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Pranab Mukherjee, Sonia Gandhi and the Indian National Congress: The Fight of a Rebel Democrat

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Former President of India, Mr Pranab Mukherjee with Mr Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsanghchalak (Chief) of RSS, at the graduation ceremony of RSS recruits at the
RSS Headquarters in Nagpur

The recent controversy over the former President of India Pranab Mukherjee’s historic address to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s volunteers in Nagpur, on June 8, 2018, brought to the fore an old wrangling within the Congress party, that between the loyalists of the Gandhi Family and other senior leaders. Many loyalists of the Gandhis launched into diatribes against Mr Pranab Mukherjee for his decision to attend the RSS event and address the Sangh volunteers.

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pranab 3As per reports, former Congress President Sonia Gandhi “ordered Tweet against Pranab Mukherjee for RSS Visit. On a cue many congress leaders, including his own daughter and president of Delhi Mahila Congress, Ms Sharmistha Mukherjee, tweeted against this move of Mr Pranab Mukherjee. Congress MP and the most trusted aide of Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Ahmed Patel also tweeted expressing his disapproval.

pranab 4As expected, this move ruffled feathers in the left-leaning, Naxal supporting and rabidly anti-Hindu political camp as well, and the usual suspects, like the malefic leftist activist, Kavita Krishnan, got another chance to spew venom against RSS.All these reactions prove two things: 1) Terms like ‘freedom of speech’, ‘exchange of ideas’ and ‘democracy’ have no value among the Congress and the Left establishment beyond what serves to advance narratives suited to their political advantage. 2) Anyone who tries to bridge the gap between two different thought processes will be attacked viciously, even if the person has served the party for over five decades and is the former President of India.

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This is not the first time that Pranab Mukherjee found himself in a direct confrontation with the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. He had bravely “rebelled” and gone against his own party on several previous occasions.

pranab 6File photo of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, President Pranab Mukherjee and Buta Singh (Source: HT)

In 1986, former Prime Minister of India, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, had expelled Pranab Mukherjee from Congress(I) for a provocative interview to ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’, in which he termed Rajiv Gandhi’s Government as ‘weak and blundering’. Mukherjee had also expressed his dissent on the then Muslim women’s bill tabled by the Rajiv Gandhi government, saying he was ‘shocked at the undemocratic actions of the Congress leadership.’

One other occasion where the Congress under Sonia Gandhi humiliated Pranab Mukherjee was on the issue of unveiling of the portrait of freedom fighter and Hindutva ideologue, V D Savarkar, in the Central Hall of the Parliament. The chief whip of Rajya Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee was that time a member of the committee on installation of portraits/statues of national leaders and parliamentarians in the Parliament House Complex. He did not oppose the idea of installation of a portrait of Savarkar when it was put forward in front of the committee.

pranab 7Portrait of Savarkar in the Central Hall of Parliament (Source: OutlookIndia.com)

For this, a peeved Sonia humiliated Patil and Mukherjee at a meeting of the Political Affairs Committee of the Congress in Parliament. Pranab Mukherjee principally stood for respect of national heroes in spite of divergent ideologies, whereas Sonia Gandhi wished an absolutist blackout by obliterating of an acknowledged national hero, going to the extent of insulting a senior party leader for holding differing views on this.

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Pranab Mukherjee with Bal Thakrey
(Source: The Hindu)

There was another occasion when Pranab Mukherjee faced the wrath of party president Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, when he decided to meet Shiv Sena pramukh (supremo) Bal Keshav Thackrey at his residence at Matoshree, as a courtesy call for Shiv Sena’s support to his presidential candidature. Pranab Mukherjee in his book, The Coalition Years, wrote: “I took a decision to meet Thackeray despite Sonia Gandhi’s disapproval because I felt that the man who had broken away from his traditional coalition partner to support my candidature, should not feel humiliated.”                                                   

These are only few of the instances where Pranab Mukherjee was at odds with the Congress leadership for standing up to the Gandhis’ despotism. The treatment of stalwart dalit leader and former Congress President Sitaram Kesari by the Congress leadership is only too well known and for all the wrong reasons.

The left-liberal lobby with their barely disguised rancour for anything Hindu never fail to term RSS and its associated bodies and their thought process as ‘fascists’ and ‘undemocratic’. But the recent gesture of RSS inviting Pranab Mukherjee for addressing its volunteers at its headquarters in Nagpur proved that they are farthest from this description and represent the free Hindutva ecosystem which is forever open to dialogue with people of dissimilar ideologies, and goes out of the way to inculcate positive aspects from all. The same holds for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and its internal workings show that it is the only national party which stands for true internal democracy and freedom of speech. There is room for dissent and party decisions are not determined by whims of dominant power-bearing personalities and also the complete absence of dynastic leadership. One example of this is that “rebel” party members like BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha who regularly slams his own party and the Government on various issues are never penalised for their views. The BJP’s dealing with its ‘frenemy’ and NDA constituent Shiv Sena on its frequent stance against Government policies also reflects its outlook towards its coalition partners, unlike the Congress which never shows any real respect for its coalition partners and has often let them down in the past for not doing their bidding.

Pranab Mukherjee speech at the RSS event shows that he stands for true democracy in India. It also establishes that he is a proud Hindu and stands for Hindu values. It is perhaps this unfearful attitude of speaking his mind and a genuinely liberal and accommodating spirit towards viewpoints at variance with his party’s stated line that cost him the Prime Minister’s post, in spite of being the most senior leader in the Party. His third political memoir cites numerous incidents illustrative of the UPA chairperson’s reluctance in approvng his name for the country's top constitutional post.

The present stage that the Congress finds itself in, with a propped dynast at its head who fails to inspire confidence and is the butt of ridicule for his patent lack of talent, it would be beneficial for the Congress if people like Pranab Mukherjee take the leadership into their own hands. That would go a long way in restoration of true democracy in the ‘grand old party’ and that would in turn strengthen Indian democracy, however a highly unlikely prospect considering its current crop of cultivated sycophants and sheer lack of gumption in the better minds amongst them. Until such an eventuality actually takes place, leaders like Pranab Mukherjee remain the ‘right men in the wrong party’.

Author: Swapnil Hasabnis 

Published: June 15, 2018

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