Arguing that there was rising illiberalism in the national discourse, which was a result of many factors, Tharoor also cited the increasing emphasis on sciences and mathematics over humanities in the education sphere.
“When I was a kid at school, I would have to debate topics like ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, and I spoke very much in favour of the motion. Today, having seen our country, its politics and its discourse, I am no longer convinced it is, because if you interpret the sword as a metaphor for power and authority and you interpret the pen metaphorically as ideas and words, I am sorry to say that while ideas and words may outlast power and authority, power and authority, in the short term, can crush the words,” said Congress leader Shashi Tharoor at the Symbiosis International University Literary Festival on Saturday.
The Congress MP also spoke about the Elgaar Parishad case, and the arrest of several activsts and academicians in connection to it. “We have 11 individuals in pre-trial detention only for things they have said… none of them has been accused of violence… but only for the things they have written. From the 83-year-old priest Stan Swamy to Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Anand Teltumbde… merely for their words as not one has been accused of throwing a stone, hitting a person or possessing a gun. So, how will the pen stand up to the sword if the sword is wielded with the authority of today’s government,” said Tharoor.
At the online session, Tharoor also shared that his father was the reason for his enthusiasm for life and his appetite for learning. He also said he has always been a voracious reader as he had grown up in an India without TV and mobile phones, and was an asthmatic child. “The combination of the ailment and the lack of any alternative made me an obsessive reader. I also did not have a need to consult dictionaries as I never had a systematic approach to learning new words, as I never believed in memorising them for their own sake,” he said.
Speaking on the official launch of his book Tharoorosaurus, he said that the title as well as the cover of the book was a concoction of his name, the Thesaurus and the Tyrannosaurus rex.
Arguing that there was rising illiberalism in the national discourse, which was a result of many factors, Tharoor also cited the increasing emphasis on sciences and mathematics over humanities in the education sphere. “Many graduates I have met either wish to study science or want to work in science, that seems to be their requirement and that is what their parents want them to do. The consequence of that is partly also that humanities and liberal arts education disappears from most people’s mindset. Our education system, though it may change with the new National Education Policy, rarely encourages a science student to take a humanities course or balance their mindsets. Science deals with absolute certitudes, it is either this way or that way. There is no gray area. The laws in science and mathematics are immutable. But humanities teaches you about life and ways of thinking that are not immutable, that are actually about the shades of gray and understanding perspective, and that your truth may not be my truth,” he said.
He said the discourse has become much more intolerant, politically. “We have seen the rise of political tendencies and also deal in absolutes, that have exclusion rather than inclusion as their theme… they talk about everyone conforming to a unified vision, worshipping a certain faith in a certain way, speaking a certain language, sharing certain cultural assumptions, thinking of history in sort of a monolithic way, all of this an antithesis of what you would consider a liberal attitude,” said Tharoor.
He continued by saying that he has always considered himself liberal-minded, that he accepts the world around him as it is and seeks to change that which is doing harm to others. “If somebody is doing things, saying things or behaving in a way or prolonging their own ambitions and careers in ways that I do not agree with, it is their problem not mine… (it is) only if they are doing harm to others that I need to judge. That is not the sensibility of those who believe that they have a messianic duty to promote a certain view of the world, of the past, of the present and of the future, and who will want to thrust that view on others who for one reason or other may not subscribe to their way of thinking. Prejudice and bigotry thrive in an environment where absolutes and certitudes are the current scene of conversation and discourse,” he said.
Tharoor mentioned his magnum opus, The battle of belonging: On nationalism, patriotism and what it means to be Indian, coming next month which, he said, will give a holistic view of nationalism, its theory, concept, practice and evolution
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