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Intolerance will dilute our identity, secularism India's real religion, says Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other groups in India.

Intolerance will dilute our identity, secularism India's real religion, says Pranab Mukherjee
Pic courtesy: ANI

Nagpur: Former president Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday warned that hatred and intolerance will dilute national identity and said that nationalism was not bound by race or religion.

"I am here amongst you to share my understanding of the concepts of nation, nationalism and patriotism in the context of India... Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogma and identities or religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our identity. In India, we derive our strength from tolerance. We respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity. As Gandhi ji said Indian nationalism was not exclusive nor aggressive nor destructive...," he said at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur addressing the new recruits of the organisation.

"It was this very nationalism that Pandit Nehru so vividly expressed in the book 'Discovery of India'. He wrote - 'I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and other groups in India'... Indian nationalism emanated from universalism, we see the whole world as one family. We believe in collective conscience for centuries... For us, democracy isn't a gift but a sacred trust," Mukherjee added.

He pointed out, "Every day, we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence are darkness, fear and mistrust. We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal. Every time a woman and child are hurt, the soul of India is wounded. The aim of the state should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against poverty, disease and deprivation. We must move from anger, violence and conflict to peace, harmony and happiness. Only then can we create a nation where nationalism flows automatically... From our Constitution, flows our nationalism. The construct of Indian nationalism is constitutional patriotism, which consists of an appreciation of our inherited and shared diversity. Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture which makes us into one nation."

In an apparent reference to the 'one-nation-one-culture ideology' often identified with the RSS, Mukherjee said India's nationhood is not "one language, one religion and one enemy". "It is 'perennial universalism' of 1.3 billion people who use 122 languages and 1600 dialects... Practice seven major religions... Live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Bhartiya and have 'no enemies'. That is what makes Bharat a diverse and united nation," he said.

Mukherjee also talked about thousands of years of Indian history, including the rules of various dynasties, Muslim invaders, a mercantile company and then the British empire. He quoted from works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and others and praised Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for uniting India by bringing the princely states into the main fold.

Earlier, he visited the birthplace of the RSS founding Sarsanghachalak Keshav Baliram Hedgewar at the Sangh headquarters. He was welcomed by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. "Today I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India," the former president wrote in the visitor's book.

Mukherjee accepting the invite from the RSS had generated a lot of interest as well as controversy, with Congress leaders urging him not to attend the event in the "interest of secularism".

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel on Thursday expressed his disapproval at the former president visiting the RSS headquarters. Patel, who is UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's close confidant and has been her political secretary, voiced his view on Twitter, in reply to Mukherjee's daughter who spoke out against the decision of the former president to go to Nagpur. 

Earlier, Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram had said that since Mukherjee had accepted the invitation, he should go and tell the RSS "what is wrong" in their ideology. Ramesh Chennithala, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, had sent a letter to the former president, requesting him to refrain from attending the event. Chennithala, also a leader of the opposition in Kerala Assembly, had said that Mukherjee's decision had come as a "rude shock" to the secular minds of the country.

West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury and senior Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao too had urged him not to attend the event. And, Hanumantha Rao, the AICC secretary and former Rajya Sabha member, had said that the former president should withdraw his decision "in the interest of secularism". Veteran Congressman CK Jaffer Sharief had also written to Mukherjee, expressing surprise over the move and had said that he, like other secular people, was "stunned" to hear about his attending the RSS function. 

On the other hand, slamming those criticising the former president for attending the event in Nagpur, Bhagwat said that the debate over Mukherjee's decision to attend the RSS event was "meaningless" and no one is an outsider for his organisation. "Pranab Mukherjee will remain what he is and the sangh will remain the sangh even after the event," he added. Bhagwat maintained that his organisation wants to unify the entire society and no one was an outsider for it. "People may have different views but they are all children of mother India," he said.

While the Sangh is often described as a 'Hindu right-wing organisation', it calls itself a nationalist and cultural organisation rather than a political or religious one. It was founded by Hedgewar on September 27, 1925, on Vijayadashami day at his house in Nagpur.

(With PTI inputs)