Tuesday, April 20, 2010

L'affaire Shashi Tharoor

Of probity and provincialism

Nobody who is caught with his hand in the till ever admits to his guilt till proven guilty in a court of law; all sense of decency and honour, dignity and respect, evaporates and yields space to belligerence followed by maudlin sentiments of hurt innocence. So also with the disgraced former Minister of State for External Affairs who once famously tweeted to me that he was proud to be associated with the Congress because of its “tolerance” and “liberal values”.

That was in response to my tweet (not the one on 'cattle class' travel which led to his first taste of controversy!) pointing out his irreverent comments about Mrs Indira Gandhi and the Congress’s first family (“Had Indira’s Parsi husband been a Toddywalla rather than so conveniently a Gandhi, I sometimes wonder, might India’s political history have been different?”) in his book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond. This was soon after Mr Jaswant Singh’s unceremonious exit from the BJP following the publication of his book Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence and Mr Tharoor was all over Twitter, patronisingly gloating over a veteran politician’s fall from grace in his party.

For all its ‘tolerance’ and ‘liberal values’, the Congress has not been particularly tolerant about Mr Tharoor’s extra-ministerial activities or liberal towards his cavalier attitude. When push came to shove, the Congress disowned him and distanced itself from his interest in promoting T20 cricket in Kochi. It would be in bad form and poor taste to gloat over Mr Tharoor’s current plight, but it would be perfectly in order to point out that arrivistes in politics should resist the temptation of excessive preening.

It is not the least surprising that Mr Tharoor, whose Dubai-based fiancée was a beneficiary by way of free ‘sweat’ equity worth Rs 70 crore from IPL’s Kochi franchise deal (hours before he was given marching orders she offered to return the shares which only served to implicate him) should have pretended outrage, flown into a temper with journalists, belligerently asserted that under no circumstances would he resign from office, only to be told to put in his papers last Sunday evening. He has now predictably resorted to mawkish claims of victimhood.

Reading out a statement in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Mr Tharoor declared, though not for the first time, “My conscience is clear and I know that I have done nothing improper or unethical, let alone illegal… I am deeply wounded by the fanciful and malicious charges that have been made against me.” We have heard similar remonstrations of innocence before by those accused of compromising their integrity.

He could have, however, spared us the claim that he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers to uphold the “highest moral traditions of our democratic system” and to “avoid embarrassment to the Government”. He did not resign voluntarily when unsavoury details (including those of his role which went well beyond that of a neutral ‘mentor’) of the IPL’s Kochi franchise scandal surfaced in media, which would have been the honourable thing to do; he was told to go by his party bosses. Had he resigned immediately, or at least offered to resign, rather than arrogantly cavil at the suggestion that he should do so to uphold the “highest moral traditions of our democratic system” he now cites, his reputation might have been tarred but it would not have been lying in tatters today.

Nor is any purpose served by his informing the Lok Sabha that he has “requested the Prime Minister to have these charges (against him) thoroughly investigated”. Whatever else may be the Prime Minister’s shortcomings, and he has many, he is not known to be a man who acts in haste. Neither is Mr Pranab Mukherjee known for arriving at a decision without carefully scrutinising and considering all available facts. A formal inquiry should be conducted into l’affaire Shashi Tharoor, but irrespective of its findings, which cannot possibly controvert the facts of the case, the smooth-talking former Minister would do well to bear in mind that in politics perception matters more than reality and the past is often, if not always, swamped by the present. Politics is a harsh world far removed from the rarefied confines of the UN headquarters in New York.

It would, however, be churlish to deny Mr Tharoor the right to defend himself and clear his name; others with a far lower integrity quotient have been given that opportunity. After all, as he has eloquently pointed out in his statement in the Lok Sabha, he has “a long record of public service unblemished by the slightest tint of financial irregularity”. That he served the UN under Mr Kofi Annan, who will be remembered as a Secretary-General who fetched immense disrepute to the organisation and whose son was found to have benefited from UN contracts, is inconsequential. Although it could be asked as to whether his conscience troubled him every time media reported about Mr Annan’s, or his son Kojo’s, dubious deeds. Of course, the perks of office can have a numbing effect on the conscience of the most honest person, as can the loaves and fishes of office.

What is reprehensible is Mr Tharoor’s attempt — there’s nothing covert or sly about it — to provoke provincial resentment against his sacking from the Government. No doubt he has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, but he was a Minister in the Government of India, not the Government of Kerala. As an MP, he is tangentially responsible for minding the interests of his constituency as his primary job is to participate in parliamentary debates on national affairs and help frame laws on national issues. As a member of the Union Council of Ministers, his remit was to mind India’s foreign affairs.

By repeatedly referring to Thiruvananthapuram and Kerala, the “ethos of Kerala”, the people of Kerala (with whom he had no association at all during his growing up years in Kolkata and Delhi and the many decades he spent at the UN) he has tried to link high issues of ministerial probity with low politics of provincial identity. The unstated though clear message he has sought to send out is that an elected representative of Kerala is being unjustly penalised. That’s balderdash and Mr Tharoor, more than anybody else, knows it.

