On Dr. Shashi Tharoor
While having been in public life for decades now, it may reasonably be said that Dr. Tharoor first shot to popular fame in 2015, when as an orator in the Oxford Union Debate, supporting the motion, “Britain owes reparations to her former colonies”, he had the temerity, so opine Indians, to ‘stand confidently before the Englishmen and narrate to them their own sins’, with eloquence perhaps surpassing that of the average Englishman himself. Such, certainly, was the crude sentiment that graced the comments section of pertinent videos on YouTube.
What was there for which he might be disliked? For here was he who, with refined speech, urbane mannerisms and spontaneous wit, seemed to defy the stereotype of the average Indian politician: abdominous, obnoxious, possibly salacious, and who, in contrast to the schismogenetic tenor of the average politician, seemed always to express in his speech, the pleasing sounds of civic nationalism.
As the years passed, however, it became slowly and steadily evident that he was no different from the average politician, except insofar as he was articulate and at ease in English. Worse was the fact that he had rendered his innate brilliance obsequious to political interests.
It suffices to adduce as an instance the conversation he had with Dr. Vikram Sampath on the India Today Conclave. The equally urbane Dr. Sampath was tireless in his incisive but unpolemical recriminations of Marxist historiography that had monopolized history in Indian academic circles. He noted as an instance the callous elisions, of centuries of oppression of Hindus in their own homeland by Islamist invaders, in history curricula. The response of Dr. Tharoor was so eminently preposterous, that only the pliant chambers of Indian ‘intellectuals’ could agree with it.
He noted that post-independence historiography was dictated by the need to build a new nation, and that, to paraphrase him, history was therefore used in nation-building, and, further, that the wounds of old animosities had therefore healed. He added that, with the sudden exponential rise in interest in history, the BJP-led government was reopening those wounds; the unsaid corollary being that this was again generating social fissures.
Now, to anyone with a modicum of sense, the justification that history was used in nation-building is an infuriating euphemism for “we wrote history for our political convenience”. This, however, does not suffice to prove how utterly hollow Dr. Tharoor’s fanciful notions were. The questions, which no pliant eminence would pose, but which any sane man would, are as follows:
- How does elision of such unpleasant aspects of history constitute nation-building? Concomitantly, how does this result in the healing of old wounds? Is it not commonsensical that truth eventually emerges from the shadows and booms once into the light? Consequently, should aspects of history be hidden now, is it not natural that their emergence should prompt questions in the future? Would it not be natural for the future generations to pose the following questions:
- “Why did the government of my country hide this from me?”
- “Was there indeed no alternative but to build the nation at the expense of the truth concerning what my community went through in the past?”;
- “What prevents governments in the future from further building the nation at the expense of my community, if such has been the precedent, and if there has always been intellectual justification for it?”?
2. If you insist that this was necessary for nation-building, do you imply that truthful exposition could have impeded nation-building? In what sense? Do you mean in the sense of disturbing social harmony? But who could possibly be irate at such a truthful exposition? Certainly not the Hindus, for they would, doubtless, welcome the academic recognition of their historical experience. Then? Muslims? Obviously, it is natural to suppose that the Muslims should be offended, for it is their community that might without design end up appearing villainous. But why must the average Muslim be affronted? Is he not as much an Indian as a Hindu? Concomitantly, is it not true that he refuses to identify himself with those genocidal cranks who tormented his Hindu brethren in the name of his religion? And you eminences of the Congress always insist that we are all Indians. So, even if such fears had existed, why did your own belief that the Muslim was as much an Indian as the Hindu, not prevail over your fears?
- Is it because the Congress was made aware of how foolish, how naïve and how gainsaid its eminences appeared, that notwithstanding their impassioned rhetoric of ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’, Bhāratavarsha nonetheless stood brutalized by a considerable section of Muslims, by vice of the Partition, and that the top brass of the Congress was privately apprehensive that the Muslim community might again rise up in arms in post-independence India?
