Tharoor dismisses BJP’s claims of ‘exemplary’ performance in South India in LS polls as propaganda

PTI, Apr 11, 2024, 2:03 PM IST

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Thursday dismissed the BJP’s claim of a strong performance in south India in the Lok Sabha polls as a product of its ”propaganda mill”, and said the narratives that the ruling party harps on in the north such as communalism, religious division and nativist social cleavages, do not pass muster there.

Tharoor took a swipe at the BJP over its aggressive southern pitch, saying that for a party that claims to be focused on ‘vikas (development), the region that actually enjoys the highest ‘vikas’ in real terms is the least receptive to the BJP’s agenda.

In an interview with PTI, he also said the quest for dominance of ”Hindi, Hindutva, Hindustan” is indeed, the most dangerous threat to the foundations of our plural consciousness. The Congress leader, however, stressed that Indian secularism is intertwined in the DNA of the country’s culture and it will not disappear so easily.

On whether it was a make-or-break election for secularism, the Congress leader said, ”No, because the forces of national unity have always prevailed over earlier challenges to India’s essential secularism.” Tharoor, however, said this Lok Sabha election is a vital phase in the ongoing battle for India’s soul.

On suggestions that there is a Ram temple wave in the country which could benefit the BJP, the Congress Working Committee member said, ”The BJP’s politicisation of religion went too far when the PM performed the pran pratishtha at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, for which he is clearly not qualified.

”As a lifelong devotee of Ram, whose picture always adorns a central place in the puja room at my home, I have every right to ask why I should surrender my Ram to the BJP. Who gave the copyright on Lord Ram to the BJP?” Tharoor said.

However, the forecasts of a Ram Mandir wave considerably overstate the case, he said.

The voters know the importance of substantive issues — unemployment, price rise and communal hatred being key among them — and they realise those are the responsibilities of the Union government, Tharoor said.

People elect a government to look after their welfare, not just their religion, and if they vote in their self-interest they will vote the BJP out of office, he said.

Tharoor, who is seeking a record fourth term from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, said there is no doubt that the BJP is trying to make inroads into the South and Prime Minister Modi’s recent ”peregrinations” in the region are a clear indication of that.

Since they have peaked everywhere else in 2019, this is the only region left where they hope they can grow, he noted.

Asked about the BJP’s claim that its performance in southern states will be exemplary, Tharoor said, ”The claim of an ‘exemplary’ performance is yet another product of the BJP’s propaganda mill.” Aside from national schemes that are applicable anywhere, the BJP has literally nothing to point to in Kerala in their ten years of rule, he claimed.

”They made three promises to the state and broke all of them. They promised Kerala an AIIMS; no AIIMS has come. Their AYUSH minister, in response to me, promised us a National University of Ayurveda; they established it in Gujarat instead. In their Budget of 2015-16, they explicitly accepted my request to upgrade the National Institute of Speech and Hearing in Thiruvananthapuram to a National University for Disability Studies. Despite this solemn commitment in Parliament, when they established such a University, they decided to do so in the North-East,” Tharoor said.

”After three broken promises’, a batting average of zero, which is apparently their idea of ‘exemplary’ performance’“ why would any Keralite trust any promise by the BJP?” he said.

Tharoor said there is a need to understand why Modi’s BJP has little to no appeal in the South.

He said investor interest in India is dictated, in many ways, by the openness of a society, education and literacy levels and maintenance of social harmony, in all of which the South scores highly.

”Our society has been shaped in an environment where decades of social reforms have led to a flowering of civic consciousness among followers of the three major religions: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. ”Our history has also been different: for instance, Kerala has welcomed followers of every faith here for millennia, and all have come in peace and not by the sword. So the narratives that the BJP harps on in the North – communalism, religious division, chips on the shoulder about history, nativist social cleavages – don’t pass muster here,” Tharoor said.

On the BJP accusing the opposition of creating a North-South divide, Tharoor said if anyone has been dividing the country on communal, linguistic or regional issues, including the so-called North-South divide, it is the BJP.

”Their arrogation of more funds to the Union government and starving states ruled by non-BJP parties has created major concerns. If this government is somehow voted to power again, which I do not expect, there are real fears of how they will handle the South after the 91st Amendment lapses in 2026, and they initiate their project of increasing Lok Sabha seats for Hindi heartland,” he said.

”Do they have a sensible policy response when the South questions them on whether it is being punished for doing a good job in human development and family planning? In their quest for absolute power, will they give themselves a two-thirds majority by gerrymandering constituencies, and leave the South feeling disempowered?” he said.

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