“As a Hindu, obviously, I am conscious that a vast majority of my fellow Hindus believe that that was the specific birthplace of Ram. For this reason, most good Hindus would want to see a Ram temple at the site where Ram was supposed to be born. But I also believe that no good Hindu would have wanted that a temple be built by demolishing somebody else’s place of worship.”
This simple statement by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor made at The Hindu Lit for Life Dialogue and lecture series in Chennai on 14 October, assumed epic proportions over the past weekend, becoming the subject of primetime TV news coverage and a political fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Sparking a fairly ridiculous good Hindu versus bad Hindu debate online as well as in TV studios across the country (starring ‘celebrity’ panelists to boot), the knee-jerk and poorly thought out handling of the subject made it clear that most television media was grasping at straws to amass TRPs.
While the harmless import of the message might be plain for most people to see, it was not long before TV channels modified the meaning to do the most damage and crunch the quote, to serve their own agenda.
Television Media Seized the Opportunity
Mainstream television channels branded Tharoor and the Congress party “anti-Hindu” and accused them of opposing the re-building of the temple at a time when the Supreme Court is less than two weeks away from ruling on the matter.
BJP’s national spokesperson Sambit Patra appeared on a host of major news channels, asserting his stance as a ‘proud Hindu’ and accusing the Congress party of targeting Hindus.
While other leading news channels posed questions like – “Who’s a Good Hindu?’ with two options – ‘For Ram Mandir’ or ‘Against Ram Mandir’. Not only did the channel reduce the decades old contentious debate into an unfair religious binary (see the screenshot below) but also sought to classify Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s father, Rajiv Gandhi as a Good/Bad Hindu when it asked – “Does Tharoor think Rajiv Gandhi was a “bad Hindu” for allowing puja inside the disputed structure in 1989?”
The Hashtags Coined Spoke for Themselves
From #congmandirduplicity to #congopposesmandir, the stance of mainstream media was fairly conspicuous. Assured of grabbing eye-balls and amassing high TRP ratings, the channels cashed in on the controversy, without waiting to clarify or cross-check the actual words spoken.
Media distorted my words: Tharoor
BJP/RSS Leaders Circled in for the Kill
Speaking on a popular news channel, MP Subramanian Swamy questioned Tharoor’s authority in these matters and even alluded to his ongoing lawsuit in his wife Sunanda Pushkar’s death.
“He is no authority on Hinduism. Who is he to decide... Is he arrogating himself spiritual powers or religious authority?” he said.
He also added, “He’s (Tharoor) under strain as he was being chargesheeted and can go to jail at any time, complicity in the death of his wife, so maybe he is cracking up and therefore he’s talking like this.”
Addressing a press conference, GVL Narasimha Rao, BJP’s national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP, said that Tharoor’s comments were an attempt to muddy matters before the Supreme Court verdict.
“Nobody is forcing the Ram temple, we all want it but we will wait for the verdict of the court to happen. This comment from Shashi Tharoor linking the construction of the temple to the demolition of the disputed structure years ago is yet another attempt to somehow muddy waters at the time that the honorable Supreme Court is likely to take up this issue on a fast track basis.”
RSS leader Indresh Kumar was much more vitriolic in his rebukes. Calling Tharoor a ‘mental case’ in an interview with Times Now, Kumar said, “He is neither a Hindu nor a Democrat, he is not secular and doesn't have moral values.”
While the ensuing media maelstrom spiralled into greater chaos, Tharoor took to Twitter blasting “the malicious distortion of my words by some media in the service of political masters” and clarifying what he really said and meant.
Congress Party Distanced Itself Citing ‘Personal Capacity’
The Congress on Monday, 15 October, distanced itself from its leader Shashi Tharoor’s remarks that no good Hindu would want the Ram Temple in Ayodhya by destroying somebody else’s place of worship, saying he made them in his “personal capacity”. Congress spokesperson RPN Singh said the party believes that the verdict of the Supreme Court on the Ram temple issue will be binding on everyone and the government will have to implement it.
“As far as the issue is concerned, we have a clearly stated position. We have stated that this issue is in court and the court will be hearing this issue. Whatever is the verdict, everybody will have to follow the same,” reported PTI.
Singh said the Supreme Court verdict will be binding and acceptable to all and the government will have to implement it.