Referring to the recent controversy triggered by Mahatma Gandhi’s picture being replaced with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Khadi and Village Industries Commission’s (KVIC) calendar, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said that many of the freedom fighter’s “values and methods” are being “misused in pursuance of petty political causes and gains”.
Tharoor was inaugurating the eighth edition of the Kolkata Literary Festival on the grounds of the 170-year-old St Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata. In conversation with British publisher Michael Dwyer of Hurst, he discussed his book, ‘An Era of Darkness’, which he said was prompted by his speech at the Oxford University in 2015.
“The speech itself, to be earnest was sparked-off by Oxford Union debate choosing a topic about Britain owning reparations to former colonies,” Tharoor said.
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Speaking of the “mistreatment of Mahatma Gandhi”, Tharoor said that Gandhi’s ideals have been “trivialised”.
“The British, while they mistreated Indians, had their own standards and rules. They protected the free press and democratic institutions back in England. And that is why Mahatma Gandhi’s method of non-violence and fasting had been successful in his struggle. If he had used these same tools against a Hitler or Stalin or Mao, it would have been totally ineffective.”
“They either would have let him starve to death or shot him. Coming back to India today, a lot of Gandhi’s values and methods are being misused by many in pursuance of petty political causes and gains. These values have therefore lost their relevance. A recent calendar of the Khadi Gramodyog has replaced Mahatma Gandhi’s picture behind the spinning wheel with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s. This is obviously some marketing guru’s bright ploy, but it’s very strange since Modi belongs to a party that had denounced Gandhi even then. Unfortunately, Mahatma Gandhi has been reduced to a mere symbol,” he said.
Answering a student’s question about the rise of attacks on authors, artists and painters, and the common practice of being branded anti-national, Tharoor said, “This entire thing of being anti-national is just one of many things. I believe it’s symbolic of a much bigger issue.
When these artists are attacked, it’s because a certain section finds their work offensive. Our willingness to take offense has increased. And then the government appeases them, because their sentiments have been offended, whereas what the government should actually be doing is protecting the freedom of speech.”
Tharoor said he has two demands of the British.
“Neither of which will be met I’m quite sure. These are two demands apart from the returning of the Kohinoor diamond, which will also not be done. The first, that the British apologise for what they have done to India. India was the strongest and richest of economies when the British started, and 200 years later, it was the poorest economy. There is an argument that the British have given India many things.
“But we have to remember that whether it was tea or development, they did it to serve their own purpose and fulfil their own needs to increase profit for themselves and strengthen their rule. It was never for the Indian. The Jallianwala Bagh centenary is a good time for the British to apologise for what General Dyer did, which was one of the most monstrous and savage incidents under colonial rule. A British leader should come for the centenary and apologise. My second demand is that colonial history be taught in schools and colleges in England,” the Congress MP said.