- Congress leader Shashi Tharoor spoke amid outrage over controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad.
- He said government has taken "impressive steps" to strengthen relations with Islamic countries.
- He also weighed in on the ongoing debate on the need for blasphemy laws.
Shashi Tharoor on PM Modi: Amid outrage over the controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad by the BJP's now-sacked two functionaries, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said it is high time Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on the "proliferation of hate speech and Islamophobic incidents" in the country, asserting that his silence is interpreted by some as condoning what has been happening.
In an interview with PTI, Tharoor said the irony is that in recent years the Indian government has taken "impressive steps" to strengthen relations with Islamic countries, but that risks being "seriously undermined".
The former Union minister also weighed in on the ongoing debate on the need for blasphemy laws in the country and said he is not a fan of such laws because the history of such laws elsewhere is littered with their misuse and abuse.
"The existence of a blasphemy law tends to encourage both excessive frivolous litigation and mob misconduct by those who take the law into their own hands. I think our current hate speech laws and Section 295A are quite adequate to deal with such misbehaviour," Tharoor said. The issue is of the willingness of the police and local authorities to enforce the law, without fear or favour, against whoever violates it, he said.
"Exemplary action against any and all offenders will have a salutary effect in reducing such cases in future," the Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
Asked about the outrage and condemnation from a number of Muslim-majority nations over the controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad and calls that Prime Minister Modi should have intervened in the matter when the comments were made, Tharoor said, "I believe it is high time the PM broke his silence on the proliferation of hate speech and Islamophobic incidents in our country, because his silence is interpreted by some as condoning what has been happening." "I am sure he (Modi) understands that this kind of divisive rhetoric is undermining his own vision for India's development and prosperity," he said.
Social cohesion and national harmony are a must for any nation to progress and grow, Tharoor asserted. "That is why, in the name of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas', he must publicly call for a stop to such behaviour," he said.
Asked about the impact of the row over diplomacy and foreign policy, Tharoor said the irony is that in recent years the Indian government has taken impressive steps to strengthen relations with Islamic countries, especially in the Gulf.
"That risks being seriously undermined, as the media in these countries is replete with stories about the increasing 'demonisation' of Muslims in our country," the former minister of state for external affairs said.
The BJP had last Sunday suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal after their controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad.
Two persons succumbed to gunshot wounds in Jharkhand capital Ranchi and fresh demonstrations were held in West Bengal's Howrah on Saturday as tension prevailed in several parts of the country, a day after the violent protests against the controversial remarks.
On the protests, Tharoor said section 295A of the Indian Penal Code clearly makes it a criminal offence to outrage “the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India”; anyone who by 'words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of Indians should have been prosecuted by the police.
"I am glad to see that action is being taken, even if belatedly, against those who injected such toxic elements into our national discourse," he said.
Asked about the Congress being accused of peddling 'soft Hindutva' in the past and if the party needs to take an aggressive stance on issues of the minorities such as the row over the comments on the Prophet, Tharoor said he believes the Congress has been clear in its denunciation of this recent incident.
"We believe in an inclusive idea of India and should and must speak up whenever that idea is violated by word or deed -- whoever does it," he asserted.