The PM can hardly ignore the lesson in pluralism and nationalism from a man he professes to admire so much.
At the Governors’ Conference earlier this week, on 5 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded his audience that the need of the hour was to strengthen the ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’ initiative. What better occasions to do this, he pointed out, than during the forthcoming Kumbh Mela in January 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi later in the year, and the 75th anniversary of Independence in 2022?
Seems the Kumbh could become the springboard for a much bigger political initiative — the renaming of Allahabad, where the mela is taking place this time, to Prayag. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, having lost several byelections in Uttar Pradesh recently, seems to want it; the mahants, of course, are already clamouring for it.
With the political temperature so high these days, is the good Yogi presenting a fait accompli to the PM? Or is the PM on board such a decision already?
Certainly, the drum roll for the general election next summer has already been sounded. Kairana lit the fuse and Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur Thursday added fuel to the fire. The opposition is particularly chuffed that villages in Kairana constituency, which faced the brunt of the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, voted for RLD candidate Tabassum Begum.
So, as the Prime Minister sets off Saturday for Qingdao in China to meet Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and other world leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, he will likely spend time aboard Air India One strategising on how he can get the most out of the coming year.
The familiar third person, in which the PM likes to think of himself, could emerge. How does Modi cut through the political antagonism and lead the way for another victory in 2019? How does Modi ensure that India’s boat remains stable in the choppy waters of international disingenuity?
We have some answers to these questions — courtesy of Pranab Mukherjee. In an interview with NDTV last October, a couple of months after he demitted office as President, Mukherjee said of Modi, “He has the unique capacity to work very hard, with a strong determination to achieve his objectives.
“Secondly, he is clear in his vision, what (he) wants to achieve. And he works hard to achieve that. This, one should remember, that he came straight from the state to the Centre, (he was) not even an MP for a few years, but he grasped the intricacies of the administration, internal dynamics of Indian politics, foreign policy, relationships with the neighbours,” Mukherjee said.
It is worth remembering, as the dissection of the former President’s visit to the RSS headquarters takes place, that Modi and Mukherjee have shared an unconventional relationship. The PM has been a ‘pracharak’ for a substantial part of his life and his cordial ties with Mukherjee would have certainly played a role in him accepting the RSS’ invitation.
The PM has also publicly returned the compliment. At a book launch last July, Modi had said of Mukherjee, “Yeh mere jeevan ka bohot bada saubhagya raha ki mujhe Pranab da ki ungli pakad kar Dilli ki zindagi main apne aap ko set karne ki suvidha mili.
It has been a deep privilege that I could hold Pranab da’s finger and settle down in Delhi, Modi said. Pranab da helped me negotiate the Byzantine corridors of this benighted city, he could have added.
Now that Mukherjee has spoken in Nagpur, the PM can hardly ignore the lesson in pluralism and nationalism (“Any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity”) from a man he professes to admire so much.
Mukherjee’s final thrust, quoting Kautilya, the PM’s favourite strategist, may have hurt:
Kautilya tells us that in the happiness of the people lies the happiness of the King. Their welfare is his welfare. The State is for the people.
As he flies to China, Modi knows that, at least for the rest of his tenure, he will have to ensure that right-wing Hindu outfits that have taken the law into their hands these past few years cannot be allowed to contradict Mukherjee’s message from Nagpur.
The admiration for Pranab Mukherjee has now become Modi’s responsibility.