Pranab Mukherjee didn't elevate august office he held as President, just "followed" his predecessors' footsteps

By Masood Peshimam*
When late Dr Zakir Hussain, on become the President of India, went to pay obeisance to the Shankaracharya of Puri, it must have been a quest for acquiring more acceptance for a “Muslim” President. Whatever maybe the compulsion, it did not amount to elevating the august office of the President.
Then there was late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who was bludgeoned into subservience in signing the Emergency proclamation. Ahmed could not have his way beyond expressing his muted reservation over the draconian proclamation of the Emergency. The situation was quite grim, and Indira Gandhi was hell bent on promoting the aggressive agenda of suspending, or rather crushing, fundamental rights. He had no potential to resist and fish in troubled waters. He died after some time in the mysterious circumstances. He also did no credit to the august office of the President, either.
The condition continued to be sickening when late Giani Zail Singh occupied the august office. It was the same Zail Singh who has learnt to have taken pride in expressing his desire to sweep Indira Gandhi’s house.
Pranab Mukharjee has had enormous political clout in the Congress. Congress always backed him, though he could not win an election for pretty long. He had to be accommodated in the upper house. Such was his clout that he was chosen to contest the Presidential election.
Notwithstanding the incessant backing of the Congress, and being the man of scholarship and statesmanship, Pranab, in his own ebullience to occupy the highest office of the land, went out of way to woo Matoshree in Mumbai. The discordant noises raised did not deter Pranab in paying respect to the Thackreys, who dictated terms to him.
Pranab’s connections with parochial and communal forces matured in to support his presidential candidature. This constituted a deep setback to the healthy traditions of democracy, secularism and cosmopolitan ethos. His political flirtation with communal and chauvinist forces did not raise much of an eyebrow in his own party. Clearly, he had already compromised with fascist and radical forces in his quest to occupy the august office.
What has followed next is Pranab, as ex-President, showing no compunction in visiting the RSS headquarter in Nagpur to address RSS volunteers. On the eve of the function, Congress made a lot of hue and cry over the visit, stating that the former President, who was quite wedded to secular values, had significantly compromised with the forces which are out to polarise society in the name of religion. It said that the ex-President’s presence signaled setback to the tenets and principles of secularism.
However, with the occurrence of the event at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Congress looked satisfied. It said that Pranab talked of pluralism, cosmopolitanism, communal harmony, sense of toleration secular values and sense of accommodation. He also said that variation in culture, faith and language make India a unique nation. He stressed on composite Indian culture, shaped by shared traditions and culture, stemming from mutual toleration and understanding. He said he was there to share his concept of nation, nationalism and patriotism in the context of India. He added, our national identity has emerged after a long process of confluence and assimilation, and our multiple cultures and faiths make us special and unique.
Pranab’s speech might have given relief to the Congress. But notwithstanding how Congress took the veteran’s words, the fact remains that his words were routinely plain admiration of the universal values, without unambiguous condemnation of those remaining obsessed by breaching the objectives he lauded. He could not afford to earn the ire of the RSS and its followers by joining issues with them on threats to democratic secular values.
Indeed, Pranab chose to remain silent over the gruesome mob lynching in the name of cow protection, which has claimed a heavy toll of Muslims, and at times victimized Dalits. He chose to remain silent over the gruesome violence in the name of love jihad. The matter has gone to such an extent that in a love affair of a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl, who were detained by the police, the girl committed suicide in the police station. In another gruesome incident, both Hindu girl and Muslim boy involved in deep love committed suicide.
Pranab remained silent over the ruthless beating of Muslims on one count or the other over the imaginary reasons, leading to gruesome deaths. Most inhuman and vicious assaults on Muslims witnessed with the upsurge of the BJP surprisingly escaped his comment. He did not suggest any remedy prevent grim lynching incidents, even though these have aroused the concern the world over.Nor did he question RSS’ divisive dogma of one religious, one culture. He did not utter a word to restrain on fascist or communal forces targeting minorities, particularly Muslims, in the garb of aggressive nationalism.
It’s good to note that Pranab referred to the great Indian civilization immensely contributing to the growth of human life. However, he touched upon Muslim invasion. It needs to be noted that invasion was not restricted to Muslims alone. Before the advent of Muslims, there was military expansion by others, too, and it constitutes an inalienable part of history.
It is the confluence and assimilation of Hindu-Muslim influences which gave birth to our new cosmopolitan culture, leaving its impact and imprint on language, art, culture, food habits, architecture and different aspects of life. Indeed, Muslim contribution influencing various aspects of life cannot be undermined. Any attempt to interpret Muslim or any other influence as inferior is born of prejudice and myopic approach.Any attempt to erase the Muslim contribution is a blot on our civilizational values.
While referring to the freedom struggle, Pranab massively eulogized the services rendered by Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak, Patel, Surendranath Bannerji, but forgot to mention Dr Ambedkar. He was bound to forget Maulana Azad, as linking Muslim contribution in enriching nation’s life and culture has become something of an anathema. This is how we flaunt our secularism and sense of justice.
We are so obsessed with prejudice and bias that we are reluctant to mention the great sacrifice of Bahadur Shah Zafar in the 1857 mutiny, which pioneered the freedom struggle. Can we forget his poignant tragedy when he was presented the beheaded heads of his children for the breakfast? What a catastrophe!
In fact, the very presence of the ex-President at the valedictory function at Nagpur is open to dispute, as Gandhi was murdered by Nathuram Godse, an ardent admirer of RSS or Hindutva ideology. RSS now is trying distance itself from Gandhi’s murder, but the fact remains that VD Savarkar, whose treatise "Hindutva! Who is a Hindu?” inspired the formation of RSS, which censured Gandhi and freedom struggle, both.
Against this background, it is relevant to quote what Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said in the
“Asian Age” (June 15, 2018): “This oft repeated association needs retelling, because at the time of Gandhi’s assassination, although Godse was not associated with either RSS or the Mahasabha, he remained symbiotically connected with ideas of the two. The views which motivated him into taking the extreme decision were shaped in the two ideological nurseries. There also exist sufficient grounds to believe that his association with Savarkar, and consequent knowledge about plot, was deeper than could be legally established”.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also favours unifying society. However, while urging the unification of society, he does not miss to play the communal card. His talk of unity in diversity with the show of muscular Hindutva cannot go hand-in-hand. The talk of unity is an absurd proposition if it seeks commitment to the concept of one culture, one religion and the concept of nationhood blended with aggressive religious overtones.
It is relevant to quote what ALI Chougle said in “Free Press Journal” June 12, 2018: “Bhagwat used the cover of unity in diversity to camouflage his core belief that India is primarily defined by one religion and culture. No matter Bhagwat’s claim about his organisation’s commitment to ‘unifying’ society the RSS has rarely shown its enthusiasm and commitment to preserve the edifice of secular India and celebrate its diversity. On the contrary through its ideology of majoritarian India, the RSS sees the minorities, particularly the Muslim, through the prism of unsavoury communalism unpatriotic and anti-national”.
It ‘s not the question of RSS alone, but of any communal organization, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or of any other flavor. They are all a setback to the democratic secular values, hampering the very quest for peace and prosperity in the name of unsavoury narrow partisan ends. It’s not known as to what leverage RSS has achieved with the presence of the ex-President, but Pranab’s secular identity is now open to question.
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*Advocate based in Kalyan, Maharashtra

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