Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has chosen Narendra Modi as the subject for his latest book, ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister’. The author-politician has already stirred the hornet’s nest, yet again, by including in his book a quote by an unnamed RSS ideologue who likened the Prime Minister to a scorpion. Tharoor also used the said quote speaking at the Bengaluru Literary Festival to express how a "complex" dynamics exists between the "Hindutva movement and the Moditva expression of it". The BJP, as if on a cue, has attacked Tharoor for disrespecting Modi and hurting the sentiments of the Hindus.
The controversial quote is as follows:
"Modi is like a scorpion sitting on a Shivling. You cannot remove him with your hand and you cannot hit it with a 'chappal' (slipper) either."
Tharoor spoke to The Quint about how his book is neither political propaganda nor an instrument of personal attack.
Biography of a political adversary is an unusual choice of subject. How did you come about it?
I’m a writer. I’m a politician. Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, the two do converge and this book is clearly an example of that convergence. It is not a hastily dashed-off sort of propagandist screed by an opposition politician. In my regular pieces, including for The Quint and other publications, I’ve been raising some of the issues that are there in the book. So, I begin this book with the words, “I told you so” because, in fact, I did point to this contradiction and sadly, for four and a half years, Mr Modi’s conduct in office has nearly borne out my concerns and my analysis.
Isn’t this biography too personal a project given the history of personal attacks that Mr Modi launched against you during the 2014 poll campaign?
In my constituency, for example, people who have said the most awful things about me, including in relation to the death of my wife, when they have suffered bereavements I’ve been amongst the first ones to go to their homes and condole them.
I think personal matters should be kept separate from politics. So it was dismaying that the then prime ministerial candidate of the BJP would say something like that. As you know, even then I didn’t make a personal comment about him. I made a personal comment about my then wife, saying that she is priceless. So your putting a price tag on her sort of reflects more about you than it does about her. I left it there and I think in most people’s minds that was a befitting riposte and didn’t require any further reaction.
Do you think the book will be seen as a fair assessment of the Prime Minister?
This book is not a personal attack. I have indeed delved into personal matters in the introduction, but I’ve been very fair. For example, I have summarised the arguments of those who criticise his fancy accessories and so on and I’ve said actually, that personal grooming is not something to be ashamed of. Similarly, I’ve revealed that he told me – which, to the best of my knowledge, he’s never said publicly – that he gives away his salary every month to charity. His entire salary. And he’s done that even when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. And I think that’s a good quality and one should acknowledge that.
Here, I start off by acknowledging that out of respect for the electorate that has voted for Mr Modi, I began with giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he really means it when he talks about Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas That he means it when he says that he wants to be a prime minister for all Indians. But then, within six months of his doing that, I realised it is simply not so. And I wrote for The Quint in December 2014 that there’s certain contradictions in Mr Modi’s rule which is that, he says all these very liberal things but he rests for power and political support on the most illiberal elements in our society. And I say, that in this contradiction lie the seeds of his future failure.
Let’s talk about some of these contradictions, then.
When tragedies happen in most democracies, the head of the government...Let’s say, during the high-school shooting in America, President Obama is out there on the television saying, I share the grief of the people, I condemn the killings. This is what we should do. And my heart goes out to the loved ones... Okay?
A techie called Mushtaq was killed, within a week or two of Mr Modi’s coming to power, in Pune by a gang calling themselves the Hindu Sena, who felt empowered by Mr Modi’s victory to go out looking for a Muslim to bash up. And he happened to be coming out of a mosque with a skull cap on his head and they went with hockey sticks on him and the boy died. We got silence.
When Rohith Vemula committed suicide, we got three weeks of silence before a grudging remark was made. The murder of Md Akhlaq allegedly for carrying meat in his hand that might have been beef (it wasn’t), that murder got no comment at all from the Prime Minister. And one of his cabinet ministers draped an Indian flag on the coffin of one of the men who led the mob to kill this man. Example after example.
The most eloquent prime minister that India has ever known, somebody who is possibly the greatest Hindi orator we’ve seen in our politics since Independence to be conspicuously silent on issues that matter to his fellow citizens and where an easy opportunity exists to reassure sections of the community, the only conclusion you can draw is that he doesn’t want to reassure some sections of the Indian community. He just wants them to feel vulnerable. He wants them to feel intimidated. He really wants them to feel threatened. If that is so, is that not a paradox? How can you have sabka vikaas when you do not have sabka saath?
In your book you have critiqued the government for keeping an inflated cabinet. Isn’t it unfair to expect Modi to get rid of the ministries Congress party rule had created?
Don’t you think that when a government gives you yardsticks, it should be judged by those yardsticks? So, if Mr Modi has people on his behalf, and he himself says that our (Congress) government is too large and it should be made smaller, and then he proceeds to eventually end up having a larger government than the previous one, then how can we give him credit for his diagnosis that our government is too large?
Congress also seems to suggest ‘my coalition is holier than your coalition’. What do you have to say to that?
If at all they have a chance of coming back to power, it will only be through a coalition, because there is no way the BJP is going to win an absolute majority in 2019. Just look up and down the streets they won last time.
Is this book an attempt to elevate your own political stature? To send a message to your own party and to the electorate?
The fact is, that the prime minister of a country is always fair game for critics, writers, opposition MPs. I don’t think that I’m too presumptuous in taking him on because he does represent, in many ways, what it is about the BJP we want to critique.
. Read more on Videos by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsFailed in effectively managing traffic in Pondy, admits Bedi . Read more on Videos by The Quint.