Cong leaders request ex-Prez Pranab to withdraw from RSS event

Thiruvananthapura/Kolkata, May 30 (PTI) Former president Pranab Mukherjee accepting an invite from the RSS to attend its function in Nagpur drew calls from more Congress leaders to him today to withdraw from the event over what they called in the “interest of secularism”

Ramesh Chennithala, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, sent a letter to Mukherjee requesting him to refrain from attending the event while West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury and senior Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao echoed similar sentiments

Mukherjee, who has been a Congress veteran, has been invited to be the chief guest at the valedictory function of Sangh Shiksha Varg — a training camp for RSS volunteers at the organisation’s headquarters in Nagpur on June 7. According to an RSS functionary, the former president has accepted the invitation.

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Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said now that the former president has accepted the invitation he should go and tell the RSS “what is wrong” in their ideology. His party colleague Abhishek Singhvi opined that the party would like to first hear what Mukherjee has to say before making any comments

In his letter, Chennithala, also leader of the opposition in Kerala assembly, said Mukherjee’s decision had come as a “rude shock” to the secular minds of the country

He alleged that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) has been trying to divide the country on religious lines and to run the incumbent government by remote control

“Being one of the tallest leaders of the great Indian National Congress, which has been responsible for preserving the secular fabric of this country, your decision has invited unparalleled disgruntlement among the rank and file of the Congress Party,” the letter said

“As a person who has served as the first citizen of our country and the greatest ambassador of secularism, I request you to reconsider your decision to attend the RSS meet on June 7,2018,” it said

Alleging that the RSS was a ‘communal outfit’, the Congress leader said its vision of creating “Hindu Rashtra” comprising only one section of the population is in sharp contrast with the Congress ideology of secularism and democracy

Adhir Chowdhury expressed surprise over Mukherjee’s decision and said he is unable to relate it with the former president’s previous comments against the Sangh

“I am really surprised to hear about the decision of Pranab Mukherjee to attend RSS’s programme in Nagpur. Just like any other Congressman, I am really astonished to hear about it,” Chowdhury said in Kolkata

“My question is does he (Mukherjee) think his previous comments against RSS were wrong … We still remember how Pranab Mukherjee as a senior leader of the Congress had criticized RSS as a communal and a divisive organization”

However, Mukherjee is no longer President, nor a Congress leader, and he is free to take any decision, he said

“I can’t say what prompted him to take such a decision,” said Chowdhury, who has shared a long association with Mukherjee

Hanumantha Rao said the former president should withdraw his decision”in the interest of secularism”

Mukherjee, who had held the highest post of President, should not attend the meeting of RSS as it is a “communal” organisation, the AICC Secretary and former Rajya Sabha member said

“I am requesting him that he should withdraw,” Rao said in Hyderabad

He said Mukherjee was a senior Congress leader who has been held in high esteem by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi

“Their (RSS) thinking is Hindutva. They are not secular. They want ‘Hindu desh’. How he (Mukherjee) can go? In this country, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, everybody is there… So my request is he should rethink (his decision to attend the RSS meet) and he should not go,” he said

Rao also said he would write to Mukherjee in this regard

Veteran Congressman CK Jaffer Sharief, in a letter to Mukherjee yesterday, expressed surprise over the move and said he like other secular people was “stunned” to hear about his attending the RSS function.

“I personally think that a person of your stature, being secular and in politics for decades, having served in various capacity including the highest position of Rashtrapati, visiting Sangh Parivar at this point in time before Parliament elections is not proper

“I once again request you to reconsider and avoid visiting Sangh Parivar in the interest of secularism and the country,” Sharief said in his letter which was also signed by former MP H Hanumanthappa

At the AICC briefing in Delhi, the Congress refrained from making a comment on the issue for the second day today

“We do not like to comment on the former president,” the party spokesperson R P N Singh said when asked to comment on former President’s decision.

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