by the Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh. He said certain figures and organisations are beyond politics and Mukherjee sharing RSS dais should not be looked at as politics.
“It should be taken in a broader perspective and should not be looked with the spectacles of ‘political untouchability’. Why should eyebrows be raised if Mukherjee accepts the invite for an RSS event. RSS is not Pakistan’s ISI, it is an organisation of nationalists,” he said.
Mukherjee served as the president of India from 2012 to 2017. He also held several cabinet posts ranging from finance minister to external affairs minister in a political career that spanned nearly six decades.
Besides Mahatma Gandhi, former president Zakir Husain, activist Jayaprakash Narayan and commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, Kodandera M Cariappa have been guests at various RSS events.