It was a full house that had turned up to hear Shashi Tharoor talk to poet Arundhati Subramaniam about his latest book ‘Why am I a Hindu’ - the aisles were full, the young and the old, the Indian and International delegates had turned up for what promised to be one of the big draws on Day 3 of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival.
Tharoor said one of the immediate reasons for writing the book was the growth of ‘political Hinduism’ and how Hindutva had come to the front-and-centre of the political discourse in India. “Hindutva is like Hindu wahabism. It is high time that those of us who are better Hindus than them reclaim Hinduism.”
Tharoor said the book quoted liberally from Swami Vivekananda, someone he had read and flowed closely as did it have arguments from people who espoused Hindutva like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and VD Savarkar. “It became necessary to challenge the notion that the only Hinduism was the Sanghi-Bharti Hinduism. The majority in India are unapologetic about being Hindu but that doesn’t come at the expense of belittling other faiths. It is urgent to take back Hinduism because a lot of people are expressing thoughts, condoning actions that Hindus of the ranks of Swami Vivekananda would never approve of.”
Tharoor said that the idea of Hindus as ‘seekers of truth’ appealed to his liberal tenor and says the ’simple attitude of liberalism finds itself a congenial home in Hinduism’.
“Why am I a Hindu? Because I was born one. If you are a Hindu, for the most part you don’t have to think why you are one. Hinduism isn’t a faith of black and whites - it is a faith open to questioning.” As a 14-year-old growing up in a middle-class family in India, Tharoor says he would see his father perform daily prayers but was never asked to join in. “Faith was seen as something between you and your idea of your maker.”
Referring to Swami Vivekananda’s speech in 1899 at Chicago’s World Parliament of Religions, Tharoor said he felt as a Hindu, acceptance is a higher virtue than tolerance. Swami Vivekananda had said: I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.
“Tolerance seems like a virtue but is patronising. It suggests I know what is right but I will indulge in your right to be wrong. Acceptance, on the other hand, suggests ‘I will accept your truth and you accept mine’…” Tharoor said.
The two-time Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, who has written 16 works of fiction and non-fiction and served as the United Nations for over 30 years said he was conscious of the fact that “inevitably you can’t get away from the political implications of a member of Parliament publishing this book.”
Expressing concern at recent violent protests by fringe groups over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’, Tharoor said: “If people are going to burn effigies and attack buses of school children just to prevent somebody from expressing his creative freedom, that is something to worry about. If people are willing to immolate themselves for a film they haven’t seen, there is something wrong with society.”