By Anjana Shankar
Special to Gulf News
Former UN diplomat, politician and author Dr Shashi Tharoor is one of the most followed politicians on social media with an enviable four million plus followers on twitter. He left his three-decade long career with the United Nations to join politics in 2007.
Author of 15 International best sellers, Tharoor, currently a second-time Congress MP to Lok Sabha from Thiruvanthapuram constituency in Kerala, Tharoor has previously served as Minister of State for External Affairs in the government of India.
During a visit to the UAE capital on Tuesday, Tharoor spoke exclusively to Gulf News about rising intolerance in India, future of the Congress under the Gandhis and the ongoing investigations into the controversial death of his wife.
Excerpts from the interview:
Has India under Narendra Modi become more intolerant?
India is not intolerant. But certainly a number of intolerant voices have found free play in recent years, which have been taken more seriously and are getting more currency in the media because they are associated with the ruling party.
You have in your books argued the case of India as a ‘nation embracing many’. Is that idea of India being destroyed in the current political climate?
The consensual idea of India is a land where people of every kind of background has the same rights, privileges and status. My worry is certain section of our society is offering a different idea of India, that sees India principally as a civilisation of one faith which tolerates others in its midst.
The slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ has become a national discourse these days. What is your take on it?
Some Muslims believe the slogan amounts to personification of the country as a goddess figure, which is against their religious beliefs. I believe the same constitution that gives us the right to say something also gives us the right not to say something. And this slogan being an acid test for patriotism is in any case unacceptable.
The bill you presented in Lok Sabha to revoke article 377 and decriminalise homosexuality was defeated. Will you be mustering political support to push the bill in future? What is your party’s stand on Article 377?
Congress party is with me on this. But to take the political route, we have to have numbers in the parliament. What I am hoping for in the short term is that the supreme court’s decision to conduct a curative review will in fact happen before too long. That could be a judicial route to the same outcome. The whole point is it is not about sex as some people in the BJP see it. It is about freedom -- the rights of privacy, equality and non-discrimination.
Modi waxes eloquent about ‘Sab Ka Saath! Sab Ka Vikaas!’ On the other hand, the right-wing is pushing their Hindutva agenda. Do you see this as a RSS vs BJP issue or is this the double-face of Modi and his government?
I would like to take the prime minister at his words if he says he is committed to the inclusion of everybody. But at least some of Modi’s supporters have different views and are anxious to banish their critics to Pakistan at the drop of a hat. But some extreme statements of Indian democracy being in danger are exaggerated.
You have on many occasions openly praised Narendra Modi and some his initiatives like Swachh Bharat. How do you rate Modi as a PM?
My praise has always been tempered with disappointment. For example, I agreed to join his Swachh Bharat campaign but I was disappointed that it had so little serious central backing and funding that it became impossible to do anything meaningful beyond photo ops.
Mr Modi has done well in terms of rhetoric and his own personal dynamism and energy, taking the message of India around the world. But the very soaring and optimistic vision he paints in his speeches has not been backed with any implementation on the ground on many of the major schemes. So if we have to judge him as of today, then the judgement has to be ‘not good enough.'
Critics of Congress say the grand old party is crumbling under Sonia and Rahul’s leadership. Do you think it is time for a leadership change in Congress?
Mrs Gandhi as the President of the party is a tried and tested figure who has seen the Congress through hard times and the good times. I don’t think there is any sentiment at all to change the leadership until and unless she is ready to go.
After India Shastra, are you writing anything new?
I have agreed to write a short book length version of my Oxford speech about how Britain owes reparations to India. So as soon as the elections are over this summer, I shall find time to write it.
It has been two years since the untimely death of your wife Sunanda Pushkar. Does it burden you that there is still no closure on the case?
As a surviving husband, all I hear is speculation, gossip, innuendos and entire public debate in the media. I have chosen not to comment on any of this. I have been told the police are close to coming to a conclusion. We will see what it is. Both Sunanda’s two brothers, her father, her only son and myself, we are united on this. We have absolutely no doubt in the family that there was no crime committed. And we are 100 per cent sure that no one has done any harm to her and she would be the last person on earth who would have harmed herself. Whatever has transpired we hope that the, the police, the doctors and the experts will come to a conclusion.
— Anjana Shankar is a staff reporter, Xpress, a sister publication of Gulf News