Peeping Shankar | The Pranab Mukherjee effect and its spin-off

Ever since a former President visited the RSS headquarters, requests are pouring in to host political jamborees and rock gigs in Nagpur. But the Sangh has set its sights on inviting Kim Jong-un

Call it the impact of 2,000 words spoken with minimal elocution. But some 36 hours after former president Pranab Mukherjee delivered his now famous valedictory speech at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur on June 7, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) went into a tizzy. What caused official hearts to beat faster was an email sent to a friend in Wyoming by Professor Wilder Foresight, an American social scientist from “Princeton” holidaying in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. He had written: “The socio-cultural impact of the 'PM' event will have far-reaching impact and will unravel in the pages of history. In the long run, it will also help resolve all political conflicts and bring humanity on an even keel in a permanent state of don’t care/doesn’t matter.”

The good professor did sound prophetic but what he said was with reference to an experiment he had conducted on the harmonising effect of collective post-hashish meditation (PM). However, the Himachal Pradesh state intelligence, which intercepted the electronic communication, mistook 'PM' to stand for either the Prime Minister or Pranab Mukherjee. Since the former did not have any major public engagement on that day, the conclusion was hastily drawn that the 'PM' referred to in the email was the former President and the “event” on June 7 was none other than the function at the RSS headquarters to mark the conclusion of its cadre training programme at which the ex-Prez was the chief guest.

Given that feedback, an eager official in the Himachal Pradesh home department lost no time in dashing off a copy of the email and the intelligence report in a file marked “Top Secret” to the PMO. It was promptly forwarded to us with the following terse and witty noting: “Since Professor Foresight, a US national, was clearly referring to Shri Pranab Mukherjee and the RSS, the matter needs to be investigated. No one should blame us in hindsight for not having enough foresight!”

That’s how the file landed on my desk. However, it took me less than an hour to confirm that we had been given a dud case to investigate and that the professor from New York was a fake. He was actually not from Princeton but was part of the visiting faculty of 'Pinceton' University, an institution which ran from a ramshackle dump in the Daryaganj area of old Delhi. It taught various forms of meditation (transcendental, continental, Chinese, Thai, Mughlai and South Indian) and had no more than a handful of students, mostly confused tourists in search of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain’s spirit, whichever could be found earlier. Incidentally, I also discovered that the professor’s friend (who he had emailed) in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was a gent who has been busted on multiple occasions for possession of mind-altering substances.

...There was no stopping him as he rambled on about how a speech of 27 minutes on secularism could transform the way the world views the Sangh. “A small speech for Pranabda, but a giant leap for the Parivar,” said my man from the RSS, recalling what must have been for him, and others, a Neil Armstrong moment

I was quick to bring all this to the notice of the boss: “If you ask me, this is a false alarm — a minor storm in a tiny tea cup. I think we can safely close the case and not waste our time,” I said with finality.

But he felt I was being prematurely dismissive. “You seem to be in a tearing hurry,” he said, “If there’s a storm, we have to at least wait for it to subside. The IB must not only work but should also appear to be working. Why don’t you go to Nagpur and potter around for a few days? Consider it a paid vacation. After your return, we can safely close the file after duly completing our investigation.”

I understood what he meant. The PMO may get upset that we had not exercised due diligence before dismissing its request. So, I resigned to my fate, knowing fully well that in our line of work, it is on such paid holidays that one is compelled to extend oneself and even work overtime. That indeed proved to be my predicament because hardly had I checked into my hotel in Nagpur and turned on Netflix that my contact in the RSS rung up to say that he was rushing to my hotel because of “strange developments that have come to light”.

I had earlier invited him to Vishnuji Ki Rasoi for a Maharashtrian meal in the evening, but he was obviously hard pressed to want to meet before that. “Shankarji, what I have is explosive material,” he said, bursting into the room even as he handed me a sheaf of printouts. “Look at the emails received after Pranabda’s visit. They are coming from all over the world. We’re literally flooded! Believe it or not, Nagpur has suddenly become the cultural capital of the world and the RSS headquarter, the symbol of free speech, inclusiveness and tolerance. It is all amazing!” he added in one breath, as if he couldn’t contain his excitement.

