Can't our politicians shed hyperbole and sanctimoniousness? Or at least scale down these abominations? These are the questions that cross the mind while viewing the controversy surrounding Congress leader Shashi Tharoor's "Hindu Pakistan" remarks.
At an event in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, Tharoor reportedly said, "If they [the Bharatiya Janata Party] are able to win a repeat of their current strength in the Lok Sabha then, frankly, our own democratic Constitution, as we understand [it], will not survive... because then they will have all the three elements they need to tear up the Constitution of India and write a new one."
Now the BJP government in New Delhi may not have done very well in the last four years, but it has surely done nothing to suggest that it wants to "tear up the Constitution of India and write a new one." And, despite its failings, the Narendra Modi regime is certainly not as bad as the Congress-led dispensation in the previous 10 years.
But Tharoor went on to thunder that the BJP "will enshrine the principle of Hindu Rashtra, that will remove equality for the minorities, and that will create a Hindu Pakistan... and that is not what Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and great heroes of freedom struggle fought for."
The senior Congress leader, who also happens to be a scholar of some standing, is being economical with facts. Well, Mr. Tharoor, who brought in Section 66A, the draconian provision that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2015? The infamous provision was not something the great heroes of freedom struggle had fought for. Nor would they have approved of the Emergency, which was imposed by your party. A little bit of introspection, along with some serious brooding, would do no harm to Tharoor and his party; and it will indeed strengthen Indian democracy.
In the hurly-burly of politics, especially Indian politics, hyperbole is commonplace. For instance, even the inauguration of a flyover is termed as a 'historic' event. But to stretch it beyond a point is not just pure trivialisation but also degradation of political discourse. As it is, public debate in our country is not of very high level.
From the perspective of the grand old party, intemperate comments can even be downright dangerous. Remember the chaiwala remark by Mani Shankar Aiyar, another scholarly Congress leader?
Unsurprisingly, the BJP has lapped up Tharoor's comment. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra told reporters, "Shashi Tharoor is the same person who called Indians 'cattle-class'. He is 'cattle-class-ing' the Indian democracy (sic). You call yourself an educated and erudite spokesperson of the Congress. If you want to love Pakistan, do so, but do not display such hatred towards Indians."
This is another example of exaggeration and sanctimoniousness, but then it was the Congress, not the BJP, that drew the first blood. Besides, the BJP has a point: whatever may be the imperfections of our democracy, India can never and should never be compared with Pakistan. At least by senior politicians of all parties.
Yes, there are problems in our country. Lynching cases do happen; there is rise in vigilantism; there are saffron cowboys taking the law into their own hands; worse, there are politicians holding high offices, like Union Minister Jayant Sinha, who fete convicted vigilantes. Yet, by no stretch of imagination can India, a secular and plural nation, be compared with theocratic, terror-exporting Pakistan.
The BJP government can be accused of many things but it has not even tried to change the basic structure of the Constitution. In fact, it has even not endeavoured to implement its 'core' issues of the Ram Temple, the uniform civil code, and the abrogation of Article 370. Against this backdrop the 'Hindu Pakistan' jibe is just… well, jibe.
Thankfully, the Congress has disapproved of Tharoor's Hindu Pakistan taunt. "Irrespective of the government which comes into power, Indian democracy will never allow India to become Pakistan. Today, India is far ahead of Pakistan and in this Congress has a very valuable contribution," party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said.
One hopes that this will have some effect on Tharoor and other Congress leaders; it would be better for them if they show some restraint while making statements. For their own sake, and for the sake of the country.
(Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He has spent around 25 years in the media. As a freelance journalist, Kapoor has written for a number of leading publications. He has written four books on Indian politics and its associated institutions.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)