A controversial member of the Indian parliament spoke to a crowd interspersed with his fans and opposition at the Milpitas India Community Center on Thursday night.
Shashi Tharoor is a member of the Indian National Congress Party and a representative of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, for the Lok Sabha, the citizen-elected lower house of the parliament. His appearance at the India Community Center in Milpitas came amid an ongoing general election, which has pitted his party against the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The discussion was moderated by his niece and former editor of Bay Area's India Currents magazine, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, and focused largely on his accomplishments and support for the Congress party, as well as his criticism of the BJP.
She introduced him as her "incomparable uncle," and lauded his strides toward decriminalizing homosexuality and addressing the lasting effects of British colonialism in India.
Their discussion opened with the topic of British reparations to India, and Tharoor garnered loud applause from the audience for description of British museums as glorified "chor (thief) bazaars," filled with looted Indian artifacts. Tharoor said he's interested in atonement, rather than reparations, because no amount of money can revive the millions of people who died during British occupation.
The two discussed his push for an "inclusive Hinduism" that addresses the needs of marginalized populations in India, and Tharoor spoke out against "Hindutva," a Hindu nationalist ideology espoused by many of Modi's most vocal supporters.
The event was titled "The Paradoxical Shashi Tharoor," as a reference to his latest book about Modi, "The aradoxical Prime Minister." The discussion did not touch on any criticisms of Tharoor or the Congress Party, which have faced wide-ranging corruption allegations in the past.
Tharoor was also charged in 2018 with aiding his wife's suicide four years prior, and faces trial this year. He has vehemently denied the accusations.
An hour-long question and answer portion brought forth more controversial topics, such as the subject of nepotism in the Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi is the son of previous Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, and the great-grandson of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Tharoor said Gandhi is an "intellectually curious" leader who would win "fair and square" in his party due to his merits alone, but that voters are faced with difficult decisions in the current parliamentary democracy system.
"If a guy who has come through nepotism ... actually turns out to be a better leader, would you rather not have him than somebody who came up the hard way and has earned your admiration for that, but is running the country in a way that's dangerous for the country and its democracy?" Tharoor said in reference to Modi, who rose to his position from humble beginnings.
In a closing answer to a question of India's foreign policy, Tharoor said non-resident Indians are a crucial factor in establishing and maintaining a stable relationship between India and the U.S.
"The Indian-American diaspora is a hugely contributing factor. You're not people whom American political representatives can afford to ignore," he said. "Your voices will count in the American process, the American political system, and you are invaluable to [India]"