Former President Pranab Mukherjee has once again caused a flutter in political circles by inaugurating a few projects under the Smartgram Yojna or Smart Villages Scheme on September 2 at Gurugram, near Delhi, along with Haryana BJP Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. This step by Mukherjee is bound to embarrass his former party Congress since it is going to be seen as a sequel to his visit to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur in June.
In the case of Pranab’s last visit to Nagpur, a few Congress leaders had written to dissuade him from sharing dais with the top brass of the RSS. And, thus, the party is going to be a good deal amused by former President’s latest step.
This is more so since Khattar has his roots in the RSS though this time Pranab had tried to draw a distinction between the RSS and the BJP, or the Government run by the latter, by issuing a statement through his office on August 31 to say that he is not going to join any RSS event in Haryana, nor his Pranab Mukherjee Foundation has any collaboration with the RSS.
The statement issued on his behalf before the visit to Gurugram reads: “There have been reports in certain sections of the media suggesting that the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation (PMF) may collaborate with the RSS in Haryana. It is categorically clarified that there is neither any existing collaboration, nor is there any such move in the offing.
“The Smartgram Project in Haryana started in July 2016, when Pranab Mukherjee adopted some villages as the serving President and he will be visiting Gurgaon at the invitation of the Government of Haryana on September 2, 2018 to inaugurate projects started during the last two years along with ML Khattar, the CM of Haryana.”
Mukherjee had adopted four villages about a couple of years ago in Gurugram’s (as Gurgaon is known now) Alipur for their uplift. And ever since the PMF has come to intervene in about 100 villages of Haryana in collaboration with IFFCO, or Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd, to improve farm productivity and encourage best agricultural practices in the area.
Thus, PMF’s intervention in Haryana’s countryside has been expanding over the years. And this has obviously the support of the Haryana government.
And at the same time, Khattar’s government has decided to take on the Congress’ first family by lodging a case against one of its members besides the former party CM in a land purchase deal about which the Congress statement said that the deal is over 10 years old and the BJP took a good nearly four years to file FIR after coming to power in Haryana.
Amid such moves by the BJP Government in the state, the RSS flaunted its inclination to extend an invitation to Congress president Rahul Gandhi to attend one of its shows in Delhi which is likely to be held in a couple of weeks or so from now.
The Congress has been cold to the RSS efforts to make Rahul Gandhi toe the footsteps of Pranab Mukherjee vis-à-vis the RSS. Rahul has often been attacking the RSS and blaming its cadre and sympathisers of virtually taking over most public and government institutions, courtesy the BJP which serves as the political arm of the RSS.
Although Mukherjee often admonished the Hindutva hardliners backed by the BJP and the RSS as President of the country, his decision to visit RSS headquarters after his retirement had caused consternation not only in the Congress but also in his family.
His daughter, Sharmishtha Mukherjee, who is spokesperson of Congress’ Delhi unit, had differed with him over the visit to the RSS citadel. So, the show of warmth between him and an old RSS hand like Khattar is unlikely to be taken as simply as Pranab has tried to make it out through the statement issued on his behalf a couple of days before his Gurugram visit.