Opinion: Tharoor’s book rests between Hinduism and Modi’s political Hinduism

Why I am a Hindu comes at a time when attacks on religious minorities continue to grow under the BJP government.

Shashi Throor
If you really want to know how different real Hinduism is from political Hinduism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, Shashi Tharoor’s latest book has the answer.
Why I am a Hindu comes at a time when attacks on religious minorities continue to grow under the BJP government. The Hindu extremists who have been targeting Muslims and Christians, besides Dalits or so-called untouchables with impunity, want to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Though it is a matter of time when the Indian constitution is amended to make that happen, the calls for Hindu India are being made shamelessly under a hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during 2002 when anti-Muslim massacre was organized by the BJP supporters following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people had died in the incident that was blamed on Muslim extremists. The human rights activists and survivors continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the violence against Muslims. There is a spike in religious violence ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.
Tharoor, who is a practicing Hindu, belongs to the opposition Congress party that describes itself as secular alternative to the BJP. He throws light on the history of Hinduism which is a great religion that has always been liberal and tolerant. He writes how Hinduism gave refuge to the Jews and Parsis in India over the years and allowed Christianity and Islam to grow as Hinduism itself is very diverse and eclectic. He points out that Hinduism has no one scripture or deity to follow and allows self-criticism and even agnosticism. He takes a critical look at the brutal caste system that is practiced among the Hindus for centuries and emphasises on breaking the caste barriers.
He goes into great details of the narrow brand of Hinduism practiced by the BJP supporters in a section titled; Political Hinduism. Based on his understanding of Hinduism he counters their divisive politics and misinterpretation of Hinduism. He repeatedly writes how the political Hinduism or Hindutva – based on the idea of Hindu theocracy can divide the soul of India that has always been known for its pluralism and diversity.
However, he has glossed over the inconvenient truth of his party’s culpability in the growth of Hindutva forces. After all, it was the Congress leader and the former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi who had started hobnobbing with the Hindutva forces during mid-1980s.
Gandhi was responsible for the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 that followed the assassination of his mother and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. This had helped him win the general election with brute majority and set a precedent for future pogroms, including the one that happened in Gujarat.
Although Tharoor briefly mentions that, he does not show courage to go into the details of the pogrom to reveal how Hindutva forces were used as foot soldiers in the crime. So much so, he tries to rationalize Gandhi’s decision to allow the public broadcast of Hindu epics that actually helped the BJP. For instance, several stars in the TV serial of Ramayana ended up becoming BJP MPs.
That Gandhi was also responsible for opening the doors of disputed site of Ayodhya to let Hindu priests perform rituals finds no mention in the book. The Hindus claim that an ancient Babri mosque that stood at Ayodhya was built by the Muslim ruler after demolishing a temple that was originally built at the birthplace of Lord Rama, a revered Hindu god. The BJP had started a campaign to rebuild the Ram temple at the disputed site. Once the access was granted, it had emboldened the Hindutva brigade. On December 6, 1992 when the BJP supporters pulled down the structure, the late Congress leader PV Narsimha Rao was the Prime Minister. Tharoor obviously knows all this and yet he chose to overlook these facts in his book that essentially deals with the Hindutva politics. By simply pointing fingers at the BJP, he cannot exonerate the Congress party that has to take blame for majoritarian intolerant society India has become. This only creates more doubts about the sincerity and honesty of the Congress in the eyes of those who are looking for an alternative to Modi in the 2019 elections. 
Despite all these disagreements, Tharoor has undoubtedly done an important work that helps people in understanding key difference between Hinduism and Hindutva and gives hope to ordinary Hindus to reclaim their faith from the self-styled gate keepers of their religion and are giving it a bad name worldwide. In a fight against such forces, we do need allies from within the Hindu community who can show mirror to Modi and his supporters and for that reason Tharoor’s narrative comes handy in educating the masses.



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