"No Mention, Concoction": Shashi Tharoor On BJP's 'Mangalsutra' Charge

The Thiruvananthapuram MP doubled down on his party's charge that the NDA is seeking 400 seats because it wants to change the Constitution.

Mr Tharoor said the Congress spoke of an X-Ray as a diagnosis.

Hitting back hard at the BJP's allegations that his party's manifesto speaks about wealth redistribution and an inheritance tax, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has said that the ruling party is talking about the document even without reading it and every charge levelled on this front is "completely concocted by its propaganda machinery". 

Speaking exclusively to NDTV on Wednesday, the three-time MP and candidate from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency also doubled down on his party's charge that the NDA is seeking 400 seats because it wants to change the Constitution, his differences with Hindutva and how the BJP has hit a ceiling in terms of its vote share in Kerala. 

The BJP, led from the front by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been consistently saying that the Congress manifesto speaks about taking people's money and jewellery, including 'mangalsutras' - a sacred ornament in Hinduism symbolising that a woman is married. On some occasions, the PM also said that the Congress will conduct an X-Ray of people's homes to get to their possessions and that these will then be redistributed, including among Muslims. 

When Mr Tharoor - who was also part of the manifesto committee - was asked about this, he rubbished the allegations and said there is no mention of wealth redistribution or an inheritance tax in the document. 

"Where is the word economic redistribution in the manifesto? I am on the manifesto committee, there is no such phrase in the manifesto. Every charge the BJP has applied is completely concocted by the BJP's propaganda machinery. They have talked about people snatching gold and 'mangalsutras'. There is no reference to any of this. They have talked about the inheritance tax. There is no reference to any of this. None of these issues are even discussed, by the way, in the manifesto committee," Mr Tharoor 

The MP conceded that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had spoken about an X-Ray but said that didn't mean going to people's houses and checking their cupboards. The X-Ray, or socio-economic caste Census, is to reveal what's going on inside our country. This, he said, is important because every state government and central government gives or withholds benefits depending on caste.  

The socio-economic caste census, he said, will help correlate what people are earning with their caste affiliation. If a correlation emerges between Dalits and poverty, for example, he said, the government can have targeted policies. 

"My argument with all of this is that this is a process that will have to be embarked upon. It is not, at this stage anything more than a diagnosis, an X-Ray is used for diagnosis. The prescription has not been made until you've done the diagnosis. Why is the BJP inventing an imaginary prescription of wealth redistribution and ascribing it to the Congress... If you object to the diagnosis, tell us why," he said.

'No Religious Quota At National Level'

On the Prime Minister asking the Congress to declare there will be no quota for Muslims based on religion, the senior leader said the manifesto is at the national level and, at that level, there has never been a quota based on religion for any community. He said some states, like Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have classified Muslims in some categories as other backward classes (OBC).

"That is something that has been non-controversial in those states. Why the Prime Minister wants to make a bogey of it, we don't know, because this is a national election, it is not a state Assembly election... But this is not a federal policy, not a Union government policy. And our manifesto is written for the Union government. We have not mentioned this anywhere," he emphasised.

Change Without Consensus?

Joining his party's attack on the BJP's "ab ki baar 400 paar" slogan being a ploy to amend the Constitution by getting 400 seats for the NDA, Mr Tharoor claimed four candidates from the alliance have said as much on different occasions. He said all constitutional amendments so far have been consensus-driven and such a big number is not needed for that.

Claiming that the figure is a fantasy now and the BJP has stopped talking about it, he said 400 would only be needed if the BJP intended to do things no one else in the Lok Sabha would agree to. 

Pointing to the alleged "weaponisation" of central agencies and "whitewashing" of those who have joined the BJP, among other examples, the Congress leader said, "What is more worrying to me right now is that they (the BJP) have been violating the spirit of the Constitution already, while seemingly adhering to the letter of it."

'Vote Share Not Increasing In Kerala'

Addressing talk of the BJP doing better in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the party has been making a concerted push, Mr Tharoor said its vote share in his state has not been steadily increasing.

"They went from being about a two or three per cent party at the beginning of the century to about 12-13 per cent party in 2014, and they have stayed at that level because taking the state as a whole, averaging it all out, it comes to 12-13 per cent in 2014 and 2019. I don't think it will be much better in 2024," the Congress leader said.

"If you were to look at individual constituencies, which is probably arguably the strongest constituency in Kerala, where they have come second twice, they hit their peak at 31 per cent. In fact, I think they were 32 per cent in 2014 and 31 per cent in 2019, which is down, and they are certainly going down from that in 2024. So I think the BJP has hit the limits of its appeal in Kerala largely because we are a society that has been, so far, immune to this communalism contagion," the Thiruvananthapuram MP argued.

'Opposed To Hindutva'

Mr Tharoor claimed this BJP government is the first in the history of Independent India that has not had a single Muslim MP in either house throughout this term and has not had even one Muslim minister for any portfolio. "Even the minority portfolio is being handled by somebody from the majority community now," he said.

As a practising Hindu, the Congress leader said he is opposed to the political doctrine of Hindutva. "What is sad to me is that people are showing intolerance and bigotry in the name of a faith that is anything but intolerant and bigoted. So my critique of Hindutva is from within Hinduism," he said.

The MP also said that it is not true that senior Congress leaders don't want to contest Lok Sabha polls and that the criteria for giving tickets has been winnability.