At the last session of the BT India At 100 Economy Summit, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and economist Harsh Madhusudan sat on a debate with Rajdeep Sardesai as the moderator. Clippings of the 50 minutes session have gone viral on social media. The debate saw punches and counter punches from both sides, facts were met with facts and reason was dealt with reason. Here are some highlights of the debate where concepts of nationalism and secularism were debated.
Shashi: Our secularism is already enshrined in the constitution without using the word. Secularism played out by the BJP goes against the all inclusive, secular nature of Hinduism.
Harsh: The word “secularism” didn’t make us secular. Being Hindu made us secular regardless of its mention in the constitution. India has always been a Hindu rashtra. The difference is between rashtra and rajya, between nation and state. As Sri Aurobindo mentioned in his Uttarpara speech that Sanatana Dharma is our nationalism.
Shashi: The Hindu rashtra and Hindutva panders to the majority Hindu at the expense of the minority Muslims.
Harsh: The person who actually popularised the term Hindutva, Sarvarkar, was very clear that everybody will have equal, individual rights in free Hindustan. He went to the extent of saying that we might have to proportional representation in the parliament. The so-called Hindu right is perfectly comfortable with secularism but it is the secularist who want Muslims to have four wives, who are ok with polygamy for Muslim men but not for others. Kripalani once told Nehru that Muslims are ready for monogamy but you’re not brave enough to implement the law equally.
Shashi: Savarkar said that India has two nations, the Hindus and Muslims. Therefore, Savarkar’s notion of Nationhood is an exclusive one.
Harsh: Was Savarkar not proven correct by partition? Last I checked Bangladesh and Punjab of Pakistan do not belong to India anymore. Let us accept the reality that those places where Hindu majority stopped, are no longer India. Even Congress which has distanced itself from Hindutva was once considered a party of the Hindus.
Shashi: There is a struggle for India’s soul right now. What happens to Christians and Muslims if you equate nationalism with Hinduism. The Indian civilisation has accommodated all kinds of people.
Harsh: But what is that civilisation? Isn’t it the Hindu civilisation? I could quote Shashi himself. He says that Hinduism has no one founder, no one prophet, no one holy book, no one God and one way of praying. He actually believes in Hindu exceptionalism.
Let’s stop being abstract. There are people who are ostensibly being oppressed, going out on the streets shouting “Sar tan se juda” if you disrespect the Prophet and then we have comparisons of Hindu India with Nazi Germany. I don’t remember Jews going out on the streets and saying they will go and behead the Germans. So, this is nothing but gaslighting. People who are actually being scared, be it Hindus and even liberal Muslims have to rot in jail or go underground.
The Islamic problem is not because of Hindutva but it’s a global problem and radical Islam in India is only a section of the larger problem. You cannot understand the Islamic problem in India without looking at the global Islamic crisis. Since the 1970s there has been a massive increase in Islamic radicalisation. You can see it in Kerala, what you used to not see earlier you are seeing it now.
Shashi: I am a deep Bhakta of Vivekananda who taught us that Hinduism is not only about tolerance but about acceptance.
Harsh: He also said to fight for Hinduism. He said that if you forcibly try to convert me I’ll fight you.
Shashi: Nehru said that the Uniform Civil Code is very desirable but you’ve got to take everyone along. The Congress is not against the removal of article 370 but opposes the manner in which it was done.
Harsh: It reminds me of Saint Agustine who said “God give me chastity but not yet”. The Congress’s position on the “secular” civil code has been a very bastardised one. Panth nirpeksh is the dharmic sense of secularism and not dharma nirpeksh. You cannot be neutral to Dharma; you have to be panth nirpeksh. You’re not panth nirpeksh if you’re saying that “show me the religion and I’ll show you the law. That is not secular anywhere in the world. Why does Sashi, sitting in front of a global audience say that we agree with UCC but we won’t do it just yet. Why don’t you get ahead of the train?
Shashi: the UCC should take everyone along and reform must be accepted by all religions.
Harsh: the Hindu Code has already been reformed constantly. Increasingly there’s equality in gender and inheritance and marriage.
Shashi: These were all Supreme Court decisions.
Harsh: The BJP in power did not once try to reverse anything introduced by Nehru, Ambedkar or the Supreme Court. If at all they have gone the progressive way with decisions like increase age of marriage of women to 21.
The problem is society cannot run on parallel tracks. You cannot have Indian Muslim girls being allowed to marry at 13 because they’ve achieved puberty and because that’s what the Muslim laws state but as per the Hindu laws girls can marry at 21. Henceforth any new civil laws that come should come under UCC and not under the Hindu civil laws. You cannot put all the reform on the Hindus and allow 13-year-old Muslim girl to marry and men to have three more wives.
Shashi: The top leadership of BJP says one thing but every once in a while an MLA gets up and says something silly.
Harsh: Well, that’s because they have more MLAs than you.
This was not the end of the debate but only the first quarter. The following arguments and counter arguments on economy, education and infrastructure development were equally engaging. Needless to mention that Harsh Madhusudan stole the show by taking on a left leaning Congress politician and its cheerleader moderator with piercing wit and satire.