The chief guest of an RSS programme will be the former Congress Leader and former President Pranab Mukherjee. This news has surprised everyone, especially many in the Congress party.

Mukherjee will reportedly attend the annual program at the RSS headquarter in Nagpur.

Sonia Gandhi is out of the country for treatment and Rahul Gandhi is accompanying her and hence their view on the issue is not known immediately. On the other hand, many Congress leaders did not express their views publicly.

Mukherjee will be the chief guest at its valedictory session of the ‘Tritiya Varsh Varg’ or the Third Year Course on June 7 according to the RSS. A top RSS official said, “We have invited the former President of India and he has given his consent for participating in the programme.”

Mukherjee was the one who had inducted a political resolution urging the then UPA government to “investigate links between terrorists and the RSS and its sister organisations that have been uncovered in some recent cases” at the AICC’s Burari plenary session in 2010.

Many of the top Congress leaders are not commenting in this matter and that includes A K Antony. He avoided the question and said that he was unaware of Mukherjee’s programme. Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said: “he is an intelligent person. He has been the President of India. He is secular minded. So there will be no change in his behaviour by going there. He will remain the same.”

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari when asked how his party perceived Mukherjee’s decision, said “I think the best person to answer that question is the former President himself. The invitation was extended to him. He has accepted the invitation. Ostensibly he is going. So therefore, if there are any queries with regard to that, he is the best person to answer that.”

When another senior leader was asked the same question, he answered “Why are you asking me? Ask other senior leaders.”

All his life Pranab Mukherjee has been with the Congress party. Last year when he completed his tenure as the President of India, veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar had written that Mukherjee, now “freed of his constitutional constraints, a retired Pranabda could well become the Congress party’s principal counselor and help guide it back from its present nadir closer to the zenith.”.

“As far as I have read, he has been invited but he will be giving his decision at the appropriate time… I am sure that he is weighing it in his mind and I am sure he is consulting others as well. So, this is quite the wrong time for an outsider to comment,” Aiyar, who was suspended from the Congress last year, had said.

Some RSS sources in Nagpur claimed that Mukherjee had met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. They met at least four times after Mukherjee’s leaving Rashtrapati Bhavan. “The first meeting between the two happened when Mukherjee was President. Subsequently, the two met at least four times. Frequent exchanges do blunt the sharp edges of difference of opinion. This paved the way for Mukherjee to accept the invitation,” a senior functionary reportedly told the media.

According to sources, the meetings between Mukherjee and Bhagwat was assisted by the Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.

The official said “Also, the RSS has a tradition of inviting people not belonging to its ideological line of thinking to two of its most important programmes in Nagpur — the annual camp and foundation day. In 2007, former Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis was invited.”

(Adapted from TheIndianExpress.com)