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'Congress are better Hindus than BJP'

July 09, 2018 08:33 IST

'...because we are truer to the spirit of the Hindu faith.'
'There is absolutely no question that the Hinduism of the mob lynchers, the people who have killed others because of what they are eating or how they are worshipping or the faith they belong to or what they're doing professionally, those are, to my mind, not Hindus at all.'

Union Minister of State Jayant Sinha garlanded eight men convicted in the Ramgarh lynching case in Jharkhand on July 6, 2018 and sparked off a major controversy.

IMAGE: Union Minister of State Jayant Sinha garlanded eight men convicted in the Ramgarh lynching case in Jharkhand on July 6, 2018 and sparked off a major controversy.

Congress MP and author Dr Shashi Tharoor, who in the first segment of this interview, explained the need for his book Why I Am A Hindu and the difference between a 'good' Hindu and a 'bad' Hindu, illustrates why those who accuse his party of indulging in 'appeasement of minorities for votes' are wrong.

He also disagrees that Congress has 'ceded Hindu space' to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by not exhibiting them to be Hindu enough.

"To us, religion is your private business; it's between you and your idea of the divine. But the political consequence of that behaviour is that we have been portrayed as non-believers or non-followers of the faith, and have unintentionally ceded the 'Hindu space' completely to those who claim to be the only 'true Hindus', which in my view, they're absolutely not," he says.

"I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say that the Congress has moved away from the Hindu voter, but rather that certain political forces have successfully managed to create a bigoted sub-section within the wider Hindu vote, primarily through the mischaracterisation in the current political landscape of Hindutva as Hinduism, which has served to somewhat change the very definition of what it means to be a Hindu voter in India today," Dr Tharoor tells Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

The final segment of a two-part interview:

For those of us who have watched Indian politics over the decades, it is obvious that more than anything else, it is the Congress party's errors of omission and commission that played an important role in bringing to the centre stage what was till 1989 at the fringe of Indian politics. Do you agree?

I wouldn't go so far as that. For one thing, as I and a number of my colleagues in the party have repeatedly explained, the vast majority of Hindus within the Congress party have always been practising Hindus in private.

But we were brought up to believe that flaunting it would be unseemly, and so we kept it out of our public life and our politics.

To us, religion is your private business; it's between you and your idea of the divine.

But the political consequence of that behaviour is that we have been portrayed as non-believers or non-followers of the faith, and have unintentionally ceded the 'Hindu space' completely to those who claim to be the only 'true Hindus', which in my view, they're absolutely not.

Indeed, as I discuss in great detail in my book, the kind of Hinduism practised and extolled by many in the Sangh Parivar is not in any way reflective of the tenets, teachings, precepts and values of Hinduism.

And yet, they go around preaching 'We are the only Hindus, these guys are pseudo-secular' and all that sort of nonsense.

So we, as Hindus, said, 'Why should we appear to surrender our Hinduism to others? Let's now just admit publicly what we have always been doing privately, and neutralise this constant us-versus-them scenario that they continue to employ to sow the seeds of religious bigotry'.

As to Congress 'errors' in the past, if you are referring to the tired BJP argument about 'appeasement of the minorities', I beg to disagree.

If the Congress was really pandering to the minorities all the time, as the BJP alleges, so many Muslims, for instance, would not be in the wretched socio-economic condition in which they are.

 

Both as a student of history and an author, do you think things could have turned out better if, in the first flush of Independence, the PM had brought about a common law instead of allowing disparate laws to govern different communities, which seem to have driven a wedge between communities, even generating resentment?
Why would an enlightened leader not do the right thing?

Because there was no political consensus on it at the time. That's why the desire for a Uniform Civil Code was inserted into the Directive Principles of the Constitution rather than made binding, because even advocates of such a law felt that it could only be adopted by bringing all communities along, voluntarily.

Until conditions were right, it was held to be a desirable objective, not something that politically could be rushed into.

That is why, after all, even a BJP government with a crushing majority has been unable to fulfil its own campaign pledge to introduce a Uniform Civil Code in India.

Could one dare posit that the Hindu majority felt short-changed in this version of secularism that was imported into a country whose basic tradition, faith, itself was secular in nature?

