PUNE: It is rare for a thinker-writer-politician to be given a ‘rockstar’ treatment, with adulation dripping at every word he uttered. But considering Dr Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP, who was in the city on Saturday to attend 7th edition of Pune International Literary Festival, to engage with the audience comprising mostly young minds, this was a given.
With queues stretching long outside the already bursting at seams auditorium, Tharoor didn’t disappoint the gathering and answered each question, provocative and otherwise, with aplomb.
He was in conversation with writer Manu Pillai, who was also his former chief of staff.
Pillai asked the MP from Thiruvananthapuram, ‘Why are you still with Congress?’ and got a fairly detailed answer. Tharoor was wooed by the principal political parties of the country, after he stepped down from his post as the Under Secretary General of United Nations.
“A BJP minister in Vajpayee government, called me in 2006, after I stepped down from my unsuccessful race for Secretary General of United Nations, and he asked me to join their party. We know that Congress will also ask you, don’t go to them. Come to us’. I replied, ‘You already know my views’. He was very charming and persuasive and said, ‘Is there any political party with which you can agree on everything? You don’t agree on some points, it’s fine. We are a meritocracy, we will see your merit’. Although I was touched by that, I found it difficult to align with the political ideas in BJP’s manifesto. First, was their emphasis on Hindutva. Second, they had just conducted a campaign with a message of ‘India Shining’ without asking who India was shining for?” he said.
Tharoor, who has written imporant works like ‘A Great Indian Novel’, ‘Why I am a Hindu’, ‘The Hindu Way of Life’, added, “I see politics as a vehicle to advance the ideas, principles and values that I hold dear and that I want to see my country progress along. My principles have been consistent over the years as seen in my writing. India, as our freedom struggle established, must be a country for everybody, irrrespective of their religion, caste, language and region. Everyone has equal rights in the democracy and everyone has equal stake in our country. I also believe that we must be a country that encourages growth and entrepreneurship and at the same time, be concerned about social justice for those who are marginalised.”
His books and how certain portions of the satirical novel - ‘The Great Indian Novel’ - were pulled out and distorted to malign Tharoor and win mileage in 2019 elections were also discussed, along with the ‘thin-skin’ that we have developed as a nation. But what got the maximum cheer was when the Congress MP talked about his ideas on Hinduism, Kashmir and Pakistan.
Tharoor says that he owes his understanding of Hinduism to Swami Vivekananda. “Swami Vivekananda’s preachings are extraordinarily relevant today.”
Touching on the subject of Kashmir, the politician said, “As far as Pakistan’s attacks on India in UN were concerned, the Opposition is 100 per cent with the Indian government. Pakistan’s track record is very poor. It has no right to criticise us. I will speak for the well-being of Kashmir and Kashmiris as an Indian MP and an Indian citizen. I asked in Parliament on August 6, When will a Kashmiri mother be able to take her child to school? When will you give us that normalcy?”
He also put to rest his comments on ‘Hindu Pakistan’ for which he was in controversy. Tharoor said, “The phrase Hindu Pakistan was first used by Jawaharlal Nehru. The Std VIII CBSE’s Civics textbook has mentioned this. What is this Nehruvian view? Those who said ‘yes’ created the idea of Pakistan. Those who said ‘no’, included Nehru, Gandhi, Azad, Ambedkar and Rajendra Prasad. Pakistan is built on idea of one nation, one language, one culture. I have met Pakistani Christians whose passports are stamped as ‘non-Muslims’. Would you want this for your Parsi and Muslim friends? I would be ashamed. We are not like that, we must not become like that. Hinduism is not like that. Hinduism is a faith of great acceptance that cherishes and is enriched by diversity of that country.”