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My dilemma with Shashi Tharoor

By Rajeev Srinivasan
April 13, 2009 15:50 IST
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Many readers may be aware that Shashi Tharoor, former UN under secretary general and well-known writer, is a candidate for the Lok Sabha from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, which happens to be my hometown. This puts me personally on the horns of a dilemma, because while I see reasons to support Shashi and wish him well, I am also concerned about some of his views, which directly oppose certain things that I believe are important for the nation.

First, my reasons to support him. We have been acquainted for years, and exchange e-mails on and off. When I congratulated him by e-mail on his candidacy for Parliament, his response was (I paraphrase) 'Thank you, even though we don't see eye to eye on many things.' His sister and her family have been good friends of mine for an even longer time; and clearly sentiment and personal loyalty suggest that I support Shashi.

But leaving personal issues aside, there are larger questions. Why on earth is Shashi Tharoor going through the undoubtedly unpleasant experience of getting down and dirty in the hustings? Most gentlefolks in India (the equivalent of the Bengali bhadralok, or in the inimitable and entertaining vocabulary of the Communists, the petit bourgeoisie or moorachi in Malayalam) have a justifiable horror of politics, and most Indians would not be caught dead running for elections.

And for good reason. It costs an absolute fortune to run a campaign, and that means you have to raise funds from unsavoury characters who will extract their pound of flesh should you actually win. Secondly, there is a certain social stigma: It is assumed that all politicians are criminals and out to make money through all means fair and foul (preferably foul), and you are not someone the average Indian would like to invite home to dinner. Frankly, we look down on politicians.

To some extent, we consider politics fundamentally beneath our dignity. Just as many of us would never deign to wash our cars -- that is the job of the local boy who washes everybody's car, and besides, the neighbours would be scandalised if you were out there in your yard, hose in hand -- we do not want to sully ourselves with politics. It gives you the creeps, the idea of going out there and pressing the flesh and bussing snot-nosed babies and posing for photo-ops.

Unfortunately, this has meant that progressively the profession of politics -- arguably the most important of professions because the havoc they wreak with profound and long-lasting effects on the entire country, just look at what Nehru has wrought -- has perforce become out of bounds for people who think of themselves as honest, ethical, educated, or fundamentally good people. The void has often been filled with genuinely bad people, almost always unethical, under-educated, often criminal, sometimes gross sociopaths.

Of course, the honest, ethical, educated and fundamentally good people who have abjured politics then complain that they are being governed by and bossed around by unethical, under-educated, criminal, sociopaths. True enough, but yatha praja, tatha raja: It appears our abdication of responsibility has resulted in the nation suffering from a kakistocracy -- rule by the most undesirable people.

Well, into this morass steps Shashi Tharoor, PhD in foreign relations. What a welcome sight: A highly educated person (there are very few PhDs in any Parliament in the world), a brilliant writer, one who has moved at the very apex of diplomatic circles. Shashi doesn't need to be in Parliament, but maybe the silent majority of us need people like him to be there. Maybe there is some faint hope that if more non-traditional politicians enter active politics, things will actually improve in India.

This is the same hope I felt when I heard that Captain G R Gopinath, the founder of Air Deccan, is contesting as an independent candidate from Bangalore. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Mallika Sarabhai, a very distant relative of mine by marriage, who is contesting from Gujarat. She seems to suffer from a James Dean syndrome: A rebel without a cause, just for the sake of being a rebel.

It is not clear how many from the professional classes are contesting, but I hope the trickle becomes a flood, and that large numbers of people who are not career politicians take this huge step. Maybe it will galvanise and energise the famously apathetic Indian middle class to finally step in and stop the rot that has overtaken our polity. It is true, as has been demonstrated by Barack Obama recently, that it is possible to turn cynical people into believers and evangelists.

That is a good thing all told. In Shashi's case it is self-evident that he could have got a Rajya Sabha seat without breaking a sweat. The fact that he convinced the powers-that-be in India to go all out in support of his long-shot bid (long-shot only because the UN always chooses someone from a small country) for the UN secretary general position is an indication that he is in the good books of the Nehru dynasty. It would have been easy for Shashi to go the Rajya Sabha route, and position himself for a stint as foreign minister should the Congress return to power.

