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Addressing a press conference after Mukherjee’s speech, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala asked, “Does RSS now agree to follow constitutional patriotism, tolerance and secularism? Let RSS and BJP today publicly commit to change its character and thought process, and accept the sagacious advice of its guest.”
Mukherjee’s speech seemed to have come as a relief to Congress that has found itself embarrassed by the veteran leader’s decision to accept RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s invitation. But while the party said he had shown the mirror to the RSS, comments by senior leaders even hours before the event betrayed consternation over the engagement.
Given the context of a “secular” veteran visiting the headquarters of “communal” RSS and the anger and anxiety it touched off in Congress ranks, the party said Mukherjee’s speech was a lesson in ‘Raj Dharma” to PM Narendra Modi. At the same time, it did not seem to agree with Mukherjee’s remarks that public engagement and dialogue can reconcile differences, questioning the Sangh’s mindset. It iterated its long held view that the Sangh had ducked participation in the freedom struggle.
Congress leader Anand Sharma who tweeted his anguish after Mukherjee described RSS founder K B Hedgewar as a “great son of Mother India”, said he stood by his disapproval even though he applauded the veteran’s frank comments to RSS.
“Mukherjee taught a glowing lesson to RSS from its own stage. He tried to remove the cobwebs of parochialism from the minds of RSS. He held a mirror to RSS and tried to tell it that India lives in its diversity, non-violence and tolerance,” Surjewala said.
Interestingly, despite Mukherjee’s visit, Congress indicated it would continue to have reservations about interactions with RSS.
“We believe in democratic dialogue across different thought processes. However, dialogue is possible only with those who have open mind and are willing to change…” Surjewala said. He added, “But there are some basic truths. RSS opposed the freedom struggle, called it pseudo-nationalism. It never believed in India’s diversity. Nathuram Godse was closely associated with RSS.”