Thursday, April 15, 2010

SHASHI THAROOR: MAKING A 'DIFFERENCE'

Let me say what mainstream media would have screamed had the man involved had not been a Congressman and, more importantly, one of the many PLUs (People Like Us - the media that is) who thrive and prosper, some at India's expense, primarily because of the manner in which the media protects, promotes and, in some cases, pays them to lead the good life when they should actually be looking for a hole to bury themselves in: the familiar stench of corruption is emanating from Shashi Tharoor, India's Minister of State for External Affairs.

As per records quoted by Indian Premier League (IPL) boss Lalit Modi, it is more than evident that Tharoor is no innocent, selfless 'mentor' who has put Kerala on the cricket map by helping a consortium buy a new IPL team for Kochi. At least one individual whom Tharoor admits to 'knowing well', Sunanda Pushkar, has been given undilutable sweat equity worth approximately a whopping Rs 75 crore. As per reports doing the rounds, based primarily on Tharoor's very public appearances as minister with Ms Pushkar, she is his lady love and is set to marry him. She has, quite expectedly, denied that she is acting as a front for Tharoor, as has he, feigning righteous rage. Only the very naïve believe that she is the only one through whom Tharoor will benefit; others involved too may have coughed up what is a straightforward 'cut' for services rendered by him to get their bid through.

Shashi Tharoor, a Stephanian, may have left Delhi and India when he was 19 and acquired impressive credentials in the US and UN. But, to take off from a cliché, the crafty desi politician - in the mould of the nearby badlands of Haryana and UP - could not be taken out of him. Still an infant in Indian politics, given what he has manifestly so cleverly 'achieved' in an absolutely 'dry' ministry in so short a time, one can only wonder what he would have done had he been given a 'wet' one. Even Dilip Cherian, a fellow Keralite, has been forced to admit that Tharoor has displayed political naiveté in the sordid Kochi IPL franchisee saga.

In 2005, the then Foreign Minister Natwar Singh was exposed for being a petty thief for helping his son make around Rs 75 lakhs through a dubious oil deal with Iraq. Natwar too was one of media's PLUs. Initially he stoutly denied any wrong doing whatsoever on his part, just as Tharoor is now doing. But soon, despite his best efforts, he found himself thrown out of the government because it was impossible to cover the trail.

During those days, Vir Sanghvi had jumped to his defence. Natwar, Sanghvi wanted the nation to believe, was an honourable man because he was well-read, had a well stocked library, had devoured a large number of books, even authored some, and also had an 'outstanding' career in the Foreign Service. It was almost like saying that the real crime was not what Natwar had done but the fact that it had been alleged that an Oxbridge was corrupt, exposing the uncomfortable truth that, shorn of the sophistry that enabled guys like him to remain distant from and above Bharat, as far as integrity was concerned, the Natwars of the world were no different from the Laloos and Reddys. Sanghvi is at it again, a bit mildly this time, though. He has tweeted that if Tharoor goes, so should Modi! See how cleverly the spotlight is being shifted from Tharoor, and his offense sought to be obfuscated, by all kinds of hyphenations? The latest is that Lalit Modi and Narendra Modi are working together! No wonder many believe that, as far as corruption at the very top is concerned, journalists and politicians are like Siamese twins.

When the Tharoor story first broke, the reaction of Rajdeep Sardesai was almost similar. The manner in which he questioned Lalit Modi on CNN IBN made Modi, not Tharoor, look like the villain for exposing the latter! How is Modi's motive even relevant here? The stark issue is that a minister of the Union government has manifestly done something that can only be described as disgraceful and unacceptable. Journalists should have been focusing on that and asking for Tharoor's resignation. Instead, some of them are still trying to make it appear as if nothing really serious has happened. What is new that Tharoor has done, they ask, that other politicians have not been doing? Who knows, may be some guys from the media too have done a Tharoor-Sunanda, or are planning to, to get their teeth into the very lucrative IPL or similar circuit!

It is more than evident from the interview that Shashi Tharoor gave to Barkha Dutt that when he got into the 'mentor' game, he figured that his real role would remain under wraps because of the confidentiality clause about the identity of the owners of a team; since no details of the ownership of other teams had been made public till then, Tharoor reckoned that the 'hamam' effect would ensure that the extent of his involvement and the 'pay-off' of Rs 75 crore worth of sweat equity to his girl friend and possibly future wife would not become public. That, and not naiveté, emboldened Tharoor to misuse public office.

Can anyone believe that Tharoor did not know why those guys approached him to be their 'mentor' (notice also how he has re-defined the meaning of yet another word!)? Would they have looked his way had he not been minister? As per his own admission, in the consortium that includes Sunanda Pushkar, there are some people "I haven't even met or am aware of". Why, then, did he agree to 'mentor' a lot whose identities, much less credentials, were not known to him? Was it because Sunanda was from the beginning a part of the consortium or was it only after they agreed to bring her on board on Tharoor's 'suggestion'?

What exactly did Tharoor's 'mentoring' translate into in a competitive bidding process? Modi's allegations and Tharoor's own admissions make it clear that he used the weight of his appointment during the bidding process to influence its outcome. That was his only real role to help a group of people, most from outside Kerala, who wanted a slice of the IPL pie. And as it turns out, Tharoor's lady love was rewarded obscenely for the value she is supposedly going to bring to the franchisee with her unheard-of-even-till-now expertise in event management etc!

Ah! Tharoor must surely love Kerala, a state that he probably would not have even looked at had he not been compelled to return to and seek respectable resettlement in India following his failure to become UN Secretary General.

Surely, Tharoor, with his vast experience in the UN, will know only too well how lobbying and influence works, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, like it happened with his own bid to head the organisation. Did he write that almost demeaning piece in Time magazine in praise of Sonia Gandhi because he actually worships her or was it to win her favour and himself a ministerial berth? Just before he formally joined politics, he also wrote columns in The Times of India, some of which were skillful exercises to further his own political goals by projecting how India needed more politicians with his kind of background, his in-depth, though distant, knowledge of this country, his type of accomplishments etc, and not the groin-scratching, nose-digging, non-English-speaking, corrupt lot that India has in plenty. He never was a naïve babe in the woods, as he wants us to believe now.

Tharoor may have perfected the art of saying in 140 words or more of sometimes convoluted prose what can and should be expressed in 140 characters or less. But his skill with words, his command over the English language - the master key that still opens many locks in India - his 'erudition' and his Natwar-like arrogance cannot wash off what he has been caught with on his hands this time.

A couple of months back, in response to questions on Twitter about why he had joined politics, he had tweeted, briefly for once, that he had done it "to make a difference". BRP Bhaskar had then tweeted back asking, "difference to whom?" Tharoor has not yet answered that question. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for India, Lalit Modi has.
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3. ND Tiwari: much more than a sex scandal