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Rahul Gandhi and RSS should debate each other

The fact is that you cannot wish away the past, but it is equally true that young Indians need a modern India.

Updated: Aug 29, 2018, 17:24 PM IST

This is a strange kind of monsoon in India. It is raining all kinds of gestures and offers in politics, as if it was e-commerce. Only a few weeks ago, Congress president Rahul Gandhi hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an ostensible message of love amid allegations of hate and to good measure, added a wink so we know how to take that with a pinch of salt. Now, all the salt in Mahatma Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha at Dandi may not make us believe the Congress loves the BJP enough for its leader to give a hug to Mr Modi, but we live in interesting times.

Now comes the news that it is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that wants to invite Rahul Gandhi to a series of lectures on the 'Future of Bharat',  so they could educate the not-so-young Congress president that his likening of the RSS to the Arab world's Islamist hardline Muslim Brotherhood is not fair. Mr Gandhi may be advised to look out for reverse hugs - as dubious as the one he extended to Mr Modi in Parliament.

Knowing the Congress, it is unlikely to accept the offer to attend the RSS-organised lectures at New Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan next month but it would be a good idea nevertheless for the country's leading national-level political parties to have a dialogue of sorts because it is not a great thing to have a country that is so full of potential and yet beset with mistrust. It is time to replace false hugs with true dialogue. Name-calling may be substituted with a deeper understanding of where the RSS and the Indian National Congress come from, at least for the sake of the 65 percent of Indians who are below the age of 35. Most of these young men and women have little clue as to the origins of the political wrestling match between the INC and the RSS that dates back to the last three decades of India's Independence movement.

I suggest Rahul Gandhi invite the RSS leadership to a day-long debate on the 'Idea of India' at Teen Murti Bhavan, the idyllic office-cum-residence of India's first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, also the great-grandfather of Rahul-ji. In a development directly unrelated but substantially relevant to the RSS vs Rahul tussle, former prime minister Manmohan Singh has written to Modi, asking him, in a sense to "cease and desist" from turning the location officially called the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library into a catch-all sarkari memorial for all prime ministers because it would take away the spirit of the Nehruvian heritage.

This 'Future of Bharat' vs 'Idea of India' debate is something that truly deserves an intellectual pow-pow. 

The Congress is still trapped in the spirit of 1947, resting on the laurels of having led a movement to end British rule and playing a laudable role in building a national consensus that led to the adoption of the Constitution in 1950. But, if you think 1947 was long ago, you just have to recall the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 backed by RSS activists to know that the BJP is trapped in memories of 1528, when Mughal emperor's Babar rolled over northern India to build the controversial mosque.

It is 2018 now and we have one party that likes to restore a pristine "Bharat" that preceded invasions and incursions of Muslim invaders, intruders and sundry migrants in a borderless geographical mass and another party that that loves a modern nation-state but stands accused of corruption and dynastic rule.

The fact is that you cannot wish away the past, but it is equally true that young Indians need a modern India in which Nehru's 'Idea of India' is certainly relevant. 

RSS has a lot of explaining to do because its supporters and followers are on record on everything from the lost river Saraswati to cow slaughter that suggests they prefer traditional culture over progress and do not mind vigilantism. That is not a modern thought. Its office-bearers justify backlash riots against Muslims. That is not a modern thought. 

The Congress has also got a lot of explaining to do, starting from an overdose of the Nehru-Gandhi family's achievements in a democratic, modern nation. We have Delhi's airport, an outdoor stadium, an indoor stadium, a centre of arts, its Ring Road, its main commercial square (Connaught Place) and other leading places named after members of the political family. That is not a modern thought. No sir, it does not sit well with Nehru's 'Idea of India' in which "equality of status and opportunity" are critical.

Teen Murti is just a short drive from Vigyan Bhavan, named after the 'scientific temper' that Nehru spoke of. RSS by its own admission practises 'cultural nationalism' in a land of diversities where the Constitution should be the guiding force. There are many shades to saffron, and some of them are grey. The idea of culture and ethics that some RSS ideologues speak of do not have relevance in a modern world of individual freedom and choice. 

Nehru's 'scientific temper' in which critical inquiry rather than a traditional set of ethics and values is important needs to meet the RSS idea of nostalgic nationhood. Young Indians have a right to reject old values. Let the debate take a constructive shape. At Teen Murti, with the spirit of Vigyan Bhavan.

(Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist who has covered politics, diplomacy, business, technology and other subjects in a long career that has spanned organisations including Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent columnist, editor and commentator. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)