“Hinduism is in danger. It is in danger from a belief, an ideology called Hindutva, which has divided Indians into Hindus and others,” said Nayantara Sahgal, at the onset of a discussion on author parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor’s new book ‘Why I Am A Hindu’. That set the mood of the conversation between Tharoor and poet Arundhathi Subramaniam.
The author-politician admitted that while his book addresses issues that he has been thinking about since childhood and has written about before, “increasingly as political Hinduism in the form of Hindutva came front and centre of our public discourse, it has became more and more necessary to challenge the uncontested assumption that the only Hinduism is the Sanghiwadi’s branch of Hinduism, which it is not.”
“I knew the vast majority of Hindus didn’t share the politics of Hindutva or even some of the not-so-benign assumptions of Hindutva, whereas they are proud of their Hinduism and practice the faith,” he said.
“The acceptance of difference goes to the heart of Hinduism,” Tharoor said offering an example of what he has seen being practiced at home by his own father. A devout man, he would go straight from his bath to the prayer room but never obliged anyone else at home to join him. “It was an early lesson in the Hindu idea that prayer or worship was between you and your idea of your maker. And if I wanted to pray or worship I had to find my truth,” he said.
Tharoor believes that character of Hinduism – a religion that allowed one choice as well as the right to question – is the right one for a modern democracy. “How such a wonderfully capricious faith, so open, so liberal can be reduced by some into a badge of identity akin to that of the British football hooligans, I don’t know, but I don’t want any part of it,” he said.
Referring to the ideas of people like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as some pioneers of the idea of Hindutva including MS Golwalkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, he stated: “We are living in a country where, on the one hand, the Prime Minister says the Constitution is his holy book and on the other hand, he extols as a hero and instructs his ministry to study the works and writings and teachings of a man, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, who explicitly rejects the Constitution and who says the Constitution is fundamentally flawed.”
Amidst repeated applause from the audience Tharoor said that those who accuse him of advertising his faith for political reasons don’t know that his book is a result of years of reflection. “At least for two-three generations of Hindus I knew, including mine, would practice the faith in private but would find it unseemly to depict it in public. That was the Hindu way,” he said. As a result, space had been ceded to “those who were not only willingly to advertise their Hindutva, but claim it is the only way of being Hindu”. Tharoor believes it is time for “other Hindus to take back our faith.” This, he stated, is what his book sought to do.