Secularism in danger and Congress cannot be ‘BJP-lite:’ Tharoor 

Underlining that the Congress makes a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, Tharoor said the Hinduism that ‘we respect is inclusive and non-judgemental

Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter that he protested against the "extortionate fuel taxes and the failure of both Central and State governments to reduce their share of the loot”. File photo: PTI

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, MP, launched another offensive on the BJP-led government at the Centre saying secularism as ‘principle and practice’ in India is in ‘danger.’ 

He said the country was staring at the proposition of the ruling dispensation trying to remove the word from the Constitution. “Even if the government took the word out of the Constitution, it would still be a secular Constitution because of its basic structure,” he said in an interview on his new book ‘The Battle of Belonging.’ 

The Congress party cannot risk trying to become ‘BJP Lite’ as it may end up making it ‘Congress Zero’ and said his party was not offering a watered-down version of the BJP’s political messaging and the spirit of Indian secularism was very much ‘alive and well’ in the grand old party.

Also read: Triumph of Hindutva movement would mark end of Indian idea: Tharoor


Asked about his party being accused of peddling in soft Hindutva, Tharoor said he does recognise that there was a very real and tangible concern for some liberal Indians over the issue, but asserted that ‘we in the Congress party are very clear that we cannot allow ourselves to become a BJP-lite.’

“I have long argued that any attempt to emulate Pepsi Lite by BJP Lite will end up with us becoming like Coke Zero – that is, Congress Zero. Congress is not BJP in any shape or form, and we should not attempt to be a lighter version of something we are not. Nor are we trying to, in my view,” he said.

Hinduism and Hindutva

Underlining that the Congress makes a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, Tharoor said the Hinduism that ‘we respect is inclusive and non-judgemental,’ whereas Hindutva is a political doctrine based on exclusion.

Also read: Is IMF’s relocation from Washington to Beijing imminent? asks Shashi Tharoor

“So, we are not offering a watered-down version of the BJPs political messaging: Rahul Gandhi has made it explicitly clear that, for all his avowing, his personal Hinduism by going to temples, he does not support any form of Hindutva, neither soft nor hard,” the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.

Asked if the Congress needs to talk about secularism more often then it has been doing of late, Tharoor said he disagreed with the assertion that the Congress had not talked about secularism enough. The party, on every opportunity, stressed its unshakeable commitment to secularism, he said.

On Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s recent dig at Chief Minister Uddhav Thackrey over secularism, the Congress leader said he did suggest that Koshyari should be given a different letterhead to express such ideas, rather than the official ‘Raj Bhavan notepaper.’

On whether the word secularism in the Constitution was in imminent danger, he said, “The word is only a word; but even if the government takes the word secularism out of the Constitution, it is still a secular Constitution.”

Also read: Words and ideas may outlast authority: Tharoor on arrest of activists

After all, freedom of worship, freedom to profess and propagate your religion, freedom of expression, minority rights, and equality of all citizens, are all part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and they cant disappear by deleting a word, he asserted.

“The ruling dispensation may well try to do that: there is certainly a concerted effort to erode secularism and replace it with a sectarian way of being that offers no place to religious minorities in Indian society,” he said.

“Secularism as principle and practice is in danger, but I do not see it falling anytime soon: India embodies tolerance and pluralism in its very essence, and I do not believe that forces of hatred can permanently overcome our fundamental secularism,” he said.

However, Tharoor cautioned that people must not let their guard down and must continue to oppose such regressive ideas wherever they arise.

Tanishq ad 

Talking about the controversy over a Tanishq advertisement which showed an inter-faith marriage and had to be withdrawn after a social media backlash, Tharoor said it offered yet another illustration of how ‘reactionary and bigoted certain right-wing fringe elements’ had become, even as the ruling dispensation was quick to distance itself from the episode.

Also read: ‘NDA=No Data Available’: Tharoor’s latest play on words

“But let us not forget that this is a Frankenstein’s monster that they have created, sustained through organised and vicious social media trolls, and its just one more reminder of the appalling power of the full-throated communal hatred that is so often unleashed in today’s India,” he said.

“As I have said, if such people are so infuriated by Hindu-Muslim ekatvam, why not boycott the world’s longest-surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity: India itself?” he asked.

On whether Hindutva had gained mass popularity, Tharoor said the BJP held a commanding parliamentary majority, but it had worked overtime to suppress dissenting voices and in that sense, it is difficult to get an accurate gauge of support for Hindutva among ordinary Indians.

Asked about Congress leader P. Chidambaram’s recent remarks calling for the restoration of Article 370 and its criticism by the BJP, Tharoor said he had articulated his stand clearly within Parliament.

“It is not just an issue of abrogating 370 – even (Jawaharlal) Nehru ji had said the provision was a temporary one. But the Constitution specifies how it is to be done,” he said.

“So, though it shouldn’t matter what side of the debate on Article 370 you stand on – after all, differing voices are the lifeline of any democracy – the manner in which it was implemented, the way our own fellow citizens were overnight clamped down upon by their own government, consciously and willfully disregarding the democratically enshrined rights guaranteed to all Indians, does not bode well for the future of the country,” he said.

No political objective can justify the huge-scale abuse of the rights of Indian citizens in this manner, Tharoor said. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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