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8-min read

'Transcendent Requirement of Country': Amid CAA Protests, Shashi Tharoor Urges Oppn to See the 'Larger Picture'

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that opposition parties must forge a credible front against the BJP and oppose the New Citizenship law.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:January 14, 2020, 11:25 PM IST
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'Transcendent Requirement of Country': Amid CAA Protests, Shashi Tharoor Urges Oppn to See the 'Larger Picture'
File photo of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. (PTI Photo)

Even though the Opposition is united against the Citizenship Amendment Act, it isn’t united behind Congress... The TMC, BSP and SP didn’t come today [referring to the Opposition meet called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi]... The DMK and Sena — both your allies, one a pre-poll ally and other one a post-poll ally — skipped the meet. Are these signs of a missed opportunity of a possible opposition unity?

I mean, the fact is unfortunately that the difficulty with Opposition unity has always been in our politics that state rivalries divide the party within the states sometimes [and] flow into national politics and national strategy. The fact is that Congress is the principal opposition party, in very many states. The Opposition who will be natural allies of Congress against the BJP are also rivals of Congress in their states and that is essentially what has happened. I don’t want to ascribe motives to others, it is for them to explain their presence or absence but the transcendent requirement of the country today is to forge a credible Opposition. The BJP is in power with 37% votes; that means 63% of Indians don’t agree with BJP's agenda. We wouldn’t have wished to see them in government but because that 63% is split in multiple ways, the 37% party gets a crushing majority in Parliament and this is the challenge that Opposition is facing. Are they prepared to see the larger picture?

You know, you are talking about the larger picture here... look at the kind of reactions that have come from other opposition leaders... Mayawati is crying betrayal and Mamata Banerjee says in the name of CAA movement, Congress is indulging in vandalism. Why is it that Congress is failing to win the support of other parties on this 'movement' as it is called now?

Well, I think part of the problem is that we are all in competition for a similar space and it is always very difficult to put political interests second to the larger national goal. I don’t want to sound holier than thou and I am sure that Congress also feels a certain sense of competition with these other parties in the states. So, in my own state, for example, we are leading the Opposition to the Left front government and yes, in Delhi, the Left Front and Congress see eye-to-eye on issues like CAA and NRC.

This is the reality and I have to say that it is difficult to escape this reality. All I can say is that if at least some of the parties come to an understanding as to what is in their interest, that would work and if it takes a smaller party to be a catalyst, I am sure that Congress will gracefully step aside from this effort if many of the smaller parties feel it is difficult for them to fall behind the Congress… Congress' interest is in seeing the Opposition come together. I don’t think it is an ego issue for any leader of the Congress.

The immediate election is in Delhi in less than 30 days now... Kejriwal hasn’t appeared in any of the anti-CAA protests. He didn’t stand with the students of Jamia or the women of Shaheen Bagh. Is he reading the mood of the so-called silent majority?

I think Kejriwal is trying to have it both ways. He has made statements deploring CAA and NRC, saying why is it necessary and the government should withdraw it. But, he hasn’t taken any tangible action; he hasn’t even shown human compassion that one expects from the CM towards the victims of violence in his own state. In any other state, if the students had been bashed up in this way, the CM would have visited them in hospital or home or shown them some concern or should have gone to their campuses.

Kejriwal wants power without responsibility, which we all know has been the prerogative of the eunuchs for ages and that kind of completely ineffective chief ministerial approach is apparently going to safeguard his space. I don’t know, you can spend all your political life trying to not make enemies but at the end of the day, what do you stand for? What values do you represent? What principles are you trying to put forward before the electorate? It seems to me that this is where the CM of Delhi has been a great disappointment. He has failed the people who had supported him out of idealism. Many of my friends who normally voted for Congress, said they voted for AAP because they are an idealist party etc. So, where are the ideals of the party when the people in the state, in the campuses of the state, the youth who are the future of the state are being attacked? I don’t see any idealism there in Kejriwal’s conduct.


You stood in solidarity with the women in Shaheen Bagh. The counter can be that Congress is in fact misreading the national mood on CAA?

All I know is that we are standing up for our principles. Never before in the history of India has religion become a test for citizenship. It is shameful and it is disgraceful for what the country stands for. When Vivekanda, whose Jayanti we all just celebrated… when he said in Chicago that he was proud to come from a nation that has offered shelter to the persecuted of all nations and religions and here, you have a government who chooses to have people from some nations and some religions. This is a betrayal of civilisational values, on top of that, it is a betrayal of the Constitution, which has never said religion governs your rights in this country. So, to my mind, Congress is right to stand up for principles. If somehow people are willing to be seduced by the government or bludgeoned by the government or cajoled into believing something else, it is our duty to educate them. And we are doing our very best. The truth is that this is wrong and this is an abomination and people are trying to stand up against it.

The economy is in dire straits... retail inflation is at a 5-year high... Don’t you think this noise over CAA is in fact helping the government brush under the carpet more critical issues related the economy?

That's a very fair question because we were talking about the economy when suddenly the CAA issue arose and we felt we could not avoid challenging it. But I must say that the economy is a major issue. I'm going to be doing a 'Desh ki Baat' on behalf of the Congress party on Saturday and that's going to be my principle theme because the economy is in dire straits. You're quite right, a 46-year-old unemployment high, growth rate in a state of collapse, retail inflation is mounting… if you look at vegetables and fruits, you're seeing a colossal range between 14%-60% inflation, so you're at things that the ‘aam aadmi’ is going to find themselves effected by and it’s something that the government cannot shirk responsibility for. I believe it’s extremely important that this government be held to account for its failures. Poor farmers, 31 per day on an average, are committing suicide. We can’t go on like this. The country deserves better and the BJP must be made to answer for its woeful mismanagement of the economy.

Last question to you. Your one comment has drawn a lot of reactions and this is related to those shouting Islamic slogans of ‘La ilaha illallah’ during anti-CAA protests. You had said our fight against Hindutva should give no comfort to Islamist extremism and that led to a lot of people saying how is it in any way Islamist symbolism because, you know, using religious slogans to keep spirits high is okay when demands are secular. 

It was a tactical point which is that from the point of view of the Muslim community, I understand their feelings; that they're in many ways being targeted because of their faith and therefore, affirming the faith seems [to be] the right thing. Having said that, however, the reason that all the other communities have risen up to support them and to stand against the same inequity is because in a source, the Constitution binds us all. And so, we are standing up to defend the Constitution, and it would be in the interest of the Muslim community to feel part of this great resistance in defence of the Constitutional values of equality amongst all communities in this country.

Now the moment you chant a slogan saying ‘tera mera rishta kya, La ilaha illallah', the fact is that 'tera-mera rishta’, when it comes to a Muslim and a non-Muslim, it’s the Constitution. It’s not just a religious issue because frankly, if there was another issue involving constitutional rights, whether it’s Kashmir [Article 370] or whatever and Hindus were going against it saying ‘Jai Shri Ram’, it would be difficult for Muslims to go along.

I think those who are understanding this broader context should see that it’s in the interest of those opposing CAA/NRC to subsume their objection in a larger argument that can unite as many people as possible behind the cause. Rather than narrowing the base, you need to broaden the base. Get every community to support you. Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Muslims should be united, it seems to me in standing up to the constitutional values of equality for an inclusive India, the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free and it seems to me that they're making a tactical mistake. That’s my point. That if some are so extremist in their beliefs that they don’t care about anyone else and they only want to affirm their religious identity, good luck to them, but I think many others in the Muslim community agree with me and have said so on social media, in op-eds, in print publications and they've made the point that the larger issue is what they need to pursue.


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