Former UN under-secretary-general and MP from the Indian National Congress, Dr Shashi Tharoor recently decided to educate Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Indian Home Minister Amit Shah with history lessons.
Taking it upon himself to debunk the BJP leader's attempt to justify the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act by referring to certain historical events in India's past, the historian and author expressed his doubts about Amit Shah's comprehension of history in an opinion piece for The Quint on Saturday.
"I have often been forced to wonder whether our redoubtable Home Minister Shri Amit Shah paid attention in history class at school. His latest pronouncements on our country's historical past makes me seriously doubt whether he did," Tharoor wrote in the opening lines of his piece.
Amit Shah made two assertions in an appearance in New Delhi on Thursday.
His first remark was that Congress had partitioned India on the basis of religion. The second remark suggested that a series of statements from 1947, two by Mahatma Gandhi and one in a resolution of the Congress Working Committee in November of that year, demonstrate India's commitment to giving refuge to persecuted Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan.
His statements asserted that today's Congress party is going back on its revered leaders' commitments.
For Congress, being Indian is not determined by one's religion
Dr Tharoor challenged both assertions and said that the historical references were used "cynically."
Tharoor insisted that the Congress-led Indian nationalist movement neither divided on ideological lines, nor on geographical lines. He attested that it divided on one principle alone – whether religion should be the determinant of nationhood.
Referring to Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Tharoor said, "Partition was the demand of the League, which argued that their religion determined their political identity, a proposition voted for by a significant plurality of India's Muslims in 1946.
"Any elementary reading of the history of our nationalist movement will take you to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the 'two-nation theory,' and the Muslim League's Pakistan Resolution of 1940."
Tharoor wrote that Mahatma Gandhi's Indian National Congress rejected the logic of the Muslim League. He added that Congress had been led multiple times by Muslims and actually served under a Muslim President, Maulana Azad, from 1940 to 1945.
"They argued that religion did not determine 'Indianness'; that their freedom struggle was for the rights of every Indian; and the Constitution they wrote enshrined the principle of equality for Indians of all faiths.
"How on earth can anybody with even a basic knowledge of the past argue with a straight face that Congress divided India along religious lines?"
Congress supports citizenship for refugees, but not in the same context as BJP
Shashi Tharoor argued that Amit Shah's statements are about politics, not history.
"Shri Shah was saying it because his BJP, hero-worshippers of VD Savarkar – who first propounded the two-nation theory as president of the Hindu Mahasabha before Jinnah seized upon the same idea – had continued its tiresome political tactic of ascribing to the Congress Party responsibility for any error, tragedy or event that had cast a blight upon the country," Tharoor wrote.
He maintained that Amit Shah was misinterpreting the historical references – for political reasons.
"Amit Shah next employs another variant of this tactic – to say that Congress had already done what it is now attacking the BJP for doing."
Tharoor claims this time the quotes are accurate but divorced from context; Congress did indeed accord refugees the rights of Indian citizens when they fled Pakistan during partition.
But they had lost these rights not because they had a crossed a border, but because "a border had crossed over them."
Tharoor further added that Congress supported Mahatma Gandhi then and still does – however, not the way the BJP leader tried to portray it as.
"It was, nonetheless, appalling and distressing to see this government's Home Minister selectively quote the father of our nation, whose ideals they have wilfully disregarded, in an attempt to legitimise their desecration of the very national unity Gandhi-ji gave his life for. For Shri Shah was using this quote to make an absurd claim that the draconian Citizenship Amendment Bill was a fulfilment of the Mahatma's wishes."
Selectively quoting Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi is the most revered political figure in the history of India and also a great humanitarian. To quote him on anything sways India with strong sentiments and regard.
The congress leader condemned the Indian home minister's attempt to quote a figure like Mahatma Gandhi to earn warrant for the BJP's partisan philosophy. Tharoor deemed that the move by Amit Shah as "another affront" to Gandhi.
"By reproducing his lines without their context, the home minister has attempted another affront to a man who spent his lifetime advocating Hindu-Muslim unity, a man who fought till the very end the idea that religion should determine nationhood, which is sadly the idea that the BJP has embraced," Tharoor stated.
According to him, Amit Shah not only misinterpreted Mahatma Gandhi's statement but also quoted only a fragment of it – rather than the full statement.
Shashi asserted that had Amit Shah continued to quote Mahatma Gandhi, he would have also found his words in the same period that say, "To drive every Muslim from India… would mean war and eternal ruin for the country. If such a suicidal policy is followed, it would spell the ruin of… Hinduism in the Union. Good alone can beget good. Love breeds love. As for revenge, it behoves man to leave the evil-doer in God's hands… The idea that India should only belong to Hindus is wrong. That way lies destruction.
"It is destruction, indeed, to which Shri Shah and his government is leading us."
Dr Tharoor said that guided by Mahatma Gandhi, Congress has historically committed itself to sustaining an idea of India that is fundamentally different from the thinking of those who rule India today.
"In these last few months, under this government, we have witnessed a fundamental assault on the democratic, secular and constitutional fabric of India that our forefathers – giants like Mahatma Gandhi-ji, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Dr Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and so many other revered figures of the Independence movement – had dedicated their lives to."
Tukde-Tukde Gang: Partition of the Indian Soul
Shashi Tharoor said the current Indian government is an economic and administrative failure.
"Even as they have driven the economy into the doldrums, the present ruling dispensation has become, in their own phrase, a tukde-tukde gang. They are dividing this country into tukdes [pieces]: Hindus versus Muslims; Deshdrohis [traitors] versus Deshbhakts [patriots]; Raamzaade versus something unprintable; Hindi speakers versus non-Hindi speakers; Us versus Them.
"In 1947, as I observed in parliament, we had a partition of the Indian soil. In 2020, this government is giving us a partition of the Indian soul," Tharoor complained.
Tharoor ended his opinion piece with an admonition and satire.
"It is bad enough that our home minister forgets our history. It would be far worse if he leads the country down a path that repeats it."