The god-awful hypocrisy about Shashi Tharoor

April 20, 2010

a version of this appeared in DNA dated apr 21st at

The utter hypocrisy about Shashi Tharoor

Rajeev Srinivasan

After a week of breathless media speculation, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has resigned. This is a shame, and it is a disappointing tale of missed opportunities for all parties concerned.

First, Shashi himself. It has been obvious that the long knives are out for him – a warning to “beware the Ides of April” would have been appropriate. There have been too many silly/manufactured controversies about Tharoor’s posts on Twitter.

The fact that there was media uproar about trivial issues suggested that these were planted in the pliant media. Presumably there is professional jealousy in the Congress party, because Tharoor has not gone through the mill pressing the flesh and building up IOUs in smoke-filled backrooms. He is the quintessential outsider, and Machine politicians simply hate such.

Besides, it is likely there was personal animosity as well. Tharoor is a dashing person, a good writer and speaker, and popular with women. The joke in Trivandrum constituency, my hometown, was that there was no way Tharoor could lose, as he was guaranteed 50% of the votes – every one of the female votes, young or old!

In Malayalam, there is a proverb about all conflict finally boiling down to “kanakam or kamini”, that is, either money or women. Surely there were elements of both in the flap over the cricket team that led to Tharoor’s resignation. There was the mysterious Sunanda whom Shashi had been squiring around Delhi; and the matter of the free equity she got in the team, for value that was not obvious to the casual observer.

Having been acquainted with the Tharoor family for years I believe Shashi would be offended if someone tried to bribe him. Nevertheless, an impression has been put about that Tharoor’s alleged wife-to-be has been given money in order to influence Tharoor. This is unfortunate and it doesn’t stand to reason: why would someone as smart as Shashi hurt his political career doing something as blatant and stupid as this? The obvious conclusion is that he was framed. Shashi has been crudely smeared. Fortunately, this is not the last we will hear from him – he’s too good a person to keep down.

Next, the Congress party. Did it suddenly become the absolute paragon of virtue? There are the small matters of Quattrochi’s ill-gotten gains, and the vast amounts allegedly squirreled away in numbered Swiss bank accounts, which the Congress resolutely refuses to investigate. But it’s quoting scripture when it comes to poor Tharoor?

In any case – although I realize this is a bad question – exactly how much money was at stake? A piddling Rs. 70 crores or so! There are serving cabinet ministers who have been accused of siphoning off thousands of crores in a spectrum auction, or in dubious overseas transactions using Participatory Notes. There are the Congress MPs caught on camera bribing opposition MPs in 2008’s infamous vote of confidence, but they all got off scot-free. There is an election commissioner whose boss wrote to the government recommending that he not be not be given any office with any responsibility.

Not one of these people has been asked to resign until their names were cleared in investigations: they have brazened it out. The only person who was sacrificed was Natwar Singh. It is quite likely that he was made a scapegoat to protect others – I wonder if it is the same with Shashi Tharoor.

There is a sinister possibility – that Tharoor was getting rather too popular for his own good. There is an axiom in the Congress party whereby non-Dynasty people have a glass ceiling. As soon as someone is viewed as a threat of even the smallest kind to the Dynasty scion, well, he is cut to size. Maybe Tharoor’s very popularity – 700,000 Twitter followers – was his bane.

Third, the opposition. I have no idea why the BJP and the Communists got their knickers in a twist about Tharoor. When you have bigger fish to fry – people who have severely damaged your parties’ fortunes through hook and by crook – why are you doing a hatchet-job on Tharoor? He is not even an ideological Congresswallah, and might possibly have been persuaded to switch horses as the Congress’ fortunes diminished. Lost that chance.

Finally, the citizens of Tharoor’s constituency. Instead of standing by their MP – after all, he is certainly more appealing than all the other candidates put together – the good citizens of Trivandrum have either been indifferent or have been secretly enjoying their schadenfraude. Wake up and smell the coffee, it’s your constituency’s loss!

All in all, a tragic situation. The Foreign Affairs ministry is notoriously bad at negotiation, and to lose the one person there who is on first-name terms with most world leaders is not exactly a good thing. I hoped Tharoor would stay on. Maybe he can be rehabilitated after clearing his name?


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