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The Perfect Congress Counterpoint To Modi’s Nationalist Pitch

Shashi Tharoor—who else?

19/05/2017 8:49 AM IST | Updated 19/05/2017 8:49 AM IST
Luis Enrique Ascui / Reuters

The Indian National Congress (INC), the grand old party which once ruled the nation with a majority in Parliament, has been facing an existential crisis for many years now. The biggest problem for the Congress is that they don't know what they're talking about, what they're standing for, and what their ideology is all about.

Caught in the trap of so-called secularism, they have lost the plot even as Narendra Modi's BJP continues to consolidate its position across India, whether it's in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly or in Delhi's Municipal Corporation.

Tharoor has been active in the public sphere challenging the British to own up to their brutalities in the pre-independence era—an argument that stirs and inspires new-age patriots.

Riding the juggernaut of nationalism and development, the BJP seems well on its way to achieving its goal of a "Congress-mukt Bharat." It seems plausible as of now. The Congress is running a directionless movement with dilapidated political theories which have little relevance in today's world. What is also causing a major dent in their popularity is that they have lost their nationalist credentials along the way, having focused for far too long on vote-bank politics.

So, is there hope yet? Can anyone rejuvenate the party's image and make it connect with the people again? Is there any leader who has the chops to provide the counterpoint to Modi, who is practicing a clever mix of Hindu nationalism and neo-liberalism, designing a more open society on the plank of cultural nationalism (despite the tensions created by Hindu fringe or cow vigilantes in the name of religion)? Is there a Congress leader who also has a strong nationalistic voice? In my opinion, the answer is yes, and that leader is Shashi Tharoor. The writings, books and speeches of the Congress lawmaker from Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala are ample proof of that.

An acclaimed author known for his intellect and grandiloquent style, Tharoor is an outspoken nationalist, especially when it comes to the issue of the British rule in India. He is equally a genuine nationalist and a true globalist, a rare mix in the Congress party, and has got excellent capabilities to present a new brand of nationalism that can appeal to the English-speaking urban middle class as well.

Just look at the recent article he wrote for Al Jazeera, "The need for a museum on British colonisation of India", where he beautifully articulated on the dark age of British rule in India. He wrote:

"I recently wrote to the government of India to propose that one of India's most renowned heritage buildings, the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, be converted into a museum that displays the truth of the British Raj—a museum, in other words, to colonial atrocities."

Tharoor strongly believes that the British are responsible for India's descent from greatness to penury:

"I argued, that it be converted to serve as a reminder of what was done to India by the British, who conquered one of the richest countries in the world (27 percent of global gross domestic product in 1700) and reduced it to, after over two centuries of looting and exploitation, one of the poorest, most diseased and most illiterate countries on Earth by the time they left in 1947."

The former senior UN bureaucrat asks Britain a hard-hitting question—why don't they teach schoolchildren colonial history?

An online campaign calling for the nomination of Shashi Tharoor as the UPA's prime ministerial candidate collected more than 16,000 signatures. Maybe the Congress should pay heed.

It has to be noted that Tharoor's speech at an Oxford Union debate in 2015 on the same topic, British colonialism, went viral on social media. His nationalistic voice resonated powerfully with Indian youth. His speech was shared by hundreds of sites. "Right-wing critics of mine suspended their 'trolling' of me on social media to hail my speech," Tharoor wrote on his website.

Since then, Tharoor published a book called An Era of Darkness which is an extended version of his blockbuster Oxford Union speech. The book has got a remarkable reception from Indians across the globe, and Tharoor has been active in the public sphere challenging the British to own up to their brutalities in the pre-independence era—an argument that stirs and inspires new-age patriots.

For the past several elections, Modi's BJP has been the direct beneficiary of the support of people who identify as "patriots" and "nationalists". Tharoor now offers a great opportunity to get the Congress back on the right track.

In March, an online campaign calling for the nomination of Shashi Tharoor as the UPA's prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 general elections against Narendra Modi has caught the attention of the media, and collected more than 16,000 signatures. Maybe the Congress should pay heed.

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