You'll have to ask those who feel this way. Certainly some Hindus felt 'short-changed', as you say, and expressed their resentment over it. I do not think they were ever a majority.

As a Congress leader, I am very curious to know, why you think the Hindu core abandoned the Congress party? Was it because your leadership was not considered Hindu enough?
How much of Sonia Gandhi's ascension, do you think, played a role in the Hindu migration away from the Congress -- perhaps heeding the propaganda that a 'foreigner', 'Christian', had come to lead the party and Hindu interests cannot be safe anymore?

I don't think Sonia Gandhi's ascension in itself had a role in the Hindu migration away from the Congress as you claim it, since the rise of political Hindutva began a decade-and-a-half before her entry into active politics.

I do think that the Hindutva brigade's view of the faith is profoundly based on an inferiority complex.

Unfortunately, around the mid-to-late 1980s onwards, the RSS/BJP were very successful in creating this image of Hindus as having been invaded, oppressed, defeated, and humiliated for a thousand years by foreign hands, be they Muslim or Christian. So, from their point of view, this now became a chance to hit back and assert themselves.

Sadly, I believe that is a very un-Hindu way of looking at our history and the past.

Moreover, as a Hindu, neither I nor the vast majority of those who practise this faith see ourselves as some sort of oppressed, humiliated, inferior species.

I consider myself as someone who belongs to a very self-confident faith; one that has been very resilient throughout history.

So many different reform movements have come up over the course of our history, all of which Hinduism has openly embraced, transforming itself in the process.

Why should we see ourselves in this pathetic, humiliated sort of way that the Hindutvavaadis see, and they want thereafter to reassert themselves; against whom?

They attack Islam and in the process they act against the helpless members of their own religion, condemning Hindu children to ignorance by rewriting history to make Hindus heroes when they lost wars or battle. I think it's foolish and pathetic.

Coming to your other point --- to clarify, I believe that in the Indian context, secularism just means pluralism.

A Western dictionary will tell you secularism is the absence of religion, but in India, with our profusion of religions, such a definition would never work.

In India, therefore, secularism is intended to mean respect for all faiths, where the government doesn't privilege any one of them.

The Congress's attitude has been, and remains, that all religions are equally valid to their believers.

So if you wish to follow a different kind of worship from me, it was not my place to judge it.

In any case, Hinduism says to seek the Truth within; seek within yourself.

You are finding your own way of worship, your own way of belief, and I respect that.

In my own constituency, as a Congress politician now having won two elections, I go to mosques, I go to temples, I go to churches. If there was a synagogue in my constituency, I'd go there too!

Because ultimately, it is not being untrue to my faith; it is just a way of showing respect for the beliefs of others.

It is not, in any way, less Hindu to respect a Muslim worshipper at his mosque on Eid. It is a way of saying I respect you for who you are, but it's not my belief.

That is the kind of sincere pluralism the Congress party aspires and works towards.

The incredulous reactions to Rahul Gandhi's temple visits, contrast that with the acceptance of Indira Gandhi's religious practices... Does that show how far the Congress has moved away from the Hindu voter?
Indira Gandhi wore her religion on her pallu, yet no one saw it as an assault on secularism.

I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say that the Congress has moved away from the Hindu voter, but rather that certain political forces have successfully managed to create a bigoted sub-section within the wider Hindu vote, primarily through the mischaracterisation in the current political landscape of Hindutva, a political ideology propounded by the likes of (V D) Sarvarkar and (Deen Dayal) Upadhyay, as Hinduism, which has served to somewhat change the very definition of what it means to be a Hindu voter in India today.

To be clear, Sarvarkar, who is the first man who came up with the concept of Hindutva, said Hindutva is not Hinduism, and it shouldn't be confused as such. He said Hinduism is religion, while Hindutva is much more than religion. So it's a different argument.

But, there is absolutely no question that the Hinduism of the mob lynchers, the people who have actually gone and killed others because of what they are eating or how they are worshipping or the faith they belong to or what they're doing professionally, those are, to my mind, not Hindus at all.

To my mind, they have not even understood the first thing about Hinduism, the basics.

We speak about 'Hindu Fundamentalism'. Hinduism is arguably a religion without fundamentals because it has such a wide range of choices of way of worship and ways in which you can seek the divine, but having said that, there are some things that are simply not acceptable.

