‘ Even Caesar Nods : Shashi Tharoor’s Misquote’

published on November 29, 2012

On a program in 2008 with the University of California’s series Encounters with History, Shashi Tharoor ends with a misquote. When asked by the anchor about his hectic life he muttered something about how being busy is not a good thing etc. and ended with the quote  ‘ what is this life if full of care.  . . ‘

The full quote, actually the first opening line is ‘What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare . . . .’

The line is from the poem by W.H.Davies (1871-1940) . It is titled ‘Leisure’.

Tharoor however mentioned the name of William Wordsworth ! That is the wrong author.

For a well read person this misquote or rather misattribution comes as a surprise. However, this seems to be typical of Tharoor’s general approach to life. There is a slapdash quality about it. This is something he is undoubtedly aware of and has made indirect references to it in his public speeches.

The question that the Hindu Samaj should ask is whether he is capable of or even interested in the Hindu ethos or Hindu interests. He is fond of quoting from his hero Jawaharlal Nehru, the same Jawaharlal who  called Sardar Patel a communalist for taking urgent action against Hyderabad and who would have stuck a dagger in India’s heart if Patel had not acted decisively.

Tharoor, like some other recent Indian writers, is awestruck by India’s civilisational history and rightly characterises it as built out of diversity. He misses the foundations of that diversity, Veda Agama, otherwise known as Hinduism. This is a topic that the writer does not fully understand and one sees the results in his thinking. In his writings From Midnight to Millenium and the most recent book Pax Indica : India in the 21st Century he attempts to draw a hard line between different Hinduisms, his own (and his mentor Jawaharlal’s) understanding of Hinduism and what he and his milieu like to call Fundamentalism. A recent crop of writers have taken to use the word Hindutva and use the word ‘fundamentalism’ interchangeably to describe Hindu nationalism. Needless to say, these writers are deficient in their knowledge of Hinduism.

A Hindu who is well versed in his/her tradition might wonder why what is clearly a Hindu resurgence in India after the long night of the two Occupations (Islamic and Colonial) should so unsettle Tharoor (or his peers). The answer clearly comes from his educational background . He was educated in both the Jesuitic educational institutions and the Anglican ones, Calcutta and Delhi respectively. And he has been unable to shed the negative aspects of this baggage. Part of this inability is also owing to the fact that he left early for the West where his academic hard work plus his carefully cultivated accent launched him into unexpected positions of power and influence. He has told us in his speeches that he had been given a push by well known diplomats and inducted into the UN. He is unable or unwilling to let go of this baggage and indeed sometimes wears it as a badge of honour.

At the UN his career has been a chequered one, although his own self glorifying accounts do not reveal this. His closeness to Kofi Annan the Secretary General of the UN also gave him much leeway. He was the Congress Party’s man, so to speak, at the UN. This would be a normal practice if not for some mis steps, at least  one of them being a serious one. This alone should have served as a warning to our hero. Neverthless he proceeded full steam and on to Dubai after resigning from the UN because he was not elected to the post of Secretary General. He was already primed for the Dubai misadventure  by acquaintances who now were no longer only diplomats and politicians but also some dubious business people, some he most probably got acquainted with during his stint as UN Commissioner for Refugees. The rest is history. That saga from the Voelker Report to the IPL and onto the allegations about electoral fraud (see Keralawatch.co) shows a characteristic trajectory, that of someone who tries to wing it each time and all the time. It speaks either to his naivety or something else.The present writer is of the opinion that until these matters are cleared up Mattering to India will remain an elusive project for Shashi Tharoor.

But back in 2008 when he spoke to the University of California interlocutor he seemed star struck by himself. The present appointment (in 2012) to a Cabinet position by the sinking ship of the Congress Party seems once again to place him in a position where he can continue his slapdash career. However, he will , once the debacle has occurred (the ship has sunk) get himself out of a difficult situation and find a niche in some other enterprise. Shifting gears will present no problems to him. He seems to be quite adroit at that.

But how seriously should the Hindus of India take this individual ?

To the extent that he tries to tarnish Hindu nationalism and downgrade Hindu interests he should be countered since both those projects are derived from politically motivated individuals on whose shoulders he is being carried. He has openly said that Hindus cannot claim to be a majority community. He has said this at a speech to the Minorities Commission.  Clearly he was not talking about numbers. He was denying the fact that India has been a Hindu country since time immemorial. Our Vedic Rishis began the sacred Vedas and these continued in the Agama. The Veda Agama is the bedrock of Hinduism and it is this which makes India a Hindu country, not the numbers. Nor is it the secularism of his hero Jawaharlal Nehru, who perverted the classic definition of ‘secular’ as non interference by the state on religion by giving his blessings to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act  which is a blatant interference by the state against Hindus. Nehru’s anti Hindu stance is well known.

This intervention by the state allows indiscriminate plunder of Hindu temples by the state.  This practice does not exist against the religious institutions of the minorities.

Tharoor’s second offence against the Hindu Samaj (in the present writer’s opinion) is his bland assertion that MF Husain’s controversial paintings of Hindu goddesses are well within the Hindu tradition. The VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) has written a comprehensive and excellent refutation of MF Husain. What could be added is that while ancient temple art, working with stone, showed goddesses partially clad, Hindu scriptures refer to the goddesses as fully robed. The references to the goddess Sarasvati (in Skanda Purana and other sacred writings ) being robed in white garments are numerous but even a single  example will suffice.

The most famous and the best known is Sage Agastya’s invocation of her as the one with a white robe draped around her (yaa shubra vastravrita).

There is hardly any Hindu familiar with his/her tradition who has not heard of this line. And every Hindu, even one who has been abroad for several years (as Tharoor was) but who grew up in India (as Tharoor did) has seen the famed paintings (or calendar copies that hang in every Hindu home) by Raja Ravi Varma that show all the goddesses fully clothed. Raja Ravi Varma was faithfully following the Hindu tradition. Salman Rushdie may be excused for asking where  has one seen goddesses robed (see my article ‘Salmon Rushdie’s non Hindu attitudes : The Two Indian Interviews’ in Bharata Bharati.com, Sept 20, 2012) ? Can Shashi Tharoor with a straight face claim that Husain was working within the Hindu tradition ?

Nor are the explicitly sexual poses of the various goddesses to be found in Hindu temple architecture. Those depict ordinary mortals, not the sacred goddesses.

And yet, once again, owing both to Tharoor’s ignorance of Hinduism and his eagerness to please the vote banks, he said quite blatantly that Husain was working within the Hindu cultural tradition (see his discussion on Youtube on free speech with Christopher Hitchens ).

In a more general sense his glorification of the Muslim contributions to Bharatiya culture has served a certain purpose to bolster his offensive against the resurgent Hindu nationalism and to please the minorities. Tharoor is better suited to represent India at foreign forums where his sauve personality and his articulate speech are an advantage. Inside India he will continue to be victimised by his own personal ambitions and the machinations of the politicians that he keeps company with . Photo ops with Oomen Chandy (Chief Minister of Kerala) are a sign of things to come and at any rate do not tell the whole story.

If he continues as the minister for Human Resources, even if he achieves some limited success (that is if he does not come a cropper) there is every sign that he will short change the majority Hindu community. His colleague  Salman Khurshid announced in June of this year that scholarships and loans are being granted to the students of the minority community, but there was no mention of the millions of poor Hindus who are also in need.

The discrimination against the Hindu majority is growing by the day under the UPA government. There is no evidence that Congress camp followers like Shashi Tharoor will be an exception to this practice.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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