It’s strange that a suave, accomplished person with an impressive track record of serving an international organisation with distinction, and whose last tweet sent out at 11.16 pm on April 16 reads, “U folks are the new India. We will ‘be the change’ we wish to see in our country,” should fall back on the discredited ‘old’ politics of provincial pride and prejudice in his time of trouble. That’s as distressing as his fiancée benefiting from a cricket franchise deal that he ‘mentored’.

(My blog on the mess called IPL/BCCI will appear soon. And no, I am not a fan of Lalit K Modi nor do I fly the flag for IPL.)

[This appeared as the main edit page article in The Pioneer on April 21, 2010.]


Dr.sonal said...

an apt description of the whole affair..
thank Goodness!u didnt mention u r hurt that tharoor hasbeen removed and india has lost d best person blah blah..like his supporters..

i liked his style&free methods like being communicative thru twitter but not happy abt the fact that even a finger has been pointed at him fr a shady deal..

Unknown said...

nicely written

accdg to my knowledge Ms. Indira Nehru was married to Faroukh Ghandy, whose surname was changed to Gandhi on insistence and/or advice of M.K.Gandhi

Suresh Nakhua

Ajit Joshi said...

If Shashi tharoor was so transparent why didnt he tweet he has a (girl)friend who is doing great work for kochi, that they have given her free equity. Ajit Joshi

Anonymous said...

You are not a Lalit Modi supporter. But you are a BJP chamcha, and that the whole world knows. Thanks for this trash.

Sanghamitra said...

Sir, Mr. Tharoor's vanity and self confidence is amazing! Does he think that only he is smart and people in his constituency are so dumb that they are going to fall for his pro-Kerala excuse?

Anonymous said...

I think ST shud have stood by his toddywala comments abt the congress family and joined the BJP instead. Unfortunately another maverick bites the bullet. The happiest according to me are the old baniyas of the congress. They feel less threatened now.

Also to clarify an above comment, firoze Gandhi had a khan father & ghandy mother & he adopted the name Gandhi days before his marriage with Indira. Not that it makes a shit of difference.

Anonymous said...

Good post describing the whole Tharoor-Modi fiasco.

Tharoor is an idiot. It was stupid of him to interfere in the IPL auctioning to help his lady friend, that too when he leads a very public life on twitter. I believe that his excessive use of twitter led to his downfall. If he had maintained a low profile, he would have easily got away with this like any other corrupt politician.

I am waiting for your post on mega scam master L K Modi.

Unknown said...

this episode has an uncanny resemblence to a michael douglas movie called "The American President". probably it was an ispiration foe ST. i acknowledge that ST has all the knowledge in the world but as they say"“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”.
this whole war ( ST VS LM) was being fought on the cyberworld. Tharoor supporters turned it into Bnushism - u r with us or with LM. opposing tharoor has become supporting LM. to disagree is my right and to question a neta my duty. if ST was so nice why didn't he gather 100% votes in the elections he faced. i have a few questions here:
1. who is sunanda pushkar and what is her credentials to merit this equity.
2. is cricket the only way to develop kerela?
3. why wasn't sunanda mentioned in speech he gave yestrday?
4. why did she give up her equity for tharoor?
5. had LM not given away the truth wouldn't they still be good friends?
6.what as a un executive have been ST's contributions to india?
7. do looks matter in india'n politics now?
one last message to all tharoor loyalists - as a citizen of india it is not only right but also my duty to question my neta.

Ragu Kattinakere said...

It is unfair in equal measure to deny a "politician", some of his cards, including regional identity. If he is in harsh reality of politics, and in front of all sorts of accusations and judgments, it is his fair prerogative to use all tools in his amour. Many of my type still have some hope. It is just that, when and if accusations become true, we have to soon start wondering whom to trust.

uthamanarayanan said...

well balanced article , neither an onslaught nor euphoric about him ,but pointing out what is required in the context , even touching upon what transpired with regard to Mr.Kofi Anon under his nose.This new wisp of fresh air as claimed by his tweeters are seeing now in black and white how stupendously it is possible to take up the sophisticated way of money making in the garb of regional pride and belonging with nuanced oratory and the temerity of defending when asked to go out of the cabinet .Still he wants us believe as if he is innocent .Thank God of one more example of how crude people of good education and upbringing can become in the present day politics.Integrity is a word in dictionary can be torn off as it is not relevant anymore in present day living.Ha ha ..... he is a role model to youngsters.

Anonymous said...

Kanchan - you need education on Sweat Equity. I don't understand what you mean by "free 'sweat' equity". Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat_equity -- it may help your breed.

Ranganaathan said...

