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What does President Mukherjee-RSS chief meeting signify

This was a rare occasion in Indian politics. President President Pranab Mukherjee hosted lunch for an unlikely guest – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat – in the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Friday.

This was not for the first time that President Mukherjee has met Bhagwat. It could be noted that Bhagwat had called on the President in 2015 to exchange Diwali greetings.

But certainly it was for the first time that the President invited a RSS Sarsanghchalak as a revered guest to the Raisina Hill, exchange thought and had a lunch with him.

Both Rashtrapati Bhavan and RSS sources maintain that the luncheon was planned over a month ago. “It was a courtesy meeting as President Mukherjee will demit office next month. There was no agenda, no political talk,” a source in the Rashtrapati Bhawan was quoted as saying.

The meeting came ahead of the presidential election. Mukherjee is on his way out and is scheduled to demit office of the top job on 25 July.

The meeting came on a day two senior Union Ministers — Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu — drove to 10 Janpath, the official residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and later met CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechuri to reach a consensus over the Presidential candidate.

The President-RSS chief meeting, which has surprised many and triggered speculations in the political circle, is loaded with strong messages.

But it is highly unlikely to suggest that Mukherjee would be a consensus candidate from the government and the opposition. Even though the government is making a move to build a consensus over the Presidential candidate, it is doubtful that a consensus will ever be reached with the opposition on the Presidential candidate.

Moreover, the BJP – which has a clear edge in the Electoral College – will likely to push someone from its own rank for the top job. It could also be mentioned that Bhagwat’s name was also proposed by BJP’s ally Shiv Sena. Those who understand the functioning of the RSS know that the RSS chief will never contest the Presidential election. “I work in the Sangh. I don’t want to go there. I won’t accept it even if I get the offer,” Bhagwat had said. Obviously, this meeting won’t change things.

The RSS is the largest volunteer organisation in the world which stands on the foundations of service, sacrifice and patriotism. The luncheon meeting of President Mukherjee with RSS chief underlines the growing acceptance and recognition of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India’s political and administrative lexicon.

A tall leader, a revered politician and a visionary statesman, President Mukherjee understands the contribution of the RSS in nation building. This despite the fact that President Mukherjee is originally a Congress man and his party brands the RSS as “communal”. Through this exclusive meeting with the RSS chief, President Mukherjee has indirectly proved that the Congress’s notion on RSS is wrong.

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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