But there is a catch -- as the Eagles once declaimed, 'every form of refuge has its price.' A Rajya Sabha MP-turned-minister rules at the whim of the dynasty, and has little room to maneuver. This has been abundantly clear in the recent past. Thus, I believe Shashi decided to go through the hassle of the Lok Sabha just so that he can prove that he has an independent existence, and the ability to actually win an election, which is more than can be said of several other worthies -- you know who they are.

And, to be honest, Shashi would make a good representative of the Indian State. At the very least, India would finally have a person who could talk on equal terms with the likes of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- someone who is comfortable with bigwigs in the political world. And besides, all of us can actually understand what Shashi is trying to say, which is more than can be said of some others -- incoherent and with impenetrable accents -- that I could name.

In addition to his masterful English, I have heard him speak fluent French, and I am sure he can manage a few other tongues, including his brave and improving Malayalam. Besides, Shashi would cut a decent figure among other diplomats: He looks good in a well-cut suit. The average Indian foreign minister looks like a bumbling rustic in that ridiculous invention, the Nehru jacket -- which, alas, accentuates their standard attributes: pot-bellies and chicken-legs.

Come to think of it, Shashi would make a good President for India. The ideal president would be an author -- my sentimental favorite was the brilliant fabulist, the late O V Vijayan, who was also an insightful political cartoonist. Shashi is a writer capable of surpassingly good prose, a good raconteur, and all-round a good representative for the country; and he would shine in comparison with gray apparatchiks who have held the presidency. But of course, that is a post for someone in the twilight of their career, and Shashi is still young and vigorous. It makes sense for him to go for a more operational position.

So that is the good part. What about the things that make me cringe? First and foremost is Shashi's party, the Congress. The Congress party is an absolute albatross around India's neck, a millstone of mythical proportions that has degenerated into an abomination of the nationalist entity that spearheaded the freedom struggle. Almost everything that is wrong in India can be directly attributed to the party, its dynasty-ism, and its status as Stalinist incubus.

Second, I am disturbed by some of Shashi's own opinions. He has done his share of what I consider Hindu-bashing. This distresses me, because I am sure he knows -- based on his experience with the UN high commissioner of refugees -- the extent of damage done to Hindus in the subcontinent. The wholesale massacres and ethnic cleansing of millions from the then-East Pakistan in 1971, the forced migration of 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits from their ancestral lands in 1989, the virtual disappearance of Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh -- the victims of oppression have been overwhelmingly Hindu.

Today, Sri Lankan Hindus are dying because of the reign of terror unleashed by a Christian-run terrorist group, the LTTE. Which, incidentally, is eerily similar to the so-called Maoists who terrorise Nepal and 180 districts of India: Circumstantial evidence suggests that they are aligned with and possibly funded by Christian missionaries, and that they owe their allegiance not to China, but to Christian cults.

In Malaysia, Hindu activists have protested severe repression, including forcible conversions and the destruction of scores of temples. In Fiji, there are frequent news reports of desecrations of Hindu temples. The United Progressive Alliance government has never supported any of these overseas Hindus, even though they are keen to ask for their money.

Shashi makes it a point to clarify that he sympathises with the Palestinians. But why does he refuse to be equally vocal in support of Kashmiri Pandits, rotting away in refugee camps 20 years after they were ethnically cleansed? Why does he write a book called Riot in which he squarely blames Hindus for religious riots when the record shows that practically every riot in India has been instigated by the belligerence of Semitic faiths, including massacres and assassinations and burning people alive? And that those who suffer in these riots are predominantly Hindus, given that they not armed, and also given that when the government offers succour, Hindus are always the last to get any benefits?

Furthermore, it would be naive of someone with Shashi's intelligence to not see that he is striking at the very root of what makes India a viable nation. I have always been amazed at this 'Kalidasa Syndrome' -- the ability of the Indian chatterati to cut off the branch that they are sitting on. For, it is only because of Hindu tolerance and Hindu values that India is a halfway-viable country.

