HYDERABAD: Shashi Tharoor is a man who needs no introduction. The Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram was at his eloquent best at a talk show organised by Hyderabad Park at NALSAR University of Law, Shamirpet, on Wednesday. Novelist Sriram Karri played the host, and questions ranged from Tharoor’s latest release ‘Why I Am A Hindu’ to his views on secularism, Hindutva, and more. Excerpts from the conversation:
Sriram Karri (SK): You say Congress represents ‘good Hinduism’, and Sangh Parivar stands for ‘bad Hinduism’. Is secularism dead, and is there a battle being fought between Hindus now?
Shashi Tharoor (ST): Religion is deeply entrenched in our country. Even avowed atheist parties have to make certain accommodations with religion. I am a Hindu, and am not embarrassed to say so. Yet, I consider myself a liberal, and tend not to judge people. I want to encourage them and am accommodating by nature. The first half of the book is a description of my Hinduism, my beliefs, teachings of Adi Shankara, Swami Vivekananda (my hero), and Mahatma Gandhi. Indian secularism always involved a proliferation of religions. It fits in perfectly with my individual beliefs. Tolerance is a virtue, but a patronising one. Acceptance, on the other hand, says, “I have my truth, you have your truth. I respect your truth, and you respect my truth”. This is what Hinduism is all about.
SK: Can caste be abolished from Hinduism?
ST: As a person, I reject caste discrimination. Hinduism has a lot of texts, and one can choose what they want to follow. Those who follow ‘Manusmriti’ and justify oppression on women are practising the worst form of Hinduism. Hinduism’s greatest epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were not composed by Brahmins; Valmiki was the son of a hunter, an outcast and Ved Vyas was the son of a fisherwoman, another outcast. It was said that Adi Shankara was walking in Varanasi one day, when a ‘Chandala’ (Dalit) was coming from the opposite path. The sage’s followers rudely told him to get off the path. Chandala refused to move, asking Adi Shankara, “What do you want me to move? My body or my soul? Isn’t the atman within me same as the one within you?” Adi Shankara was so impressed that he prostrated before the Chandala and made him his guru.
SK: Does Hinduism suffer from the belief that Hindus are so tolerant and nice?
ST: Personally, I have rejected most of the social assumptions of a Hindu family, but still held on to the philosophical concepts of Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion of questioning. The fact that two Hindu friends can have different Gods and worshipping practices speaks of the diversity in the religion. Hinduism accepts far more faiths than any other religion. Hindutva, on the other hand, is trying to make the religion into a one-sided, Abrahamic faith.
SK: Isn’t Congress the ‘intellectual mentor’ to Hindutva 2.0, from Advani to Narendra Modi, w.r.t the Emergency and 1984 riots?
ST: The Emergency was wrong. And I believe 1984 riots could have been handled better. However, Muslims were not targeted during Emergency. As far as 1984 riots were concerned, the Congress went out of its way to groom and raise leaders of different faiths such as Dr Manmohan Singh, Buta Singh (former Union Home Minister), etc. Congress is an inclusive party. We had Congress Presidents belonging to different faiths. BJP is a party that excludes. It has a rigid belief of Hindutva, which is dangerous for the survival of our country.
SK: Given your opinion on the importance of 2019 elections for the future of our country, is Congress doing enough to defeat BJP?
ST: Yes, we are gearing up for the polls. Party workers are being energised, booth committees are springing to life, etc. At the pre-election stage, I would hope there would be some kind of an understanding between us and regional parties. We are also open to alliances post the elections.