Kolkata: On Day 1 of Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet held at Victoria Memorial Hall, Shashi Tharoor was at his charming best! Author of 19 published titles, Tharoor met all his fans, took out time to sign each of their books and shook hands with school students and college-goers alike! For a young school boy he wrote ‘I hope you are never bookless’! In short, unlike most celebrity authors he was more than willing not just to talk, but also talk back!
When asked why did he consider writing ‘An Era of Darkness’ in 2016, the very suave MP from Thiruvananthapurram said the book came out of the debate he did at Oxford Union at Oxford University where he had been invited to speak on ‘Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’. “I decided that this was an opportunity to showcase what was wrong with British colonialism in India. A few weeks later the Union posted a video of that speech on social media and my portion just went completely viral. We had three million downloads in the first 24 hours! My publisher then called me and told me to make this into a book. I was persuaded into writing the book but in so doing I did not write a narrative history but an argument,” he recalled.
He also said he was appalled by a poll conducted by an organization called YouGov in UK which said that 59% of the British youth liked the fact that the British had colonised India and would like to have India back as their colony. “This was about the time when I was finishing the book. This in many ways helped me to understand the moral urgency of the book. You won’t find 59% of the Germans saying that Hitler was a good thing to happen to the world. So clearly, the Brits had been lacking in honesty towards themselves. In India where the book struck a chord and is at risk of some immodesty, it somehow became the largest selling hardback that is not a textbook. The British edition also made it to the bestseller lists in a couple of newspapers in London. I am somewhat surprised to have been discussing it three years,” he added.
But what started off as a literary discussion quickly took shape into a political one with the audience in no mood to let go of a man so eloquent in speech and wry in humour! So when asked about the current state of Indian politics Tharoor said, “Here is a government which came to power using slogans like Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas and now is not even talking about any kind of vikaas anywhere. Every monarch from Chandragupta Maurya onwards had wanted to keep all of India united. If not colonised India, would have been ruled by the Marathas and the British policy of Divide and Rule might have never been implemented. There are several civilizational, geographical and local impulses to the unity of India. But sadly we see what our forefathers got rid of so many years back, this government is trying to embibe again i.e. polarise people in terms of religion which is not allowed in the Constitution.”
In his book Tharoor has said that when the British left India the country’s GDP was 3% as compared to 27% when the British first arrived in India. When asked if the present BJP government is slowly taking us back to those times where the economy was suffering more than anything else, Tharoor said the biggest blunder made by the government is demonetisation. He pointed out that the black money situation in the country was as bad as it had been. “It is a very unusual phenomenon.
Development is neither their aptitude nor their priority. Demonetisation is the stupidest economic blunder since Muhammad Bin Tuglaq in this country. We have record high unemployment level, worst in the last 46 years! There is record high farmer suicides, even as we talk there are 31 farmers committing suicide. Food prices have gone up by 100%. To top it all, we are now looking at a situation where investor involvement couldn’t be worse. Look at how they sneered at Amazon when the company expressed an interest to invest $100 billion dollars. Now this kind of mentality is clearly not a development mentality. Their agenda is Divide and Rule and their sole objective is Hindu Rashtra. The British had done their jobs quite well in implanting the minds of bigots with this policy, which even so many years after independence still manages to divide the country in terms of votes. The real tukde tukde gang in this country are the ones who are ruling us and dividing us in terms of religion.”
He then emphasised on the fact that we are at a stage where we need educated reawakening. Especially among the youth and the ones who read books, it is very important to sit up and recognise what is going on around you in the world. “We can’t have a large mass of the population who have chosen to disengage from an attempt to transform this country from what it was. What s going on is an assault on the consciousness of the nation as a whole. Should religion be the determinant of nationhood? Those who agreed to that went ahead with the idea of Pakistan. Those who didn’t came to India. So that debate should have been settled at that time,” he added.
The essential argument of making of the Constitution was a rejection of using religion as a determinant for citizenship. That was because religion assumes pre-set loyalties. “For example the British had separate electorate for Muslims, right? Now what does that mean? It means that as a Muslim your political identity has been established and as a Muslim you will vote differently from a Hindu. Ambedkar and other makers of the Constitution argued this was not correct. They wanted to create freedom for every individual in India. And that is what is being assaulted now with the CAA. And that is because it introduces religion as a determinant of citizenship in India and the absence of one religion as a disqualification of citizenship. And linking it to the NRC made it worse,” he argued.
Tharoor pointed out that one of the ministers in the Modi government, a former chief of army has gone to Supreme Court saying that his birth records in the army documents is wrong and that he does not have a birth certificate at all. The dates were entered by his uncle during his school admission and there is no documental evidence to prove his date of birth. “And that is the case with half a million people in India who don’t have accurate documents. So what are we going to do? Throw them all out,” he quipped.
As a parting note he appealed to the non-Muslims in the audience to not discriminate people on the basis of how each one stretched their hands out before god. Surely, this is not the legacy one would like to pass on to our future generations. “Swami Vivekananda, frequently cited by the BJP, said in Chicago that he was proud to belong to a nation that sheltered people from all religions and faiths persecuted in other countries. The fact now is instead of all nations and faiths, the so-called followers of Swami Vivekananda have reduced it to three nations and six faiths. Is that really the prod tradition we want to hold on to?” he signed off. By then the audience was at the edge of their seats and thunderous in applause!