Amid outrage over the controversial remarks on Prophet Muhammad by the Bharatiya Janata Party's now-sacked two functionaries, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said it is high time Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on the 'proliferation of hate speech and Islamophobic incidents' in the country, asserting that his silence is interpreted by some as condoning what has been happening.
In an interview with PTI, Tharoor said the irony is that in recent years the Indian government has taken 'impressive steps' to strengthen relations with Islamic countries, but that now is at risk of being 'seriously undermined'.
On the outrage and condemnation from a number of Muslim-majority nations over the controversial remarks on Prophet Muhammad and calls that Prime Minister Modi should have intervened in the matter when the comments were made, Tharoor said, "I believe it is high time the PM broke his silence on the proliferation of hate speech and Islamophobic incidents in our country, because his silence is interpreted by some as condoning what has been happening."
"I am sure he (Modi) understands that this kind of divisive rhetoric is undermining his own vision for India's development and prosperity," he said.
Social cohesion and national harmony are a must for any nation to progress and grow, Tharoor asserted.
"That is why, in the name of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas', he must publicly call for a stop to such behaviour," the Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
Echoing similar views, another senior Congress leader and former home minister P Chidambaram also said the prime minister should have spoken and acted immediately after the offensive utterances by the BJP's now-sacked two functionaries.
"The PM's silence is baffling, but in tune with his silence on past occasions. It is sad that the government turned a deaf ear when opposition parties, civil society leaders, writers, scholars and common citizens forewarned it to put an end to Islamophobia, but woke up startled when 16 countries remonstrated against the utterances," Chidambaram told PTI.
Tharoor also weighed in on the ongoing debate on the need for blasphemy laws in the country, and said he is not a fan of such laws because the history of such laws elsewhere is littered with their misuse and abuse.
"The existence of a blasphemy law tends to encourage both excessive frivolous litigation and mob misconduct by those who take the law into their own hands. I think our current hate speech laws and Section 295A are quite adequate to deal with such misbehaviour," Tharoor said.
The issue is of the willingness of the police and local authorities to enforce the law, without fear or favour, against whoever violates it, he said.
"Exemplary action against any and all offenders will have a salutary effect in reducing such cases in future," the MP said.
Asked about the impact of the row over diplomacy and foreign policy, Tharoor said the irony is that in recent years the Indian government has taken 'impressive steps' to strengthen relations with Islamic countries, especially in the Gulf.
"That risks being seriously undermined, as the media in these countries is replete with stories about the increasing 'demonisation' of Muslims in our country," the former minister of state for external affairs said.
The BJP had last Sunday suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal after their controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad.
Two people succumbed to gunshot wounds in Jharkhand capital Ranchi and fresh demonstrations were held in West Bengal's Howrah on Saturday as tension prevailed in several parts of the country, a day after the violent protests against the controversial remarks.
On the protests, Tharoor said section 295A of the Indian Penal Code clearly makes it a criminal offence to outrage the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India ; anyone who by 'words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs' of Indians should have been prosecuted by the police.
"I am glad to see that action is being taken, even if belatedly, against those who injected such toxic elements into our national discourse," he said.
Asked about the Congress being accused of peddling in 'soft Hindutva' in the past and if the party needs to take an aggressive stance on issues of the minorities such as the row over the comments on the Prophet, Tharoor said he believes the Congress has been clear in its denunciation of this recent incident.
"We believe in an inclusive idea of India and should and must speak up whenever that idea is violated by word or deed -- whoever does it," he asserted.