'Hindu Pakistan', Forsooth — Why Shashi Tharoor, despite his perfect accent, is perfectly wrong

Srijana Mitra Das
Srijana Mitra DasJul 14, 2018 | 13:02

'Hindu Pakistan', Forsooth — Why Shashi Tharoor, despite his perfect accent, is perfectly wrong

I do like hearing Shashi Tharoor. Not so much for what he says, but for how he sounds. To me, his lovely accent — ‘in the Lyok Sabhah’ — evokes a perfect English high tea at, say, Fortnum and Mason’s in London where many Indians sip China chai (‘Ufff, na doodh hai, na chini,’ they mentally mutter, while holding their little fingers delicately aloft, in the best fashion of the Barbara Cartland novels they read) and eat English scones.


Shashi Tharoor reminds me of such a scone, rich and luxuriant, oozing with intellectual cream, distilled Picadilly rather than hot, muggy Delhi, full of the velveteen wisdom that comes from centuries of a civilisation wearing its waistcoat the right way.

A scone is loved in Piccadilly and Dilli. (Photo: BBC)

But this isn’t about how Mr Tharoor sounds.

This is about what he just said.

And how totally wrong he is.

Speaking recently at an event in Thiruvananthapuram, the Congress leader reportedly described the grave danger — were the BJP to win the 2019 general election — of India turning into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. And our democracy thereby being destroyed. 

He couldn’t be more off the mark.

Let’s see why.

Mr Tharoor’s first assumption seems to be this — most Hindus are bigots. Or, second, cowards. The first scenario would be true if most Hindus — and they are the BJP’s biggest vote-base — elect the party on the basis of sheer, bare-toothed hate, anger, zealotry and smallness of heart. It is in such a scenario that Indian democracy might be destroyed for then, the BJP will have the numbers to apparently follow its wish-list and change the Constitution, strip minorities of their rights and force the ‘Hindu rashtra’ on everyone.


However, let’s be more charitable.

Perhaps Mr Tharoor didn’t mean that every Hindu voting for the BJP would do so out of majoritarian murderousness. Then, how will ‘Hindu Pakistan’ be created? 

Logically, this can happen only if most Hindus — again, the most number of people in India — are cowards and will sit still if the BJP, back in power, runs about defacing India’s most precious institutions. The only way most Hindus — this is how Mr Tharoor frames this debate, placing guilt and responsibility and culpability on the shoulders of religious identity — will tolerate this is if they are cowards who sit quietly over their parathas and payasam while a country is ripped to pieces around them.

Is that what Mr Tharoor meant?

I’m not sure — but I am sure of this. Most Hindus are neither bigots, nor capricious cowards. Had they been so, given their large numbers, the world would have been in zero doubt. There would be little surprise over news of lynchings or communal stabbings. The fact that such criminal acts are even commented on — and, significantly, commentators evoke the Hindu religion to decry such events — and not left to flounder in some miasma of silence (like the one that surrounds the violence in, say, Afghanistan) says a lot, about Hinduism, about being Hindu. The faith and most of its practitioners are so liberal in fact that they don’t mind being verbally whipped on a daily basis, mostly by their co-religionists, sometimes by others.


Praying, often for peace. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

Shashi Tharoor has only sold us the latest installment in this ‘Be-Hindu-Feel-Guilty/Defensive/Ashamed’ senti-trip.

How many of us buy it will soon be evident.

But other loopholes in Mr Tharoor’s Thiruvananthapuram exposition showed too.

The biggest was this one — Mr Tharoor declared pre-Independence India's leaders ‘never fell into the trap of religious identity being the basis of nation-hood’.

This is a cliché that's turning toxic now. For, if our pre-Independence leaders didn’t somewhere, somehow believe in this notion, then how did Partition ever happen?

If the great Indian leaders Mr Tharoor mentions didn’t accept this philosophy — for truth or pragmatism — how did they let India, the very same India they fought for, were jailed for, sacrificed for, bore for, be cut into two? Why didn’t they hold out for more time until the madness of a few waned? Or were they, in fact, like writer Nisid Hajari suggests in his startling book Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition, in such a shameless race for power, that the need to keep India together was passed by?

