The RSS was so keen to get Pranab Mukherjee to its headquarters in Nagpur that it sacrificed time honoured Sangh protocol in deference to the visiting former president.
The Sangh way at all major functions is for the sarsangchalak to speak at the end. This way, the RSS chief gets to have the last word. Sangh bosses believe this is important because it gives the chief an opportunity to correct misgivings that may arise from other speeches during the course of an event.
However, this time, they had to do away with this tradition because Rashtrapati Bhavan protocol took over. The convention for presidents, past and present, is that they are always the last speakers. It’s more than extending an honour to the country’s first citizen. It also a way of ensuring that there are no maverick speeches that could embarrass the VIP.
Apparently, Mukherjee’s office explained Rashtrapati Bhavan do’s and don’ts to Sangh interlocutors who were coordinating the visit. The RSS readily agreed although it meant breaking with their own conventions. And so, Mukherjee had the last word in Nagpur, not Mohan Bhagwat.
Gadkari the catalyst
Transport minister Nitin Gadkari is believed to have had a major hand in getting Pranab Mukherjee to Nagpur. According to circles close to the RSS, Gadkari established a good equation with Mukherjee during his stint in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
In fact, it is said that Gadkari was the one who facilitated the first luncheon meet between Mukherjee and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The RSS has been keen for a long time that Mukherjee visit its Nagpur headquarters. It first extended the invitation during Mukherjee’s last year as President. The proposal was part of a vigorous ongoing outreach effort by the Sangh to mainstream itself and gain wider acceptability. Getting Mukherjee would be a coup of sorts, it was felt. Not only is he a devout Hindu well versed in the scriptures, he is also held in great esteem by all sections as an elder statesman and has a strong Congress pedigree.
According to those familiar with the discussions, after Mukherjee initially declined the invitation, the RSS chief entrusted the task of persuading him to visit Nagpur to Gadkari. Bhagwat is known to have a close rapport with Gadkari. The connection gives the transport minister a special status in the Modi government. It may be remembered that Modi permitted Gadkari to join his recent roadshow along the Delhi-Meerut expressway. Modi roadshows are usually solo affairs to showcase the prime minister.
It took some persuasion but Gadkari managed to convince Mukherjee to come to Nagpur. The former president is an astute politician so he must have known the stir he would create with his visit to the RSS headquarters. He went ahead because as he stressed in his address in Nagpur, he believes in dialogue and discussion with all shades of opinion and ideologies.
The best of friends
Like mother, like son. Remember how close Sonia Gandhi was to Lalu Yadav? She used to enjoy his company and often had the RJD chief and family over to 10 Janpath for dinner during the UPA years.
It seems Rahul is carrying on the tradition with the next generation. He and Lalu’s son and political heir Tejaswi have established a great friendship. Tejaswi visits Rahul at his Tughlaq Lane residence often. And Rahul has taken him out to dinner on at least two occasions.
Three young leaders are emerging as the face of the united opposition in UP and Bihar, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, RLD’s Jayant Chaudhry and RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav. Apparently, Rahul makes it a point to keep in touch with all three. The rapport with Akhilesh grew from the time the Congress and SP contested as allies in the 2017 assembly polls.
Jayant and Rahul are believed to have common friends and often meet at social gatherings. But it seems he gets on best with Tejaswi. They have a special relationship. In fact, after their most recent meeting at Rahul’s residence, Tejaswi emerged in such good humour that he recited a poem by famous English poet William Wordsworth.
Return to non-alignment
Diplomatic watchers have noted Narendra Modi’s Nehru moment during his much-lauded speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore. Indicating a return to India’s traditional foreign policy positioning as crafted by Jawaharlal Nehru, Modi for the first time talked of non-alignment.
It was not articulated as the non-alignment of Nehru because those were different times. But Modi stressed that India would not align itself with any great power but chart an independent course by engaging with all.
Diplomatic watchers were taken aback by the tone and tenor of Modi’s speech because so far his foreign policy has been seen as one with a clear pro-US tilt. He is obviously doing a course correction now with his rediscovery of Russia as an old friend and the effort to put the relationship with China back on an even keel.
It is interesting that this return to a non-aligned position in foreign policy has come with a change of guard in the ministry of external affairs. The new foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, say diplomatic watchers, is cast in the old mould, unlike his predecessor Jaishanker who was seen as distinctly pro-US.
The mercurial nature of the Trump Administration has made foreign policy mandarins here realise that the US may not be the dependable ally India needs. Consequently, New Delhi should not position itself as a frontline state for the US in Asia and get into a confrontation with China.
Gokhale is a China expert and it is believed that he has brought in a welcome sense of realism in India’s China policy by pushing for informal one-to-one engagements with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He is also believed to have emphasized the importance of rebuilding bridges with Russia. This sent Modi for an informal summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
Interestingly, the Doval-Gokhale duo has evolved a new style of international outreach for Modi, which is to engage with world leaders in informal one-to-one meetings rather than the old style summit meets.