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Shehzad Poonawalla

RSS invite to Rahul Gandhi: To be or not to be

After Rahul Gandhi in London likened the RSS to the very controversial Egyptian Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood that has been banned in that country and a few others for terror and extremist activities, the RSS, in what many in the media are terming as a “masterstroke”, may extend an invite to him and other political rivals to engage with it in its three days’ national conclave and lecture series in Delhi in September. If this turns out to be true, the “cultural organisation” & the ideological fountainhead of the BJP would have managed to perhaps “checkmate” the Gandhi scion who has been taking strident positions against the RSS for a long time. In 2014 at a public rally near Bhiwandi in Maharashtra, Rahul had alleged that “RSS people had killed [Mahatma] Gandhi”. For this statement by him he is now battling a defamation case in a local Bhiwandi court! While the final outcome of that case could be a big shot in the arm for whichever side that wins- either for the RSS by absolving it for the eternity of any wrongdoing in the assassination plot of Mahatma or by positioning Rahul Gandhi as a voice against the RSS and consequently the BJP.

But this “political masterstroke” in the making may perhaps put Rahul Gandhi in quite a spot. Given his constant attacks on the RSS including the one in Germany and elsewhere, accusing it of dividing society to infiltrating institutions- a large part of Rahul Gandhi’s and Congress’ strategy is to position itself as the “secular alternative” to the RSS, BJP & Sangh Parivar. It is also the easiest way for him to galvanise and mobilise the minority voters in his favour. Frankly, little has been done for Muslims in particular by many of the “so-called secular parties” as has been shown by various indices of the Sachar Committee Report. If anything the Muslims should have long deserted the Gandhis, Yadavs and the Left parties that claim to be the community’s well-wisher! But that’s where attacking RSS comes in as a handy ploy and tool to paint a picture of “us” versus “them” and polarise the electorate. Now if Rahul Gandhi accepts the invitation, no matter what he says or does he will upset a chunk of that vote bank by perhaps legitimising the RSS! After having likened them to an extremist group like the Muslim Brotherhood and accusing them of the Mahatma’s murder, going to their platform to engage with them would not go down well with “secular fundamentalists”.

You cannot call someone a terror organisation and then accept an invite from the same group to attend their program, can you? That would amount to legitimising them! Recently, the visit of former President and senior Congressman Pranab Mukherjee to the RSS Headquarters in Nagpur drew sharp reactions against him within the Congress. Party spokespersons articulated their sense of disbelief and taunted the veteran leader for almost doing a U-Turn on his worldview about the RSS! To assume it was not sanctioned or endorsed by the Gandhi family, that has always shared an uneasy relationship with Pranabda would be naive. The fact of the matter is that Pranabda’s decision to go was viewed as negatively and potentially damaging to the cause of the Congress and Gandhi family projecting itself as the only saviour of democracy and secularism against the RSS! No wonder the attacks against RSS BJP have become sharper ever since! Shashi Tharoor has spoken multiple times about the possibility of a Hindu Taliban or a Hindu Pakistan if the current Modi led RSS backed dispensation returns to power in 2019!

Rahul Gandhi then has another choice – to reject the invitation and that has consequences too. One of the other allegations Rahul Gandhi has made against the BJP RSS is that they are intolerant and fascists. Well, an invite extended to engage and understand the organisation is inherently rooted in a spirit of democratic dialogue and exchange. If Rahul refuses to take up the offer it makes him look like a politically intolerant entity and helps the RSS grandstand on the issue by saying “we always told you who has the Emergency mindset”! Rahul, if he refuses the invite, will also lose an opportunity to use the RSS platform to speak out his mind on their history and activities. It will be used politically by the BJP as a sign of Rahul’s insecurity and lack of oratory and intellectual prowess to debate! Rahul Gandhi on multiple occasions has accused the PM of running away from debates against him! He will clearly lose that card of throwing a challenge to the PM! If you don’t accept challenges yourself, you have little moral authority to throw challenges at others!

For the last few days ,TV news channels have been debating this issue threadbare with RSS spokespersons citing instances of how Mahatma engaged with RSS at Wardha or Nehru’s invitation to them during the Republic Day parade in the sixties or Lal Bahadur Shastri’s reach out to them. Perhaps at the very least ,this invitation has managed to atleast shake off the stigma attached to the RSS for decades under the Gandhi family dispensation. Today, the new generation particularly born after the year 2000 and eligible to vote in 2019 is perhaps not half as critical towards the RSS as their grandparents would have been. The constant propaganda against RSS using history and contemporary media along with the huge good will Congress party enjoyed post independence allowed it to easily turn RSS into a political pariah and untouchable of sorts! Today, in an almost role reversal the RSS is on an ideological and popular upswing and the Congress is in a state of what seems to be a fatal and eternal decline under Rahul Gandhi! Would the potential invite quicken that process or perhaps will Rahul Gandhi be able to use it as a last ditch attempt to recalibrate and reposition the Congress as the only secular alternative? Only time will tell!

 

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