The recent visit of Pranab Mukherjee to RSS headquarter had attracted a lot of attention among political circles. Even before the visit, concerns were raised over the acceptance of invitation as well as the potential content of the speech that might be delivered. Contrary to the fears, the speech of Mukherjee only tried to emphasise Gandhian-Nehruvian concept of Nationalism. It primarily tried to emphasize on the liberal values – pluralism, constitutional patriotism, the need to give away with having an enemy for building nationalism, multiple cultures becoming a part of India, secularism as an integral part of what defines India etc. Nationalism defined was contrary to the primary beliefs of the RSS. Critics have tried to point that RSS was taught a lesson on Nationalism in its own home-ground.
A point however that might need attention is that for RSS this was an important event from multiple angles. Irrespective of what might be the content of the speech of the guest speaker, the visit attracted the attention of large sections of people. It got a high media coverage.
Both the invitation of Mukherjee and the speech of Mohan Bhagwat were a smart attempt by RSS to make an image makeover. Mohan Bhagwat in his speech pointed that RSS respects a diverse India. And that it is open to various streams of thought and beliefs and in this process invites people of different political beliefs to its meetings. He also called upon people to visit the RSS, observe its work and form opinions. One point of his speech was also that Hegdewar was a participant in Indian freedom struggle. The core thinking of RSS emerging from the RSS texts was not an integral part of his speech. Hence the primary attempt was to emphasize the point that contrary to the critics view of RSS as a fascist, closed, autocratic, theocratic organization to which people might get convinced in the long duration – it was to emphasize that in reality RSS is democratic, open, free and pluralistic organization. The target audience were not the critics of the RSS but the potential segments who can become a part of RSS through forming more positive opinion on the nature of RSS.
As pointed out by Mukherjee’s daughter, irrespective of what is spoken – the images would be sufficient for IT department to play its tricks. Hours after the meeting – images emerged of Mukherjee performing a ritual in RSS style. Statements which were never spoken came out on social media. RSS started pointing that Mohan Bhagwat only spoke of what Mukherjee spoke later during his speech and that both spoke of pluralism and respect for diversity.
At a time when questions are being raised about RSS of its hatred for religious minorities, its instigation of communal violence, its despotic behavior towards the political opponents – the meeting merely served the RSS purpose of attempting to bring an image makeover. It was merely an attempt to ensure that perception obstructions which prevent people from becoming a part of the larger agenda of RSS are reduced.
Without speaking anything about Hindutva in his speech, Bhagwat’s attempt was in conveying that Hindutva was in reality an idea of inclusiveness – which respects diversity – remains open to diverse forms of thoughts. The speech was an attempt at selling a ‘soft Hindutva’ by repackaging it with a recipe completely alien to ‘hard-core Hindutva’ which is the real RSS.