Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor left the audience in splits as he said he was one of the worst practitioners of yoga. “I’m utterly hopeless at yoga. I would look even worse than Narendra Modi if I try and practise it,” he said during his session on ‘Tharoorisms on Hinduism’ on Day 2 of Khushwant Singh Literary Festival (KSLF) 2018 at the Kasauli Club on Saturday. Tharoor said his ‘Tharoorisms’ could work as the perfect marketing strategy and said he enjoyed using the English language to “grab attention”. So, a couple of days ago, he cooked up a word to promote his next book on the “paradoxical PM”. Hence, giving birth to the now-viral “floccinaucinihilipilification” that essentially meant “the act of estimating someone or something as worthless”.
He turned into “spiritual guru” of sorts talking about his 2018 book ‘Why I Am A Hindu’ and largely discussed Hinduism as a contrast to Hindutva, a “political ideology with a political agenda”.
“One of the fundamental things about Hinduism is that there are no fundamentals. Anything that claimed to be Hindu, but has fundamentally moved away from these precepts is actually anti-Hindu,” he said. “That’s why I find that Hindutva with its narrow, exclusionary bigotry is a violent assault on the basic tenets on what every Hindu should be brought up.”
Moderated by television personality and producer Rajiv Mehrotra, the session prised out of Tharoor his views on the current threat to Hinduism and how he practised his faith.
“Throughout your book, you talk about the internal threat to Hinduism, you struggle and worry about its future. What do you suggest as an alternative discourse to the threat?” asked Mehrotra, who is also an old friend of Tharoor’s.
To this, the Thiruvananthapuram MP said Hinduism was an “extraordinarily eclectic faith and there was no other faith that allowed such diversity”. “We should look towards reclaiming the intellectual ground, reminding Hindus what their faith is about,” he added.
He likened his personal journey to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and ‘dharma’, saying Hinduism had many ways through which it could be practised: reading, worshipping, practising yoga, meditation and divine connection through service, among others.
“I honestly don’t know, but my faith comes to me instinctively. I have faith in myself and something larger out there and am not driven by a relentless quest for power. I’ve discovered that you are the person you are and you can’t help being that person,” he said.
On atheism and agnosticism, Tharoor’s answer to Rahul Singh, festival organiser and son of the late Khushwant Singh, was that the two schools of thought outlined the wide range of beliefs and philosophies in Hinduism. “A religion that actually questions the omniscience of the omnipresent is to my mind a religion that respects the idea of doubt and incertitude.”
Jumping back to Hindutva, he spoke of VD Savarkar, who coined the term in 1920, as being “not much of a believer”. “He was a product of a certain global current that was sweeping the 1920s, the kind of thinking that lay behind the Fascist and the Nazi movements. There was a certain global tendency to think in terms of ethnicity or as they called it race pride,” he said.
Tharoor said intolerance was part of human nature. “I don’t think that being a Hindu makes you magically immune to human weaknesses of bigotry, prejudice and hatred. Intolerance is built into Hindutva and rests on the principle that those who are not Hindu should not benefit from it,” he said, adding that Hinduism had to be much more than the identity doctrine that Hindutva sought to reduce it to.
On a question on the Ram Temple’s likely realisation before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, he said, “It’s contentious because it’s sub judice, so none of us has the right to take a view on this. But like most Hindus, it would be wonderful to have a temple where Ram was born, but no good Hindu would want that at the expense of the demolition of someone else’s place of worship.”
Making a voting pitch for the Congress for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the ex-spokesperson of the party said the BJP government had served the nation poorly by imposing demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax, inflated fuel prices, stagnation of agriculture and rising farmer suicides. On top of that, the country’s “horrendous” character with how people were being killed in the name of cow slaughter showed brazen intolerance. “We can’t afford to treat this as business as usual. If you don’t send this government packing, you will end up in a different India than we have cherished for 70 years. Isn’t it time we had responsible people in government once again?”
The defining moment on Day 2 of Khushwant Singh Literary Festival (KSLF) 2018 was when triple talaq crusader, Shayara Bano, took to the stage for a session on ‘Women’s socio-religious reform’ on Saturday. Triple talaq and female genital mutilation (FGM) were the major topics discussed during the session that also pondered at the complex relationship between religion and politics.