Well said about the episode, Tharoor thought by evoking linguistic sentiments he would get the support of the State, but Kerala proved different. This shows his alienation with the grass root. Well as mentioned he has all along been in news for other issues not involved in his capacity as MOS. Tharoor is not aware of Cong history, the way they dump people. Or probably he should sought advice from Karuna - TN for this crisis, which the PM does when he is in crisis. Waiting for the IPL/BCCI notes, that is the main issue

A.K.B said...

Shashi Tharoor had to go, there is no two ways about that. Let things be clarified by the probe. Not too many people will shed a tear for him, if the allegations are all true.

I do not see any need to draw a regionalist angle to this though.
There is a certain Narendra Modi claims that anyone who criticizes him is actually anti-Gujarat, which seems to go un-noticed and is even hailed by people sympathizing with him.

Makes me wonder how polarized all our views tend to become the minute people get associated with a particular party or ideology.

Sudhir said...

Bang on target! I had one more point that I'm making at a lot of forums online. Shashi Tharoor has asked us to "be the change". Yet, when he knew that the IPL commisioner, who is supposed to act unbiased, was acting in an partisan manner, ST did not bother to take up the issue with the IPL Governing Council. Instead, he too resorted to politicking around.

His aim might not be cleaning up of IPL, but what kind of an example is he setting by not trying to change the murk and asking us to "be the change" ?

I will always admire ST for contesting the elections, instead of taking the Rajya Sabha route. However, this whole controversy was entirely of his making. As much as his fanboys on the net scream "India does not deserve Tharoor", the facts that you have laid out in the blogpost are threadbare, and the only counter to these facts will be mere rhetoric.

- Sudhir

DRAMANON said...

Agree with most of ur points,however i would like to differ on couple of points. First, it is very obvious that whether SP had given up her equity or not,all of us would have declared her guilty anyway. Analogy of this wud 2 ask somebody "have u stopped beating ur wife?". Secondly its not fair to say that working in UN office in NY is a much simpler job than politics in India. what have politicians done so great- making India 71st out 102 countries surveyed 4 corruption by UNPAN. The fact that our politicians have corrupted the country so much justifies the need 4 'different breed of politicians' and this is what made ST connect wit ppl. Now after this incident, as u rightly pointed out, perception might change however the idea still remains the same.

Mathews K said...

My blog on the mess called IPL/BCCI will appear soon. And no, I am not a fan of Lalit K Modi nor do I fly the flag for IPL....

Your last line sir, gives you away..

You surely had to do a disclaimer right? Hypocrisy and the heights it can achieve!

Anonymous said...

Who believes in what Pioneer publishes, except the Sangh Parivar? Just turn your biased eyes to Karnatake. It stinks.

sunaath said...

The Congress selected Tharur, thinking that he would be an intellectual facade of the Party. He proved to be the disasterous face!

mokrish said...

I am waiting for your blog on IPL/BCCI. I fondly hope you will bring all the objectivity under your command to explain the roles of every politician involved - including special people like Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley. I hope you will be permitted to do so.


Anonymous said...

So just because Kanchan is a BJP supporter, ST's corruption is justified. What a logic. I really am amazed with lot of people just supporting a particular party or person irrespective of their deeds. Although Kanchan is a BJP supporter, he had never been in lacking of his criticism of BJP in some cases, eg: women's reservation.

Anonymous said...


And we know you blog because because you can't talk - your lips are so firmly affixed to the feet of the Prince of the Congress


Unknown said...

I follow your tweets...the problem that has been overzealously simplified is just a sad reminder that indian politics will continue to suck. all old hyenas will continue to fleece the indian public, get their mothers and daughters onto the %age brigade...while we..the erudite class..will discuss bout tharoors fall from grace. we boast of fine ministers like karunanidhi (is vindictive towards any or all temples), sonia gandhi and mr singhs (they got to be clubbed together for the kind of spine that they have) continued appeasement of Pakistan/US, Laloo Prasads CattleGate..the list is endless. Compared to that Tharoor was a small fry. I dont think I would live to see the day when our politics would be something to be 'talked' and 'admired' about!

Anonymous said...

Why Karnataka? whole of india stinks under sonia raj. You are now frustrated with pioneer becuase they are not sold out to sonia yet like rest of the media?

Manik Ghoshal said...

All I can say is that all the IPL 'kickbacks' and 'skeletons in the closet' are giving India a bad name. The prestige of IPL and cricket has been badly tarnished, and the Pakis would be especially pleased about the whole affair. I bet there are big write-ups in their news papers because of public interest. I also realize now why Mr Mallya didn't want the 'lovely Rose petals covering the heap' to be disturbed. Because it’s going to stink a lot!

Raja Mitra said...

While you have referred to Shashi Tharoor time and again bleating about his pristine track record and unblemished past, check out the post below together with the links that clearly establish that Tharoor's past was neither pristine nor without blemishes by any stretch of the imagination.


pulkit mishra said...

I think Mr. Tharoor took the wrong job.In the novel "The Professor" there is a line that says,"No man likes to acknowledge that he has made a mistake in choosing his prodfession"; but Mr Tharoor should introspect why he went astray.