'For the last 10 years the Congress made the RSS an idea of intolerance, anti-minority, especially anti-Muslim, and an idea of fascism.'
'That has been demolished now by Pranab Mukherjee.'
Former President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday, Juen 7, to address its new recruits has created a vertical divide within the Congress party.
Opinion continues to be divided if the senior statesman, who had spent decades in the Congress before his elevation to the nation's highest office, had done the right thing by visiting the RSS HQ.
Many Congressmen felt the retired Rashtrapati should not have visited the RSS headquarters as it would send wrong signals to other Congressmen who have been fighting the RSS ideology for decades.
As Sharmishta Mukherjee, the former President's only daughter, tweeted against her father's visit to Nagpur, others like party veteran Margaret Alva defended Pranabda's plan.
Why does the RSS arouse such passions in the Indian polity, with sections of it treating the Hindu right, especially the RSS and its many offshoots, as untouchables?
RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf how the RSS was cast as the arch villain in many Indian political circles.
A huge controversy has broken out over former President Pranab Mukherjee visiting the RSS headquarters and delivering a speech there.
In contemporary India the culture of dialogue has degenerated, particularly in the last two decades.
It has degenerated to such a low level, at a political and societal level, to such an extent, that the people are accusing and counter-accusing each other.
There is no substantial thing (coming out) of dialogue.
Pranabda, who had a long innings in the Congress, has sent a great message, that no one is an untouchable in a democracy.
Whether it is ideological or political untouchability, anyone who considers political untouchability is harming democracy. This was the first message of Pranabda attending the RSS headquarters.
The Congress left no opportunity to disgrace, discard and demoralise Pranab Mukherjee before the programme. They created a hullabaloo.
More than three dozen Congress leaders tweeted or wrote a letter advising Pranab Mukherjee on what to speak.
This itself is a disgrace for the ex-President of India who was being told not to attend a particular meeting as he is no longer a Congressman. This showed the intolerance of the Congress party.
The intellectuals of the country who have been shouting that there is intolerance in the country remained silent by remaining neutral on this issue or siding with the Congress party.
Before Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, Indira Gandhi visited the Bharat Mata Mandir and the Kanyakumari Vivekananda rock memorial which was built by RSS leader Eknath Ranade.
Right from Mahatma Gandhi to three Presidents of India who were Congressmen -- Dr Zakir Hussain, Dr S Radhakrishnan and Dr Rajendra Prasad -- and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who was President during the Janata Party government, and A P J Abdul Kalam during the NDA regime, they all participated in RSS programmes. There was no problem then.
So why was there so much opposition to Mr Mukherjee's visit to the RSS headquarters, when, as you say, five other Presidents had done the same?
The reason is for the last 10 years the Congress has built a narrative with left-liberals, and that narrative is based on anti-RSSism.
They made the RSS itself an idea of intolerance, anti-minority -- especially anti-Muslim -- and an idea of fascism.
That has been demolished now by Pranab Mukherjee, as you cannot go by perception.
Why is the RSS considered an untouchable by other political parties?
The RSS was never considered untouchable.
In 1967 the Communist party and the Socialists together with the Jana Sangh formed governments in eight states including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar.
The CPI (Communist Party of India) joined coalition politics in UP with the Jana Sangh and were cabinet members in the state government.
The CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist opposed it, but the CPI told the CPI-M that their government was formed with the Jana Sangh on a concrete programme.
In 1977, the Socialists joined hands with the RSS against the Emergency, and in 1989 the V P Singh government was supported by the BJP and Left Front.
But Morarji Desai's Janata Party government collapsed over Jan Sangh leaders refusing to give up their RSS membership, isn't it?
That was not an ideological fight, but a fight for power-sharing.
They were afraid of the Jana Sangh because it had the (RSS) cadre. Therefore, there was opposition by leaders like (Socialist ideologue) Madhu Limaye who felt they didn't get power share.
That issue had nothing to do with ideology. They (the Socialists) took an ideological route just to mask their political opportunism.
At the ground level, there are 50,000 shakhas. The RSS is running 170,000 projects -- you go and check, you will find there is no discrimination on the basis of religion against anyone.
Most importantly, the Muslims -- those who come to RSS schools -- have also topped exams in Assam and Jharkhand.
But you cannot deny that the RSS imposes Hindu cultural hegemony like the beef ban or insistence on Vande Mataram. These issues bother Muslims about the RSS.
You think Bahadur Shah Zafar was a foolish man?
Not only Bahadur Shah Zafar, but many Mughal rulers too prohibited cow slaughter.
It means that in a democracy where there is pluralism, diversity, you have to respect each other's sentiments.
It is not food fascism.
Millions of people respect the cow and you are slaughtering the cow, that is the only demand.
Moreover, it is not the RSS, but the Constituent Assembly which decided on the prohibition of cow slaughter as a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy.
This was at a time when there was no representative (of the RSS) in the Constituent Assembly debates.
The Congress promulgated the law against cow slaughter in most states, so why are you attacking the RSS?
And if you are breaking the consensus, then there must be a dialogue on why you are breaking the consensus.
