“We are battling for the soul of India,” says Dr Shashi Tharoor

Long Read: Updated at 1.30 pm on May 17, 2024
Outspoken views on an under-performing economy, failed promises and a subjugated media

“Under the current government, India has lost its core values of democracy, equality, right to justice, and freedom of expression”–Dr Shashi Tharoor, Member of Lok Sabha and Congress Party Leader

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 16, 2024

 

The ongoing general election is a ‘Battle for the Soul of India’ and for reinstating the moral and democratic values of the country, and a fight against dictatorship,” Senior Congress Party Leader and former Federal Minister Dr Shashi Tharoor has said.

He said that India has lost its core values of democracy, equality, right to justice and freedom of expression without the fear of being prosecuted and that discrimination of religious minorities, imbalanced media and imbalanced diplomacy have become the narrative.

During an interview with Indian Newslink in Auckland on May 16, 2024, he agreed with comments that people in India are reeling under the adverse effects of the cost-of-living crisis, rising unemployment, especially among the youth, alarming levels of hunger and poverty and lopsided media which relentlessly bashes the opposition parties.

There is no shortage of reasons for voters’ unhappiness with the current state of affairs. Across the country, agrarian distress has been immense: suicides are at a record high and farmers have risen in protest against the government’s inept approach to solving their problems. Similarly, the revelation that the government consciously sought to bury a report showing that unemployment has reached a 45-year high has fuelled widespread scepticism about official GDP growth figures. After the failure of the authorities’ demonetisation scheme in 2016, followed by its poor implementation of a cumbersome five-rate Goods and Services Tax, the economy has entered a tailspin, and no amount of data chicanery would make a good case for giving the BJP another chance.

The Auckland Writers Festival

Dr Tharoor is on a five-day visit to Auckland to attend the Annual Writers Festival which brings together more than 220 world’s best writers and thinkers to celebrate the world of books and ideas. The six-day Festival (May 11 to May 19) will host about 200 events. Now in its 24th year, the Auckland Writers Festival has enriched the culture of the City and established itself as a major Australasian festival, characterised by the calibre of our guest authors and the enthusiasm and engagement of its audience.

His love for books and writing (he has thus far published 27 books) has brought Dr Tharoor to New Zealand, although India is currently under the wave of its general election held every five years. He said that he will resume campaigning soon after returning home early next week.

Polling for the general election in India is being held in seven phases, four of which have been held as of date, with the next phase scheduled for May 20. The Election Commission of India is expected to announce the results on June 4.

Members of Parliament Dr Shashi Tharoor (Lok Sabha) and Kapil Sibal (Rajya Sabha) on the Toxic Cocktail of Politics and Religion Poisoning India (Debate on The Wire India-Screen Grab)

BJP will lose this time: Dr Tharoor

Dr Tharoor believes that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will lose in the general election and that the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) led by the Congress Party will form the next government.

“Since the BJP will still be the single largest Party, it will be asked first to try and form a government. However, it will not be able to form the government since its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are few and no new allies are expected to join. In fact, embarrassingly for them the Biju Janta Dal in Odisha and the Akali Dal in Punjab that the BJP had publicly courted have spurned openly which is somewhat humiliating for the BJP. This election will be the end of the road for the BJP,” he said.

He said that Exit Polls have a ‘generous margin of error’ and hence are not indicative of the election trend. Any acceptable sample should comprise a survey of at least 1000 persons in every constituency and that is impossible, he added.

While the mainstream media in India is unashamedly biased towards the BJP government and the BJP Leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the declining voter turnout in the first four phases, placed at 66.5% has been worrying the Party.

He described Mr Modi’s recent comments against the Muslim community in his recent election rallies as ‘polarising rhetoric,’ which is unpleasant in any democracy.

“But in a country that has for long been hailed around the world as the embodiment of the successful management of diversity, it is particularly damning.

Dr Tharoor said that the core BJP voters appear to have lost their enthusiasm and that they ‘find no reason to stay with the Party or Mr Modi.’