Ahimsa is basic; Satya is basic.

You cannot betray Satya and Ahimsa and call yourself a Hindu but that's what these people are doing.

So to my mind, there are some real questions to be asked, about their view of Hinduism which is really not Hinduism of the faith, it is the Hinduism in the way which a football hooligan celebrates his team -- that my team is better than your team, and I will hit you over the head if you support another team.

That kind of hooliganism is what these people have reduced our faith to.

Ever since its inception, the Congress party has believed that India is a country for people of every background, every faith, every language, caste, creed -- the whole works.

Somehow that has been distorted by our political critics and enemies into reducing the Congress party to sort of 'party of minority interests' alone.

We work with minorities because we believe they have as much right to India as we do but that doesn't mean that we have suddenly ceased to be Hindu.

On the contrary, we think we are better Hindus than they are because we are truer to the spirit of the Hindu faith -- as I've argued in the book.

As for Rahul Gandhi visiting temples in Gujarat, I think he was doing the right thing that all politicians in all parties tend to do -- which is to visit places of worship during the campaign trail -- I've done it many times myself.

The media seems to have made an unnecessary fuss over something that is very much the norm amongst all politicians.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, today's Congress is very self-confident in its convictions.

After all, Rahul Gandhi has openly talked about his being Shiv Bhakt and as far as I'm concerned, because I've had the privilege of having private conversations with him about his beliefs, I know what he's saying is totally sincere.

He's thought about these things, he believes them, he practices them. Now the main difference is we are not going to be silent in public and practice in private as had been the approach.

We are going to be what we are in private and in public but people will see there is a difference; that our Hinduism is not about discriminating against non-Hindus - it's also anchored very much in the constitutional values of this country.

You have identified the enemy, but what does the Congress need to do to regain its lost footing? More temple visits? No iftaar and Christmas celebrations?

Well, as I've mentioned earlier, I believe we must forgo our reluctance to keep our beliefs private and embrace the true Hinduism most of us have learned -- one that is both accommodating and accepting of all faiths, beliefs and religions, and ties in with our pluralistic ideology.

I'll give you the example of my own constituency. I represent a constituency that's only 55 per cent Hindu and 45 per cent other minorities. But the fact is that I am myself somebody who goes openly to temples and equally openly go to mosques and churches and any other places of worship.

In fact, every single Christmas in the past nine years, except for last Christmas due to family commitments, I have been to Christmas services in churches of four or five different denominations and I've been acknowledged by the Christian leaders there for my respect for their faith.

But that doesn't mean I pretend to be what I am not, or that while making a speech on Christmas Day I pretend to be a Christian. I show the kind of respect for their faith that I believe true Hindus are capable of and indeed are taught and tutored into believing and showing.

Also, the decline of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the Congress coincided with the elevation of the pro-Hindu BJP. Do you think the family is the antidote the Congress needs to do battle? The RSS/BJP is like no other political force the Congress has encountered before.

The fact of the matter is that while I have complete faith in Rahul Gandhi's leadership, his vision for the Congress party and for India, neither he nor the Gandhi family (nor for that matter, the Congress party) alone can 'battle' the forces that are peddling a much more narrow, petty, bigoted, sectarian view of Hinduism.

For me, it has to be the 'common man', everyday Hindus who sincerely believe in an India that belongs to everybody and a Hinduism of acceptance, who have to join forces, across political party lines, and reclaim their faith for what it is.

That said, of course, I believe that the Congress party, with Mr Gandhi at the helm, can lead the charge in the fight against the ideologies of the RSS/BJP.

Again, as I have repeatedly said, there is a caricature that the media has turned him into, and then there is the real Rahul Gandhi Congressmen like myself know -- others too who are highly distinguished and have been recognised as 'leaders' in their fields, work under his leadership precisely because they have seen in him every sign of a leader and of someone who can take us forward.

Indeed, the party's recent performance at the polls show that it is no longer just us Congressman, but party workers and the general populace as well who have taken to Mr Gandhi.

Under a renewed energy and dynamism, the Congress party's revival is well and truly gathering battering pace.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy / Rediff.com