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veteran Ahmed Patel
+ said on Thursday that he didn’t expect Pranab Mukherjee to visit, underlining the anxiety in party circles hours before the Nagpur event.
On a tweet from
Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmistha
+ censuring her father’s decision to
share the RSS dais
+ , Patel commented, “I did not expect this from Pranab da!” The comment from the reticent leader, a confidant of Sonia Gandhi, encapsulated the mood in the Congress circles.
While party leaders have been uneasy since the news of Mukherjee’s nod to be the chief guest at
RSS convocation function
+ broke, they turned incredulous on Thursday evening when the former President called RSS founder KB Hedgewar a “great son of Mother India”. It led to a flurry of comments, tweets and heightened chatter about breaching the red line.
No sooner did Mukherjee consecrate Hedgewar in glowing terms that deputy leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma tweeted, “The images of Pranab Da, veteran leader and ideologue, at RSS headquarters have anguished millions of Congress workers and all those who believe in pluralism, diversity and the foundational values of the Indian Republic. Dialogue can only be with those who are willing to listen, absorb and change. There is nothing to suggest that RSS has moved away from its core agenda as it seeks legitimacy.”
Nobody believed that Mukherjee would turn his back on his five decades of public life and agree with the “ideological rival” whom he had once accused in a Congress resolution of involvement in terror activities.
But the concern in Congress was very basic. There were doubts if Mukherjee, as a guest, could deliver a strong disagreement to the host like he did as a party principal. However, the chief worry was that his very presence at the RSS headquarters would bestow legitimacy on an outfit Congress has all through treated as untouchable.
Leaders continued to argue that the speech apart, Mukherjee’s very presence at the RSS’ sanctum sanctorum had undercut Congress’ distinct ideological position in the political firmament. To that extent, the event cannot be undone.
However, for all the shooting anxiety levels, Mukherjee’s speech left Congressmen relieved. While the party understandably dubbed it a lesson in “Indianness” to the RSS, insiders said top leaders had conveyed their view that “it went off well”. In fact, some office-bearers who made castigating comments about Mukherjee were seen to have “jumped the gun”.
All through, an insider said, Congress president Rahul Gandhi stayed aloof and wanted all to watch the speech before speaking out.