‘Gandhi has been reduced to his glasses’: Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Literature Festival

Ishita Sengupta
Shashi Tharoor, Shashit Tharoor JLF, Jaipur literature festival Shashi Tharoor, Indian Express news

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor with Michael Dwyer, Managing Director, London's Hurst Publishers at the Jaipur Literature Festival. (Source: Twitter/jaipurlitfest)

“Politicians think I am an intellectual and intellectuals think I am a politician,” Shashi Tharoor, author and Member of Parliament, Friday voiced the curious contradictions that surround his identity.  Tharoor, a regular at the Jaipur Literature Festival, was speaking to Michael Dwyer, Managing Director and Publisher at London's Hurst Publishers, on the second day of the festival amid a packed crowd consisting of mostly young adults.

Speaking on the cultural relevance of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, Dwyer admitted how they (the British) held their hands up in shame for their participation in the shameful past, and asked Tharoor if is mystified by the treatment of Gandhi and Nehru today? "Is this not squandering the country’s assets?" he said.

Agreeing with him, Tharoor reasoned that this is because those in power now have come from very different political traditions. “See, in the nationalist movement, there was one great split everyone knew about and which eventually led to the Partition. The split was not on the basis of ideologies or geography, it was about one simple question: 'Should religion be the determinant of nationhood'. Those on the Muslim side who believed that, created Pakistan. And the huge majority on the Indian side, led-by Gandhi and Nehru, said no, religion does not determine our identity or nationhood. We fought for the freedom of everybody to create a country. They wrote a Constitution that embodied that.”

Contextualising the conflict plaguing the present times, the senior Congress leader said the disdain towards the Constitution started with the Hindutva movement.

“(Veer) Savrarkar’s first definition of a Hindu was one for whom India was pitribhumi — the land of their ancestors, and his punyabhumi — the holy land. This enabled Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains to fulfill both the categories, but created no space for Muslims, Christians, Jews or Parsis. Jews and Parsis, however, were considered model guests,” he opined. “The Hindutva movement explicitly rejected the Constitution. They agreed with the Muslims who created Pakistan — that religion should determine nationhood,” he added.

The flaw of the Constitution for them, Tharoor said, was that it assumed India is a territory. They believed that the nation is not a territory but constitutes of people and the people are Hindu. “There could be nothing more different than this from the vision of Gandhiji, who though a deeply profound Hindu, was influenced by ethics and teachings of other religions. That was the idea of India he stood for," he said.

"In many ways, his assassination by a former member of the RSS, who believed that Gandhi put Muslim interests ahead of Hindu interests, makes him the most significant martyr in the Hindu-Muslim divide sown by the British,” Tharoor conceded. He continued saying that these teachings and beliefs have been inculcated in those governing India today. “No wonder Gandhi is reduced to his glasses now,” Tharoor concluded.