Congress MP Shashi Tharoor who attended the 54th annual meet of Thuglak – the Tamil magazine edited by RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy– as the chief guest, faced resistance from the audience members for his remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While speaking about the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, the Thiruvananthapuram MP said that the temple, which is still under construction, has been done for political reasons ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. “The inauguration of an incomplete temple on January 22 is a date chosen by a Prime Minister for his own political benefit ahead of the elections. Therefore to go there for that function where the starring role is given to the Prime Minister, and the priests, pujaris, and purohits are merely playing supporting roles in a temple that is still under construction, is to many of us a troubling act. It is a purely political act. I would live to see politics and Hinduism kept separate from each other. I don’t believe that ours is a religion that prescribes any role for politicians.”
The MP said that he did not receive an invitation to attend the temple’s inauguration, but said that he will visit the temple, but not on January 22. This comment led to protest from some audience members.
At the event, the MP expressed his views on the divide between north and south India, Hindi imposition, anti-Muslim rhetoric, delimitation and the erosion of state-right, among others pressing issues.
Shashi Tharoor was criticized by many for participating in the event. The event took place at the Music Academy in Chennai on January 14. Justifying his participation in the event, the MP had said, “I will be speaking of my convictions and vision of India, not theirs. We need to reach out to those who do not share our views. Isn’t that what democracy requires — debate across the political divide?
Speaking at the event, Tharoor said, “I do worry about the Hindi-Hindutva-Hindustan politics of this [Union] government. Because this culture of Aryavrat domination that infects the attitudes of some has already raised disquiet among many, many southern politicians. Maybe Mr Gurumurthy here and others may not feel that this is a big issue, but I definitely feel that this is a serious issue because the financial and political consequences threaten the very unity of India. If the south faces disenfranchisement along with a sense of victimisation, then that combination is bound to generate resentments.”
Responding to an allegation by an audience member that the INDIA alliance had been made to “bring Muslims to power”, Tharoor replied: “The INDIA Alliance was made to bring Indians to power. I want to remind you all that Muslims are also Indians. We should not forget that one of our great strengths as a society is that we appreciated people from all sorts of backgrounds.”
Tharoor also referred to various Hindu texts and the ideas of reformist Vivekananda and said that they all shared the belief that the divine could be imagined in many forms and therefore all religions ultimately led to the same divinity. “If god can be imagined as a pot-bellied figure with an elephant head, and I’m a Ganesh bhakt myself, why can’t god also be a bleeding man suffering on a cross? The rishis would have had no problem with that. It is this great sense that makes me proud to be a Hindu.”
Tharoor further said that according to Vivekananda, “Hinduism says ‘you believe you have the truth, I believe that I have the truth. I will respect your truth. Please respect my truth.’ That is the Hindu principle of acceptance. That is the principle by which I live. And that is why for me all people of all faiths are Indians. I see them as Indians. That is why I do not want a situation in which any one community should feel demonised or seen as the other or relegated to a marginal role.”
With reference to the memorial in Daman & Diu to INS Khukri that was torpedoed and sunk during the 1971 war with Pakistan, the MP said, “When I stand there, I realise that everybody of every faith, of every background have given their blood for this nation. Let us cherish that. Let us celebrate the Indianness of everyone. Let us not let anyone feel less Indian than we are because of their religion.”
He also spoke about state’s rights and the divide between north and south India. “I believe that our federalism is really in trouble. The Prime Minister speaks of cooperative federalism, but it seems that the states are the only ones expected to cooperate while the Union government operates at its own sweet will.”
“The Union government’s decision in 2017 to change the terms of reference of the 15’th Finance Commission to base fund allocation on the basis of the 2011 census has already prised open a north-south divide, even if Gurumurthy says that the divide does not exist. It has opened up a Pandora’s Box with incalculable consequences for our country. The Finance Commission’s revised allocations have sent even more taxpayers money from the south to the north than previously,” he said.
The Congress MP said that historically the South Indian states have always been subsidising the North Indian states. For every one rupee of tax contributed by Uttar Pradesh, the state received Rs 1.75 from the central coffers. Whereas for every one rupee contributed by Karnataka, the state receives Rs 0.45, he said.
“All southern states recognise the need to correct regional imbalances and for richer states to subsidise the poorer ones. But it is fair to ask, as Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has done, where is the reward for development? So to continue that example, Karnataka meets 72% of its expenses from its own taxes, whereas Bihar only has to meet 23%. Unlike most federal systems in the world, India’s revenue is going to its worst-performing states.”
He also pointed out that if delimitation is implemented, “Uttar Pradesh would have more MPs than all of the southern states put together. Where does that leave our federalism? If, for instance, the Hindi-speaking states alone can muster a two-third majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution. What will stop them from passing a law that makes Hindi the national language? Every year someone from the BJP demands this.”
Tharoor also spoke about the Income Tax (IT) Department and Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids on Opposition leaders. “These are nothing but political instruments of the government in power that targets only Opposition politicians.