- If such was its apprehension, why did the Congress not adhere to Dr. Ambedkar’s view that a complete exchange of population might best serve national interests? One might contend that not all Muslims could afford to move, but Dr. Ambedkar’s book Pakistan or the Partition of India also contains plans to address that impediment; even a draft statute for that purpose. And the book was published in 1945 as an enlarged edition of a book published in 1942. This is certainly enough time before Partition. Then, one might contend that, certainly, not all Muslims wanted Partition. But the electoral results of 1945 indicate that too considerable a number of Muslims did. Consequently, in the interests of the security of a nascent and therefore a vulnerable nation-state, would it not have been judicious for the Congress to have chosen, between the idealistic option of non-exchange and the pragmatic option of population exchange, the latter one? Bear in mind that this is in context of the supposition advanced in point (a), in which we have logically supposed that the Congress was fearful of what the Muslim community might do in the future should it feel affronted.
- If, notwithstanding such apprehensions, the Congress chose the idealistic way, it logically implies that its top brass was prepared to imperil national security in pursuit of its ideal. Does this not occasion the rise of uncomfortable questions concerning their nationalist credentials? Would posing such questions not be justified?
3. If you insist that those hidden aspects of history could not have been discussed back then because it would have imperiled the project of nation-building, and cannot be discussed now because they ‘uncover old wounds’ and that the BJP is not ‘allowing them to heal’, when would the time be opportune? Never? Is that it? Is Indian history never allowed to liberate its caged elements? Then how does it do justice to history? But considering that we have already established, that neither lies nor elisions can actually heal wounds, and only cover them up, the whole edifice of your argument stands dismantled, Dr. Tharoor! Demolished. Pulverized.
For the likes of Dr. Tharoor, who abide by the airy fabrics of postcolonial thought, and who have dominated the intellectual scene, there is a quotation from the famed T.V. series Chanakya (1991–92):
Nandavansha Magadha nahi hai aur Magadha Nandavansha nahi hai.
It translates to, “The Nanda Dynasty is not Magadha, and Magadha is not the Nanda Dynasty.” Analogously, this ‘secular-liberal’ orthodoxy is not India, and India is not the secular-liberal orthodoxy. Its ‘idea of India’ is not India, and India is not the ‘idea of India’ espoused by this orthodoxy. This orthodoxy might direct a hundred, a thousand, a million invectives at the post-2014 cultural nationalist groundswell, but the latter shall advance unfazed, despite its intestine faults. It can no longer be cowed by mediocrely accusatory adjectives of ‘communalism’, ‘illiberalism’, ‘retrogression’, ‘fascism’, ‘majoritarianism’, ‘divisiveness’ and suchlike. It dared to defy your dogma, it dares to defy your dogma and it shall dare to defy your dogma. It shall incisively and objectively respond to such accusatory adjectives with its own set of adjectives, and those shall be rooted in objectivity. Its nascent and poorly equipped scholarship shall bloom and vanquish the airy fabrics of ‘scholarship’ that worships the ‘idea of India’ of a few, and it shall vanquish those who are prepared to protect the ‘idea of India’ at the expense of India herself.
So germane is the T.V. series, Chanakya, that it has another wonderful quote, which is much more pleasing to the ear in Hindi(2:16 onward), but the English translation of which is as follows:
He who obstructs the unification of this Rāshtra and the elevation of its stature shall be destroyed. I shall destroy him, and until such time as I do not see this Rāshtra attain glory again, brace yourself, Prime Minister! Pralaya makes known its arrival, and not the might of the Devas can halt its looming tide!
It is for the felicity of the likes of Dr. Tharoor themselves that such warnings may be issued. This is not a threat, for the changing winds have no need of violence, and must not take recourse to violence unless in self-defence, but unless they respectfully cede space, it is likely that history shall adjudge them as evangelists of utopia, and reduce them to objects of ridicule. Modi was elected not by their blessings, but despite the woeful yelps of them and their international cohorts.
The India Today conclave was far from being the only occasion in the last seven years in which Dr. Tharoor has appeared ludicrous.
So, is Dr. Tharoor overrated? I forbear from recording an answer, and deem that it best be surrendered to the reader’s intelligence. What I can say with certitude is that he could be significantly better than that which is his present intellectual persona.