Congress MP and former union minister Shashi Tharoor's latest book ‘The Hindu Way’ attempts to make liberal Hinduism a household phenomenon. An avowed and practising Hindu, Tharoor has earlier written ‘Why I Am A Hindu?’ explaining his faith and doubts.
In this exclusive interview with The Quint, Tharoor discusses the reasons behind writing another book on Hinduism, pluralism of his faith, and how fears of demographic change in Kashmir are largely unfounded.
Below is an excerpt from the interview:
Why write another book on Hinduism?
My first book was more political in nature. Many readers and even the publishers wanted my perspective on Hinduism, devoid of any political connotations.
The new book illustrates plurality of Hinduism. It can be used as a religion handbook in NRI households. I have dedicated it to my infant grandson, who will, hopefully, read it to know about the Hindu faith.
Is Hinduism liberal, or are you a liberal Hindu?
Hinduism is the most liberal religion in the world. There is no one correct path to salvation, no compulsory rituals, and no one prescriptive sacred text. Other religions believe in a set of rules that allow you to be a practitioner of the said faith.
You have used the phrase ‘Muslim invaders’ in the book. How do you think they impacted Hinduism in India?
North India indeed faced Muslim invasion, denying them would be a historical fraud. Ghazni, Ghori, Muhammad bin Qasim and others plundered the region. Under duress, Hindu reaction emerged and bred social ills like ‘purdah’ and ‘sati’. However, Islam reached South India in a peaceful manner.
The region boasts of age-old trade relations with the Arab world. One of the kings of Kerala, King Cheraman Perumal even travelled to mecca to meet Prophet Muhammad. Another king wanted fishermen to send one son to live with Muslims to learn sailing.
Not all is well in South, though. What about Tipu Sultan?
My mother’s ancestors were terrified of Tipu Sultan’s aggression. Fearing his military attack, the family buried its treasures at a distant place and women were sent away to the hills. Interestingly, Tipu never arrived but my family lost wealth! The elder died without telling anyone where the treasure was buried. I’d like to say that revenge upon history has no logic.
Past does not remain in the past, Tipu jayanti controversy tells us every year.
My father’s ancestors were associated with the Palakkad court. They invited Tipu Sultan over. Tipu was a nationalist and should be respected for that. We must act in the present and not carry the burden of history.
Why does the Congress remember Hinduism only around elections?
Well, no election is happening in my state at the moment! There’s nothing wrong in talking about Hinduism. Unfortunately, some people think they own Hinduism. The religion allows plurality of thought, as Adi Shankaracharya also demonstrated.
Are you using Hinduism as a way into RSS-BJP?
I can’t respect the RSS-BJP brand of Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda described Hinduism as a religion of not just tolerance but also acceptance. And acceptance is nobler than tolerance. My Hinduism is a religion of acceptance.
Hindutva followers may feel acceptance is only one-sided in their case. Would you like to comment?
Allow the others to reciprocate, first! I feel one has the right to retaliate but let’s not start with negative presumptions. Plurality is not to be dissed. It’s against our democracy, it’s against Hinduism.
How would you explain “demographic change” fears in Kashmir?
I’m against the government’s action of locking down Kashmir. No Indian citizen should suffer this. On demographic change, my views are different. I don’t agree with chief ministers who support only the interests of the people of their states. India grants freedom of movement to all citizens. Every Indian should be allowed to move and work freely. It’s wrong that only Kashmiris should live in Kashmir. Biharis in Kashmir are a wronged community. They have no rights despite spending so many years there and knowing the language. It’s not so in my state, Kerala.
What about growing radicalisation in Kerala?
I believe some people are getting radicalised. It’s not a big number. And it’s happening because the atmosphere is such. Kerala still remains largely secular. We just celebrated Onam and it’s not just a Hindu festival any more. Muslims and Christians also celebrate it. South should not be seen through the North-Indian lens.
Should North be seen through a South-Indian lens?
South still values the teachings of Adi Shankaracharya, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Ambedkar and others. The ‘Hindi, Hindutva, Hindustan’ idea has swept the North. There is no scope for pluralism there. Religious hooliganism is neither democratic, nor Hindu.