Failed Policies and Promises

According to him, voters were attracted to the BJP in 2014 by Mr Modi’s promises of economic development and job creation. In the 2019 election, they were bound by the Pulwama terror attack perpetrated by Pakistan and India’s response with Balakot air strikes.

“Mr Modi’s performance on both issues since then has been dismal,” Mr Tharoor said.

Indian Newslink records that the Balakot airstrike, conducted by the Indian Air Force on February 26, 2019 was in retaliation to the Pulwama terror attack. The airstrike targeted Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists in Balakot, Pakistan, showcasing India’s commitment to national security. The operation was a diplomatic triumph, garnering international support for India’s fight against terrorism.

Dr Shashi Tharoor has been an elected Member of Lok Sabha since 2009 and is now campaigning for his third term (Party Photo)

Dr Tharoor said the BJP began its campaign in 2014 on its core message of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism as the political ideology.

“It has Hindu Rashtra as the official objective The BJP leaders and supporters descended from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation which has (since its establishment in 1925) set some fairly blood-curdling things in its time. I mean Golwalkar’s famous comment that India should treat the Muslims the way Hitler dealt with the Jews has not been forgotten by many. Their core understanding is that India is a pristine Hindu land which has minorities only on our sufferance. That is either as guests by which he meant the Parsis and the Jews or as as interlopers and bandits by which he meant both the Muslims and the Christians,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar is revered as ‘Guruji’ by the members of the RSS.
In his book, ‘We or Our Nation Defined,’ he said, “The German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic Races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit.”

Reacting to questions on Mr Modi’s comments on Muslims and the allegations that the Congress Party ‘had received tempo-loads of black money from Ambani and Adani,’ Dr Tharoor said that such polarising rhetoric is unpleasant and has limited use in a democracy.

“In a country that for long has been hailed around the world as the embodiment of the successful management of diversity, such rhetoric is particularly damning. One way of looking at it is that the BJP is hiding behind the Hindutva to conceal its economic failures.”

Why has not the Congress Party and the INDIA come out strongly on the failures of the BJP in terms of feeding the poor, providing employment, improving education and other issues?

Dr Tharoor replied: “We are doing so to some degree. Partly, I think that there was tension between being accused of relentless negativity and an accusation against us in the last (2019) election. People are tired of negatives, they want a more positive message. We have released a very forward-looking social justice manifesto and I am sure there is no redistribution of wealth and no reference to Muslims. ‘Are you better off today than you were 10 years ago? If you voted for Mr Modi 10 years ago expecting to get a job and you still do not have a job. why do you want to give him a third chance?’ These are questions that I have asked our people,” he said.

Dr Shashi Tharoor has been critical of Narendra Modi’s economic policies (Courtesy: X Post)

India-New Zealand Relations

Dr Tharoor was a senior diplomat at the United Nations where he served in various capacities (from 1978 to 2006) including that of Under-Secretary-General. He believes in revisiting India’s foreign policy and reviewing bilateral relations with New Zealand.

“The India-New Zealand relationship has not fulfilled its potential. There have been reasons in slightly irritating ones like the government caving into our dairy lobby against dairy imports from New Zealand, for example. So the free trade negotiations never got anywhere because of that. There is also a slightly condescending attitude in some bureaucratic circles in Delhi (“What does New Zealand have to offer us?). It has not been seen as a major priority. But conversely, you could look at the fact that there are no outstanding irritants in the relationship. There are no issues of major divergence. There are no political problems between the two countries in terms of worldview,” he said.

According to Dr Tharoor, there should be every reason for the two countries to get along and develop their relations, beyond the affinities of Cricket and the English language.

“Why don’t we do much more to develop close relationships? I think this requires work from both sides. I think New Zealand too should ask itself, ‘How to get and deserve the attention of 1.4 people? So all of these things need to be looked at from both sides. I do feel, however, that the potential has not been tapped at all. As the Diaspora of Indians increase here, I am hoping that India will rise in salience because we are, I think, a quarter of a million people and a five million population. That is a decent sort of 5%. Hopefully, this will grow and become more influential as they prosper in society,” he said.

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