NAGPUR: Former President and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee today warned that any attempt to define India through "religion, dogma or intolerance" will only dilute the country's existence, as he attended an RSS event amid criticism by several of his party leaders including his own daughter.
Mukherjee said intolerance will only dilute India' national identity and Indian nationalism emanated from universalism, assimilation and co-existence.
"In India, we derive our strength from tolerance, and respect our pluralism. We celebrate our diversity," he said.
"I am here to share my understanding on nation, nationalism and patriotism about our country which is 'Bharat'," said Mukherjee, who served as President of India between 2012 and 2017.
"We must free our public discourse from all kinds of fear and violence" he said.
Before the former president spoke, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the debate over Mukherjee's decision to attend the RSS event was "meaningless" and no one is an outsider for his organisation.
While the Sangh is often described as a Hindu right-wing organisation, it calls itself a nationalist and cultural organisation rather than a political or religious one. It was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar , on September 27, 1925 on Vijayadashami day at his house here.
Mukherjee's decision to attent the RSS event has already triggered a major political slugfest with several Congress leaders criticising his decision.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel today expressed his disapproval at former president Pranab Mukherjee visiting the RSS headquarters in Nagpur and said he did not expect this from him.
Mukherjee's daughter and Congress leader Sharmistha had yesterday said her father was giving the BJP and the Sangh a handle to plant false stories with his decision to speak at the RSS event.
Speaking ahead of Mukherjee's speech, Bhagwat said Mukherjee will remain what he is and the Sangh will remain the Sangh even after the event.
Bhagwat said his organisation wants to unify the entire society and no one was an outsider for it.
People may have different views but they are all children of mother India, he said.
Bhagwat said the Sangh has inviting prominent people to its event every year.
Those present at today's event also included former prime minister Lal Bahadu Shastri's son Sunil Shastri, as also Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's nephew Ardhendu Bose along with his wife and son.
Earlier in the day, Mukherjee described Hedgewar as a "great son of Mother India' as he visited the birthplace of the RSS founding Sarsanghachalak.
"Today I came here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India," Mukherjee wrote in a visitor's book at Hedgewar's birthplace ahead of his much-anticipated speech at the RSS headquarters here.