Faced with backlash on social media for equating freedom fighter Bhagat Singh with JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Monday explained that the point he was trying to make was how Kanhaiya Kumar is Marxist like Bhagat Singh and Kanhaiya, like the freedom fighter, is in his 20s and shares same passion for the country.
Tharoor on his part clarified that he did not intend to equate Kanhaiya with Bhagat Singh
Addressing JNU students at the campus on Sunday, Tharoor had compared Bhagat Singh and Kanhaiya Kumar in response to a question from the audience and said, "Bhagat Singh was a Kanhaiya".
"It was a girl in the audience (at JNU) who mentioned Bhagat Singh, and I said that Bhagat Singh was a Kanhaiya by which I meant he was a young man in his twenties with Marxist ideas and beliefs who had a great passion for the motherland and Kanhaiya had the same qualities ...it's nothing more than that," NDTV quoted Tharoor, a parliamentarian from Kerala, as saying.
Tharoor went on to slam the media for focussing on his "throwaway" remark.
My JNU speech: https://t.co/i78785FTTf Typical that media focus isn't on substance but on a throwaway remark in response2an audience comment
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 21, 2016
Tharoor was speaking on JNU and Nationalism outside the administrative hall of the university which has been the centre of protests ever since three students were slapped with sedition charges over an event during which anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.
Tharoor's nearly 40-minute long speech was dotted with historical anecdotes and personal experiences and he repeatedly quoted personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru and Everlyn Beatrice Hall to drive home the idea of tolerance and diversity and their importance in India.
Tharoor's comparison of Kanhaiya Kumar, facing sedition charges, with Bhagat Singh, drew strong criticism from the BJP, which accused the former Union minister of insulting the freedom fighter.
The BJP took strong exception to Tharoor's comment, saying it was an insult to the "great freedom fighter" as well as all patriots of the country. "Bhagat Singh went to the gallows chanting 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' while fighting for the country's independence. Comparing Kanhaiya Kumar with Bhagat Singh is an insult to the freedom fighter and all the patriots. Shashi Tharoor should say if Kanhaiya is Bhagat Singh, then what are Rahul and Sonia Gandhi," BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain said.
Taking a dig at the ruling BJP over its stand on the JNU row, Tharoor on Sunday said nationalism is now decided by whether one can say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' or not. He said people should have the right to choose what they believe is correct and still be tolerant of others' ideas in a democracy.
"Today nationalism is decided by whether or not one can say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'. I am happy to say it, but should I also oblige everyone to say it? "Our Constitution gives people the right not to say it just as it gives people the right to say it as well. I will choose when to say it and that's democracy," Tharoor said.
Virtually disapproving Tharoor's remarks, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari on being asked, told reporters, "There has been only one Bhagat Singh. There is only one Bhagat Singh".
Rejecting the topic itself in entirety, BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said equating Kanhaiya Kumar with Bhagat Singh was yet another attempt by Congress leaders to gain "cheap popularity by insulting our martyrs".
"Nowadays Congress leader have begun insulting our martyrs for cheap popularity. Bhagat Singh went to gallows hailing Mother India while we all know what Kanhaiya is accused of.
You can praise anybody you wish but you should not insult martyrs," he said, noting that even High Court's conditional bail order for the JNUSU student spoke about "infection" of anti-nationalism.
With inputs from PTI