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Modi govt has nothing to show in Kerala, and so RSS made me part of its attack agenda

BJP and RSS are running a campaign of malicious lies in Thiruvananthapuram and their allegation about Nair women is a slur on my family.

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The coming Lok Sabha elections matter more to the health of our democracy and secular fabric than perhaps any other general elections in this country’s history. I have often termed it “a battle for India’s soul”. Yet, no matter how important that fight is, all political parties and candidates have a responsibility to contest the elections with mutual respect and decency. The means, Gandhi taught us, are as important as the ends. Victory at the hustings on 23 May will be sweeter, and more legitimate, when electoral politics is conducted in the same spirit of fairness and principle that our founding fathers intended.

Unfortunately, recent weeks have seen electioneering in Thiruvananthapuram move away from the all-important question — “who will represent this constituency best in New Delhi?” — and descend into petty, personal attacks. Needless to say, those attacks have been on me.  I have had the honour and privilege to represent Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha for the last ten years. My record as an MP and public servant is for all to see, and open for anyone to criticise. Just as this city, built on the back of its farming, fishing and working classes, has inspired me, I have sought to bring investment, infrastructure and jobs to Thiruvananthapuram, and make it one of the better cities in India to live and work in. If a candidate wants to challenge my development efforts, or criticise my term as an MP, they are welcome to try. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated outfits in the Sangh Parivar, however, have embarked on a campaign of malicious untruths, because they simply do not have anything to peddle to the people of Thiruvananthapuram except hate and bigotry.

Also read: Kerala’s war with water is slipping out of control

The Sangh Parivar-backed Sabarimala Karma Samiti, for example, has been circulating leaflets across households in Thiruvananthapuram alleging the Indian National Congress is hand in glove with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in supporting the entry of women of reproductive age into Sabarimala. The Samiti claims the Kerala government’s unseemly rush to implement the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala even before it could receive a formal copy of the judgment, is evidence of the tacit support the CPM received on the issue from the Congress. The Samiti also claims that I have insulted Hindu women protesting the Sabarimala verdict by calling them “prisoners of superstition”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As I have sought to explain through my own writings, speeches and statements, the Congress stands with the faithful on Sabarimala. There are but two ways in which the Supreme Court’s verdict on the question of women’s entry into the temple can be overturned: through a review petition in the Supreme Court itself, or through legislation in Parliament. The Congress was one among the 50-odd organisations that sought a review of the Supreme Court’s verdict; the BJP was not. The BJP, which enjoys a majority in Parliament, had both the winter and budget sessions to introduce a law to annul the verdict. In the twilight hours of the 16th Lok Sabha, the Narendra Modi cabinet bludgeoned several ordinances through on matters like Triple Talaq and Aadhaar, but had no inclination to issue one on Sabarimala. Clearly, the BJP’s interest is to keep Sabarimala alive as an electoral issue, not to resolve it.

The claim that I “insulted” Hindu women is nothing short of slanderous. In my columns, I wrote exactly the opposite: that it is preposterous to think Hindu women opposed to their own entry into Sabarimala are simply held hostage by blind rituals. The view of believers, who have no doubt come to their own conclusions on the Sabarimala issue after much soul-searching themselves, have to be respected and defended. By twisting their opponents’ comments and resorting to violence on the streets, the BJP, the RSS and the Sabarimala Karma Samiti are letting Hindus down.

Also read: MY543 Kerala-Thiruvananthapuram

I have been subject to another scurrilous attack on social media, where extracts of my book ‘The Great Indian Novel’ have been plucked out of context, and comments made by a fictional character misattributed to me in a viral WhatsApp post. In this case, the BJP’s mischief-making machinery of online trolls have cited the comments made by one fictional character in my novel on the practice of “sambandham” in Nair tharavadus a couple of centuries ago, and highlighted it to suggest that I insulted and disrespected Nair women by questioning their fidelity and character today. Aside from the inconvenient facts that the novel does not deal with the present, the Nairs are my own community, and I am the proud son of Nairs on both sides of my lineage. What’s more, the fictional character in my novel was merely characterising a historical practice that has been documented by historians and scholars of repute. The novel was published thirty years ago, and its Malayalam translation has been around for nearly two decades — so why has the BJP chosen to excavate it now?

The aspersion the Sangh Parivar has cast on me would be laughable had it not been for the deeply personal nature of this attack. The allegation that I have insulted women from my own community is a slur on my own mother, sisters and grandmother, who have been the pillars on which my family has been built and sought moral support. It pains me to no small extent to now hear that I have insulted them. Even in the rough and tumble of election campaigns, there ought to be limits on the personal nature of attacks on one’s opponents. In fact, there are – this is explicitly prohibited by the Model Code of Conduct. But the Sangh Parivar’s attitude to the Code of Conduct is like that of Italian drivers to red lights — as inconveniences that are to be skirted rather than obeyed.

Also read: Kerala chief election commissioner warns political parties not to use Sabarimala temple as a campaign issue

Why are the RSS and the BJP relentlessly resorting to personal attacks against me? The reality is that they have nothing else to highlight: after five truly disastrous years in power, the Modi government has come a cropper and now faces a reckoning from the Indian electorate. The Modi government in New Delhi has done nothing to improve Kerala’s economy or welfare during this period. If Thiruvananthapuram has benefited from development projects, my extensive work and networks that I cultivated as an MP and put to the city’s use have had no small part to play. The BJP, which wants Thiruvananthapuram to suffer the same fate — communal polarisation, miserable economic prospects and poor law and order — as other cities they govern, cannot stand this fact. They are even more mortified by the overwhelming support that I have gratefully received from the constituency’s women during my campaign trail. Therefore, they have resorted to this blasé strategy of vilification and character assassination against me in order to change the views of some women voters.

Not to be outdone, the Communists have jumped on the bandwagon, peddling lies that I have insulted fisherwomen. After three tweets depicting and expressing gratitude for the love and affection I receive from the fishing community, I wrote of the fishermen’s enthusiasm for their squeamish vegetarian MP. The Communists are now going up and down the coast claiming that I said the fisherwomen nauseated me! Taking advantage of voters’ ignorance and lying shamelessly has long been a favoured Communist tactic — that they are resorting to it now shows both their desperation and their utter lack of scruple.

As an individual, I am often pained to hear and see such lies peddled against me and the values I represent. But the feeling of hurt is momentary: I am energised by the passion and commitment of Ananthapuri’s residents, and the work they have put in to make this city great. They are the best judges of their own future, and will no doubt send the candidate most suited, personally and professionally, to represent them in Parliament. Come 23 April, I have no doubt that they will reject the politics of lies and calumny, re-affirm their faith in me, and vote for a progressive and prosperous city, state and country.

Dr Shashi Tharoor is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University; and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 18 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is The Paradoxical Prime Minister. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor.

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  1. “Nothing could be further from the truth”. Is this a printing mistake. I don’t think Dr Tharoor would have chosen the word “further” in this sentence, It should be “farther”.

  2. Good luck Mr Shashi Tharoor.
    I hope you win with a convincing margin. Unfortunately we will have to put up with these political shenanigans for another 20 odd days. We need positive, progressive, smart people in the Parliament. And Trivandrum is proud of one of its own.

  3. “But the Sangh Parivar’s attitude to the Code of Conduct is like that of Italian drivers to red lights — as inconveniences that are to be skirted rather than obeyed.”
    I was amused by this remark. The ITALIAN driver’s attitude to red light during the UPA rule.

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