All eyes and ears are focused on Pranab Kumar Mukherjee thanks to his reported decision to address the RSS camp at Nagpur. Normally a proposed public address by a public figure need not necessarily hit headlines.
But here the added news value is simply because Pranabda, as he is affectionately known in the country's political circles was not only the former President of India but also the senior most Congress leader. There is little surprise that the invitation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to Pranab Mukherjee and his positive response to it has raised many eyebrows.
Prima facie, Pranabda and the Sangh have few things in common ideologically. But the very fact that RSS chose him as the chief guest at their annual camp and again that there was no inhibition whatsoever for the former President to give his consent could be a broad hint that there is something of common interest for them. There is no denying that even in the past, RSS camps have either been visited or addressed by leaders outside the Sangh Parivar. Mahatma Gandhi was one among those exceptions. That was before independence. The Father of the Nation visited an RSS camp in the thirties. There have been positive and negative versions about Gandhiji's comments after the visit. But neither his visit nor the comments got much publicity for the media then was not that alert or active as today.
Yet another non-Sangh national leader to address an RSS rally was Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan. It was in the seventies, immediately after the withdrawal of Emergency. In fact, it was during the emergency days that JP and RSS got a chance to know each other and became close. Jayaprakashji, the champion of the anti-emergency movement in which the RSS played a pivotal role, was of full praise for the Sangh and its role of man-making in his address.
There have been several other regional leaders, political and social, who at the evening of their lives, came forward to speak nice words about RSS. In Kerala, social reformer V.T.Bhatathiripad, known for his radical leftists views, had visited an RSS camp at Palakkad in mid-eighties. VT was reported to have declared to the swayamsevaks that his earlier mission was to humanize Brahmins while he later thought the need was to Brahminise human beings. V.T.Induchoodan, the Marxist intellectual and Editor of CPM organ Desabhimani, Sarvodaya leader M.P.Manmadhan were all among those from outside Sangh Parivar who had addressed RSS camps. A few months back former Supreme Court judge K.T.Thomas had paid glowing tributes to the Sangh at an RSS function. Dalai Lama, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Cho Ramaswamy, Swami Chinmayananda, several Sankaracharyas have also addressed Sangh functions at several different times.
Now Pranab Mukherjee visiting the RSS camp has been drawn into a nationwide controversy. Naturally, those who kicked up the controversy are none other than those from the Congress and Left parties. They have come out in the open criticising Pranabda. Congress leaders right from Chennithala to Chidambaram have written directly to the veteran Congressman urging him to give up the move. But Pranab Mukherjee is yet to comment. The RSS too has not joined issue with its detractors. The Sangh logic seems simple. Any organisation in the country is free to invite any Indian of their choice for its function. The function has already been announced and the former President's participation confirmed by the organisation. The occasion is the concluding function of Sangh Sikha Varg, a twenty-five day-long training camp of senior swayamsevaks at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday next. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee will, however, be the first former President of the country to address an RSS function.
Whether one likes it or not, Pranabda's address to the swayamsevaks will no doubt be historic.