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Students' dissent gives me hope: Shashi Tharoor on student protests across the country

From Buddha to Ambedkar, dissenters have always been a part of our history and it has a hallowed space in our country, Tharoor said

Their dissent has given me hope, Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor said about the recent student protests erupting across the country, standing resolute against the Government of India's plan to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). He said that the students are on their own and don't need any politicians to lead them because they are all talking with conviction and from their heart.

"Democracy is a process, not an event, and it is definitely not just about the elections. Democracy requires continuous civic participation. It is an ongoing conversation, the government alone cannot have all the answers. Just because they win an election doesn't mean they get a free pass and do whatever they want to do," he said.

"From Buddha to Ambedkar, dissenters have always been a part of our history and it has a hallowed space in it. These days we have internet shutdowns and have the worst record in the world, from five months of communication blockade in Kashmir to five days of blackout in Assam to five hours in Delhi. What happened there is a disgrace but that it happens at all is deeply shaming," he stated. The government's answer to dissent is to demonise these voices with titles likes 'anti-national' and 'tukde tukde gang'. "It is because they can't handle and can't respond to dissent that they use such labels," he said, also recalling the FIR that was slapped on the 49 celebrities who wrote to PM Modi about reducing lynching cases in the country. "The government has got an uncomfortable relationship with dissent," he said.

Expressing dismay at the police's action in Jamia and AMU, and their indifference in JNU, Tharoor said that demonstrators are showing faith in their rights. "If they were anti-national, would they sing the national anthem at the protests?" he questioned. "You can be one thing and a lot of things. When I went to America I told them, 'You can be a melting pot but India is a thali, we don't have dishes that necessarily mix with each other. They are all in their separate bowls, but without the bowls, the thali would not be complete. That's the point," he explained.

Also taking the example of Swami Vivekananda, Tharoor stated how he also preached that it was important to not just tolerate but accept, "He said, 'This is what I believe is the truth and you believe some other truth. But I accept you and you accept me'."

Speaking about the CAA-NRC-NPR, Tharoor said that the country should accept all persecuted minorities and not limit it to just a few religions. "How can we leave persecuted Muslims out?" he asked. He said that it is impossible to hold a nationwide NRC when the vast majority in the country doesn't even have their birth certificate.

When questioned about Congress' initial interest in the NPR, Tharoor said that the party only wanted to keep a population census and then, when Aadhaar seemed like a better deal, they went with Aadhaar. "It was to make the transfer of benefits more easy by bypassing middlemen and fake claims," he said. But he averred that it was simply impossible to do a survey like the NRC here in India because we are a country where even a minister struggles to get his certificates.

When asked by TNIE's Editorial Director, Prabhu Chawla, why we are hesitating to tell the government our father's name when we have no qualms of saying it to the US government, Tharoor said that it was unfair to demand documents from a country that struggles for basic certificates but if the government was willing to believe those who say they are citizens from just what they say, then it would be okay to keep a register, "Maybe in 25 years, when we are capable of recording every single birth in the country, we can think about this. Right now, we are not in the situation to demand certificates from people."