Apocalypse, Then: The violence, trauma – and responsiblity – of Partition has never been properly addressed. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

The refusal to look at Partition clearly, with courage and complete honesty, is one of Indian politics’ biggest failings.

The tendency instead to step over the corpses of 1947 and look about through a Rooh Hafza-like rosy light, explains why the grey ghost of Partition still sits upon our shoulders, like a malevolent Ancient Mariner, choking the life out of us.

Shashi Tharoor only carried this Ancient Mariner a few steps further for us.

But he didn’t stop there. The Constitution, he declared, was written by great political figures who believed firmly in equality for all.

Not quite.

If they did, there wouldn’t be the smallest trace of any leeway that allowed people to have four wives, divorce at whim and maybe or maybe not, depending on their breakfast/morning walk/interaction with neighbours/general mood that day, give their daughters a little scrap from their own ancestral property.


Clearly, the Founding Fathers of India were as much believers in hard realpolitik as soft ideals. Where equality could be awarded without much fuss, they ensured it was. Where it would cost votes, not so much. There would be exceptionalism, which, perhaps the Founding Fathers hoped, would die out in the Long Run. At any rate, everyone would be dead in the Long Run, so it didn’t matter that much, as long as everyone held onto their chairs now and moved into their Lutyens bungalows.

Life's nice in a Lutyens world. (Photo: DailyMail)

Where they could unpack their suitcases, brimming over with lovely, liberating Western concepts.

Such as secularism.

But this one, claims Shashi Tharoor, the West got all wrong. Thank heaven (a secular one, of course) India remixed Western secularism — a total absence of personal faith from the public sphere — to our version. Where everyone can claim privileges as per their religious belief. Where wearing a cap can cover up your real track record. Where you visit seers on a campaign trail, break an old mosque, ban a new book, offer religious groups the status of a new religion, despite their historical identity being the negation of organised religion altogether.

That’s Indian secularism for you.

Quite frankly, the West must be falling over, laughing.

But, Mr Tharoor assures us, we do have international fans, awestruck at 'our management of diversity'. Foremost among these are the ‘Gulf countries’ where Shashi Tharoor was in 2004 when UPA-I won the polls. The Gulf countries were delighted, apparently, at how Incredible India cherished diversity, empowered women, nurtured democracy. So impressed were they, they did none of the above themselves.

But, at least Shashi Tharoor was happy. 

His happiness hasn’t lasted long though. The string of brutal lynchings over beef has dampened his spirits — and convinced him a ‘Hindu Pakistan’ is just a cow whistle away.

Perhaps. But then, given his fears, do we understand that his party, seeing the dreadful violence the anti-cow slaughter laws they created have caused, will repeal these as soon as they come back to power?

For the sake of democratic, secular, progressive India — the opposite of horrific ‘Hindu Pakistan’?

I hope Mr Tharoor will agree.

Perhaps this will then also reassure former Vice President Hamid Ansari, who has suddenly and startlingly (and in a move oddly evocative of former President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the RSS recently) backed Sharia courts in India. Perhaps he too is worried, like Mr Tharoor, about what will happen to Muslims in ‘Hindu Pakistan’. Will they be subsumed under a vengeful majority? Will they lose their secular identity? Will they lose their democratic equality?

Let's be uniform? Former Vice President Hamid Ansari with Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. (Photo: PTI)

So, let’s end this dread once and for all.

Let’s push for a Uniform Civil Code. Then, there can be no ‘Hindu Pakistan’. And there can be no fantasies, either resentment or realities, of ‘Muslim exceptionalism’ either. 

There can only be Indians, living under one law, in one India.

An India which starts with an ‘I’.

An ‘I’ which stands for ‘intelligence’.

An intelligence which many, many Indians have – whether or not they have accents that blend beautifully with English high tea.

Last updated: July 15, 2018 | 22:47
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