AT THE OUTSET of Why I Am a Hindu, the politician and writer Shashi Tharoor—a member of the Nair castes, and so a Shudra—writes that the book is in large part a response to the “intolerant and often violent forms of Hindutva that began to impose themselves on the public consciousness of Indians in the 1980s.” I am also a Shudra, part of what are now officially called the Other Backward Classes, and I wrote my book Why I Am Not a Hindu in response to the rise of Hindutva as well.
My book was published in 1996, in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the struggle over the Mandal reservations. It was widely opposed by Brahminical forces, including Hindutva groups, and earned me many threats. No mainstream publisher agreed to carry it, and the book was finally published by Samya, a Kolkata-based imprint of the publishers Bhatkal and Sen. Kolkata was a safe place for such a book in those days, with West Bengal ruled by the Left Front. Bhatkal and Sen also had an imprint in Mumbai, but if the book had been published there, with Maharashtra ruled by an alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, it would have faced the book-burning squads notorious in the state at the time. Why I Am Not a Hindu was not widely promoted, but as word of it spread the book became a bestseller.
Why I Am a Hindu is on its way to becoming a bestseller too, but under very different circumstances. It has been put out by a prestigious publisher that has not been shy with publicity. Tharoor’s argument is that Hindutva goes against what he sees as “the spirit of Hinduism,” but no Hindutva forces have raised any protest against the book, even as they are ascendant across much of the country.