Former President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday pulled off a balancing act in his speech at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur. In front of an audience that he is certainly not used to addressing, the Mukherjee underscored the importance of tolerance to India's identity.
Mukherjee also put forth his understanding of the concepts of nationalism and patriotism, while avoiding any direct political points. His speech is historic in that it is arguably the first time a senior Congress leader, even if he is presently not a member of the party, has addressed the RSS at its headquarters.
Here are the top quotes from Mukherjee's address at the RSS:
I am here amongst you to share my understanding with you of the concepts of nation, nationalism and patriotism in the context of India
Our national identity has emerged after a long drawn process of confluence, assimilation and coexistence.
The multiple cultures and faiths make us special and tolerant.
We derive our strength from tolerance. We accept and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity.
Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas & identities of religion, region, hatred & intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity.
On 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. Democracy became our most precious guide towards peace and regeneration from the swamp of poverty created by centuries of colonial rule. For us, democracy is not a gift, but a sacred trust.
The Constitution of India represents the hopes and aspirations of a billion plus Indians.
From our Constitution flows our nationalism. The construct of Indian Nationalism is Constitutional Patriotism.
India's Nationhood is not one language, one religion and one enemy. It is the perennial universalism of 1.3 billion people, who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects, practice 7 major religions and belong to 3 major ethnic groups, live under one system,one flag and one identity of being Bharatiya.
As Gandhi ji explained, Indian nationalism was not exclusive nor aggressive nor destructive.
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."
People are at the centre of all activities of the State, and nothing should be done to divide them. The aim of the State should be to galvanise them to fight a concerted war against poverty, disease and deprivation. Only then can we create a nation where nationalism flows automatically.
In a democracy, informed and reasoned public engagement on all issues of national importance is essential. A dialogue is necessary not only to balance the competing interests but also to reconcile them.