Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor has said that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) grew up ridiculing Mahatma Gandhi and are now portraying him as a Hindu patriot.
“There are two things we need to understand. Firstly, for nearly 70-80 years, the RSS has grown up ridiculing Mahatma Gandhi. When Gandhiji died, the RSS distributed sweets. Late RSS chief MS Golwakar asked how could Gandhiji as a Hindu make speeches about ahimsa. Hindu Gods have weapons, so who is Gandhi to talk about ahimsa,” Tharoor said during a conversation with renowned writer Paul Zacharia at the virtual launch of the Malayalam edition of Tharoor’s English book 'The Battle Of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, And What It Means To Be Indian'.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat during the recent book release of ‘Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji's Hind Swaraj’ said that if someone is a Hindu, he has to be patriotic.
On reading what Bhagwat told in his speech, Tharoor wondered if the RSS chief was giving publicity to Tharoor’s book?
“When I read Bhagwat’s Hindu patriotism comment, I was wondering if he was giving publicity to my book,” Tharoor said. He continues, “Though he made the statement with regards to the Hindu patriot book, the statement is the main subject of ‘The Battle of Belonging’. So I must thank him for it.”
The RSS began changing their tune on Gandhiji after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.
“Modi said this is not sensible as Gandhiji is admired all over the world. We will be at a loss if we (RSS) continue to ridicule Gandhiji. Modi told RSS that if we make Gandhi our own, then the world will applaud us,” Tharoor says, adding that Bhagwat is highlighting Gandhiji as a Hindu patriot.
Tharoor further pointed out that Gandhiji and Swami Vivekananda’s understanding of Hinduism is different from that of the RSS. “Gandhiji and Swami Vivekananda understood that Hinduism is a religion that includes everyone and embraces all religions. Despite Gandhiji seeing everyone as one, the RSS took his name and are portraying him as a Hindu patriot,” he said, adding, that we must also challenge RSS’ sensibility.
“Gandhiji is a patriot and a Hindu but when you release books like these and say he is Hindu patriot, your meaning is not the same meaning to Gandhiji. When Modi campaigned during the 2014 elections, big hoardings placed in Mumbai stated, “I am a Hindu and I am a Nationalist. Therefore, I am a Hindu Nationalist”. However, Gandhiji would have never said such a thing because nationalism is not only for Hindus but for everyone. Bhagwat has not understood that belief of Gandhiji and is now bringing in the Hindu patriot subject before the world,” Tharoor said.
“However, I feel it is a good thing that Bhagwat has taken this subject for my book because the Hinduism I talk in my book is not the Hinduism Bhagwat talks. The patriotism I talk in my book is not the same as his patriotism because everyone living here loves their country like they love their mother. That is how a true patriot feels,” he added.
Tharoor also discussed the current state of the Congress party. “Congress beliefs and ideology has not changed. Some within the party suggested the BJP is appealing only to Hindus and are winning across India and we should follow them. However, I have told in the party that we cannot become BJP Lite. If we become BJP Lite, like Coke Zero, we will become Congress Zero,” Tharoor said, adding that the Congress party will gain nothing if they try to copy BJP. “People will only vote for the original,” he adds.
Tharoor said that the party acknowledges that there has been a gradual slide over the years. However, he said that the BJP and RSS do have lots of volunteers, luck, money and resources. “Everyone knows they indulge in crony capitalism,” he said.
He also added that there is a big difference between BJP and Congress. Tharoor said that Congress views everyone as one. People are facing a lot more problems than others and Congress is helping them. “Even if the party has stood for liberalization in the past, we believe that revenues, taxes coming from that liberalization must be used by the government to help the poor and the needy. The current BJP government does not believe in this,” Tharoor said.
Tharoor also said that Congress would never bring an act like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the abrogation of Article 370. “Congress never saw Article 370 as a permanent article. But, we would consult with the citizens, take their feedback, discuss in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and then only pass it as a law,” Tharoor said.
During the launch, Tharoor also spoke about the writers in Congress and comparing it with the BJP. “There are many in the Congress Party who are talented writers and have interests in literature. But when it comes to the BJP, you won’t find many leaders with such literary talent. That is why Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi are the only Prime Ministers who have written poetry,” Tharoor said, adding that he has read only one book of Modi where he talks about his heroes. “I, do not think his book may have a wide appeal as all of the heroes mentioned in his book are of the same type. Therefore, more people will be interested if Modi continues to write poems,” he added.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was unable to attend the virtual book launch, sent a message congratulating Tharoor on the book launch. He added that he is pleased that the Hindi edition is on the way since the book deserves to be read by Indians of every linguistic background.