I asked him to calm down but there was no stopping him as he rambled on about how a speech of 27 minutes on secularism (some would say a boring sermon on the values that democratic India stands for) could transform the way the world views the Sangh. “A small speech for Pranabda, but a giant leap for the Parivar,” said my man from the RSS, recalling what must have been for him, and others, a Neil Armstrong moment.

I said I had to carefully study the emails and would best be left to my own devices. Perhaps, he could share his excitement over dinner. My contact warmed up to the idea, but before taking my leave, he shared this nugget of information: two Bollywood directors had apparently approached Mohan Bhagwat, the RRS chief, for permission to shoot inside the organisation’s headquarters.

(Investigations later revealed that films based on Pranabda’s speech were indeed on the anvil. One a musical comedy titled Song Sangh Blue and the other an action thriller, Pariwar. The casting had not been finalised, although the buzz is that Katrina Kaif has been signed on for both films.)

That aside, as I went through the emails, I suddenly realised that 2019 would be a busy year for the RSS, not because of general elections, but also because of the number of mega events being proposed at its Nagpur headquarters. Here are three surprises in store:

The Grand Republican Jamboree: Tentatively slated for March 20 when the Republican Party celebrates 165 years of its existence, the special convention will have leading Democrats - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - as the star speakers. Inspired by Pranab Mukherjee, they will share the stage with US President Donald Trump and will sermonise on liberal values, free market economy, the need for inclusiveness, the power of democracy and the perils of right wing conservatism to their Republican brethren. The day-long convention will conclude with the Voices of Gotham, a New York City-based choral group, rendering its version of Prasoon Joshi’s song for the occasion, Democrat-Republican Bhai Bhai. Baba Ramdev will later distribute laddoos.

Punk De Basanti: Timed with the advent of Spring, a two-day music festival has been proposed by APL Event Management, London. The fest will feature punk acts from the 70s and 80s. If all goes according to plan, sharing the stage with the RSS Marching Band will be the likes of Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon (formerly of the Sex Pistols), The Cockney Rejects and the Anti-Nowhere League. Disbanded neo-Nazi Punk acts like Skrewdriver and No Remorse, among others, will also be persuaded to perform with new line ups. The festival is likely to conclude with a paper presented by Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb on “The Punk Movement and its roots in Ancient India.”

Editors’ Guilt - Post-election Conclave: In June, the Guilt has sought permission to meet at Nagpur. Senior journalists practicing value neutral journalism that doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong and justice and injustice hope to meet and define the new line of ambivalence after the new government is sworn in. The conclave will also provide a forum to apologise for acts of omissions and commissions in the last five years. The Ambivalent Editor of the Year and other awards sponsored by Paytm, RIL and the Adani Group will be presented on the occasion. Media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, has tentatively agreed to be the chief guest.

In addition to these mega events, several others have been proposed, including seminars and book launches (Chetan Bhagat’s new novel will be a big draw). Also, on the itinerary will be a desi version of the Nobel awards (renamed Noble) to be awarded for peace, human rights, literature, performing arts, science and education. It is scheduled for November and will be organised by Sanskar Bharti — the cultural wing of the RSS. The Freedom of Expression Conference will be another big draw in which leading Kathakali performers and mime artists from all over the world will reiterate their right to make faces. All in all, it certainly promises to be a busy calendar for 2019.

***
Later that day, over dinner, I asked our man in the RSS if his organisation was pleased with the flood of proposals and international interest. He was honest enough to admit that the response has been mixed so far. While some were overwhelmed, Mohan Bhagwat and other seniors are not particularly impressed. Apparently, they have set their sights on persuading North Korea’s supremo Kim Jong-un to be the chief guest at the 93rd Foundation Day ceremony of the Sangh on September 27.

That, I dare say, would be a challenge, given the young man’s reluctance to step on foreign soil. Also, efforts by Nagpur to establish contact with the North Korean leader have so far been in vain. But, I understand the event managers may have an ace up their sleeve — a Kim Jong-un lookalike can be presented at the event! For a nation fed on fake news, an impersonator may look more real than the original.

(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)

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