It is not consensus, but imposition -- that you cannot eat this or that.
When cow slaughter is banned, how can you eat beef? Even the Mughal emperors Akbar and Bahadur Shah Zafar agreed. But modern left liberals protest.
They want balkanisation of society, destabilisation of society, by raking up such issues.
These issues need a more sensible discussion and more sensitivity, than the so-called majority and minority.
The lynching of individuals like Pehlu Khan indicate growing intolerance in society. Respected journalists like Barkha Dutt are being threatened with dire consequences.
Everyday on the TV channels people come and criticise Narendra D Modi's government and Hindutva.
Have you ever heard anyone being chased by the government for criticising the RSS or Hindutva?
On social media, I also get abused, but I don't get into victimhood mentality and narrative.
On my Twitter handle thousands of people abuse me, still I don't go into victimhood narrative.
During the UPA regime I was called a Hindu terrorist, but I didn't say I was being abused.
Don't go by the social media narrative. Go by substantial allegations.
After Modi formed the government there was award wapsi, that India is not a place to live in.
We should have a dialogue and if there is a mandate for the government, it has to be respected.
The New York Times criticises Donald J Trump every day, but that does not mean they say the USA is not a place to live in.
This is the difference between American democracy and our democracy. They disagree, but they do not throw out each other.
There is the criticism that the RSS's saffron flag was unfurled but not the national flag at the function Mr Mukherjee attended in Nagpur on Thursday.
Every organisation in India has certain traditions, certain customs and a flag.
If there is a Muslim League or Congress party function, will they use the national flag?
Recently three parties -- the CPI, the CPI-M and the CPI-ML -- had their functions. Did they unfurl the national flag? It is an organisation's internal affair.
In public places, you must respect the national flag, and on all important days like Republic Day or Independence Day. That is the core issue.
During a marriage, puja or Ramzan, nobody expects you to unfurl the national flag.
What about the national anthem? That was not sung either.
At all RSS functions Vande Mataram and the national anthem are routine affairs.
This is completely an internal affair of the RSS where it uses the opportunity to invite people from other streams.
Right from its inception, the RSS has been inviting people from other streams.
Jayaprakash Narayan had been invited. Dr Zakir Hussain attended more than one programme.
Can you give us a historical perspective on how, as you say, the narrative was set up that the RSS is a dangerous organisation?
The Left and Nehruvians created the perception that the RSS is dangerous for India.
If this perception had not been created, the Muslim vote would not have become a monolithic vote bank for (these) parties.
More than 700 Muslim teachers are in the RSS's Vidya Bharati schools. You can ask them if they are being pressurised not to perform namaz. Not at all.
We have respect for people (of all faiths). Jawaharlal Nehru delivered a lecture on January 24, 1948, at the Aligarh Muslim University where he said, 'We may adhere to different religious faiths or even to none; but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance that is yours as well as mine.'
'The past holds us together; why should the present or the future divide us in spirit?'
The same thing the RSS says, but when the RSS says it, it becomes bigotry. When Nehru says it, it becomes progressive.
It is said the RSS is now rewriting history as it did not participate in the Independence struggle.
History has been selectively (written) by Left historians. They have not damaged history, but also posterity.
On Thursday, the Congress handle tweeted that Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar did not participate in satyagraha in the 1930s.
When Pranabda was on stage, he wrote Dr Hedgewar is a great son of India.
You can go to the 1930s file in Vidarbha and you will find that Dr Hedgewar was awarded one year rigorous imprisonment.
But the Congress distorted history, which was uncalled for.
Left Liberals and the Congress have only one objective -- to give the RSS a bad name and hang them.
But the perception is that the RSS believes in brahminical superiority.
After listening to Mohan Bhagwat's speech at Thursday's event, many people have changed their opinion about the RSS.
There is no fundamental difference between the two speeches (Pranab Mukherjee's and Mohan Bhagwat's).
Bhagwatji said a very important thing, you remain critical of the RSS but come close to the RSS and see it from your own perspective rather than go by the perception created by left liberal intellectuals.
In the West facts come first, then interpretation, last comes perception.
In India, perception comes first, then interpretation. Facts come at the lowest level of the ladder.
In India, perception is so important that people hardly check facts.
If the RSS is fascist, then why is it expanding?
It is expanding because the BJP is in power in more than 20 states and it has muscle and money power.
You go to any Muslim area where the RSS is working and ask Muslims if they are being discriminated against.
But when propaganda takes place, then there is a fear psychosis in the Muslim mind that the RSS is a threat to you.
Naturally, then, a binary is created.
Binary is not the essence of democracy, dialogue is the essence of democracy.
I have seen RSS workers during the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 shouting anti-Muslim slogans like 'kamar mein lungi, moonh mein paan, bhaago saaley Pakistan',
I don't think any genuine RSS worker will participate in communal riots.
Anyone who is indulging in violence, we categorically condemn.
The RSS as an organisation will never participate in such acts. Never.
Hundreds of commissions have been formed by the government post-riots and not a single RSS worker has been awarded any punishment. They could not identity a single RSS worker's (involvement).
The RSS as an organisation always believes in assimilating people.