Shashi Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu is a book that goes much beyond answering the question its title asks. This is not just one person contemplating about his faith; it also describes Hinduism’s glorious tradition of acceptance and spirit of enquiry and how Hindutvawadis, followers of the political ideology (Hindutva) that pretends to be derived from Hinduism but is actually quite foreign to it, are bastardising it to gain votes and power.
This is a very readable book, but I feel all the arguments that Tharoor puts forward could have been summarised in a long-form piece. There is a lot of repetition and paraphrasing, especially in regards to Hinduism’s assertion that all religions are merely different pathways to the same God, embodied by Gita’s “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.”
Be that as it may, this is an important book. We have often read and heard of how Hindutva is not Hinduism from liberal Hindus, but the how and why has never been explained in a comprehensive way. This book fills this gap fairly eloquently. It is also written in remarkably simple English and you would not be able to tell that writer is the same person who is not able to tweet without his farragos and his rodomontades (you will come across ‘farrago’ a couple of times in the book). Clearly, Tharoor’s books are easier to read than his tweets.
Why I am a Hindu taught me little I did not know already about Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) or Hindutva, but it did put many things in perspective. It should serve as a crucial reminder to people that the BJP-RSS, the current ruling dispensation at the centre, has roots in people like ‘Veer’ Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, complete bigots who were more inspired by Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s fascistic policies in Italy than anything from Hinduism with its inherent openness and diversity. The Hindutva ideology is more Abrahamic than Dharmic.
In the latter part of the book, Tharoor exhorts liberal Hindus to take their faith back from those who seek to monopolise it. By this, he, of course, means the proponents of Hindutva and this is where the books may seem a little political because of obvious reasons (one being that Tharoor belongs to the opposition party). To be fair, though, he says nothing in the book that a liberal Hindu would in good conscience disagree with at all. I, for one, do not think Rahul Gandhi is the answer to the Hindtuva (the Congress party has its own set of problems) of BJP-RSS, but this ideology, whose ultimate aim is to make India monocultural, with its propaganda and state machinery may have a lasting or even permanent impact on Indian politics and society. It need not be said that the said impact would not be the good kind.