Must speak of Hindus who didn't vote for BJP: Tharoor

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has been at a centre of a storm over his comments about Hinduism, to a point that some of his party colleagues believe that he is veering towards the BJP. Tharoor, who is set to release his new book The Hindu Way told Sagar Kulkarni of DH that in a country of 80% Hindus, a majority have not voted for the BJP, and the party must speak for them too. Excerpts:

In the debate over Hinduism, you risk being labelled pro-BJP?

That is already happening. There is a controversy about me trying to please the BJP. Here I am trying to present a liberal understanding of Hinduism to reassure those Hindus who have not voted for the BJP. 

In a country of 80% Hindus there are Hindus who don't agree with the BJP's view about Hinduism, and someone must speak to them. I am such a Hindu. I am a believing Hindu, who doesn't share their view of Hinduism.

But, indeed you are right, there is a perception particularly in northern India that BJP's articulation of what is Hinduism has so completely captured the public space that opposing it is somehow going to cost you “Hindu votes”. It is natural for any political party to be careful about. But the truth is that there are still a majority of Hindus who do not agree with the BJP and we must speak for them too.

How do you tackle this perception in Northern India?

Well, fortunately, I am from the south of Vindhyas. But, there I have another problem which is when I say even this much about Hinduism, there are people willing to pounce on me saying he is abandoning secularism and going to the BJP. So, as I said, you can't win either way.

You spoke about generational change in the Congress? But we have Sonia Gandhi at the helm and veteran leaders elsewhere?

There has been a generational change in the Congress a year-and-a-half ago. It has been interrupted by Rahul Gandhi's resignation. Our party has taken refuge in a tried-and-tested leader rather than continue in the pattern of generational change. But, it is an interim arrangement pending elections.

So, is Rahul Gandhi the past?

No, I don't think so. I genuinely believe that he will be back. But when he will be back, only he knows.

Why does Congress refuse to come out of the shadow of the Gandhi family?

It is part of the political reality of our country that certain parties' DNAs are tied up with certain leaders. You can't imagine a Shiv Sena without a Thackeray or JD(S) in Karnataka without a member of the Deve Gowda family at the helm. This is somehow the political culture of our country in many parties now, not just the Congress. Even in an internal election, a bulk of our workers will vote for a member of the Gandhi family be it Rahul, Sonia or Priyanka. They know they are in safe hands under those leaders, at least that is the perception most of us in the party have. Remember, this is about party workers and not the general public. Once we have established our internal structures, then we have to win votes from the general public.

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