If this Hinduism were to vanish -- which the Congress and its governments have consistently done their utmost to do -- India would be far worse off. This is not conjecture: we have in front of us what happens to a territory when Hinduism is forcibly exterminated -- that is Exhibit A, Pakistan, the quintessential failed State and epicentre of terrorism, possibly the worst place in the world to live in, certainly if you are not of the ruling class, a Punjabi Mohammedan army officer in the ISI.

Surely, Shashi does not want India to be Pakistan?

The existing system of governance in India is completely antagonistic to Hindus, and seems to be intent on destroying Hinduism. For instance, there was the deliberate and premeditated murder of Swami Laxmananada in Orissa. This has been attributed to some apocryphal Maoists and dismissed as inconsequential, whereas it is clear that those who had the motive -- and who had attacked him previously -- were Christians.

Similarly, Hindu institutions are damaged with no compunctions. But they dare not speak about a Semitic entity. This was demonstrated in Kerala when the Devaswom minister (an abomination, by the way -- what happened to separation of Church and State?) kept making rude pronouncements about Hindus and Hindu temples like Sabarimala, and everybody thought this quite amusing. But when he made some mild criticism of the Christians, he was forced to eat his words and apologise abjectly.

Three weeks ago, the Adi Sankara temple in Kalady, Kerala, his birthplace, suffered a grievous attack: thieves broke into the sanctum sanctorum and stole a precious emerald Siva linga, which is valued at over Rs 1 crore simply as a gem, and is priceless as a religious artifact. Is Hindu religious sentiment hurt by this? Of course. But did a single English-language newspaper even report this? Of course not. But they thunder 'oppression' if the authorities ask that a Semitic cemetery be moved to widen a road.

Speaking of Adi Sankara -- one of the most important figures in Hinduism, and possibly the person most responsible for its revival in medieval times – Kochi's airport was built in a village just a couple of miles away from Kalady. But when it was suggested that the airport should be named after him, the response from some was that it should be named after the beatified Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, alias M Teresa. Exactly what does the Albanian MT have to do with the area? Nothing whatsoever. It was a red herring. But a 'compromise' was 'worked out' so that the airport would not be named after anybody. The very legitimate Hindu claim was negated by an absurd counter-claim; moral: Hindu sentiments do not count.

This sort of automatic knee-jerk derision for Hindu concerns has seen its nadir in the Rama Sethu case and the unbelievable calumny heaped upon the religion by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a partner of the Congress.

In all these cases, the Congress has always sided against the Hindus. The Congress government in Andhra Pradesh is openly supporting proselytisation, with the chief minister's son-in-law himself holding huge rallies to convert Hindus to some Christian cult.

This is secular? Of course not, it is openly communal and anti-secular. It is apartheid, oppression of a powerless numerical majority -- exactly what used to happen to blacks in South Africa.

Shashi, and his children, went to college in America where there are no rules that forbid the majority Christians from owning colleges. But in India, the government actively hinders majority Hindus from owning educational institutions. Similarly, in America, where Shashi has spent most of his life, there is only one set of laws for all people, no separate laws for people of certain religions. Why would Shashi accept a uniform civil code in the US, but not the same in India?

I wish Shashi Tharoor would, in his columns and fiction, and in his political career, actively support the native civilisation of this land and recognise the value it has for the nation and the world.

There is one more thing. The Thiruvananthapuram constituency has been victimised by neglect and outright hostility in the recent past, especially by the Congress' imperious Tamil allies. A major development project to build up Vizhinjam as a container port has been stalled by UPA Transportation Minister T R Baalu, who thought Vizhinjam would hurt his pet port, Tuticorin.

This is ridiculous: Tuticorin is in the Bay of Bengal, and however many Sethusamudrams Baalu digs up, there is little trade there -- whereas a large part of the world's shipping transits the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Straits of Malacca; nobody is going to make a detour to Tuticorin just to oblige Baalu's pipe-dreams. And Vizhinjam is the closest port in India to the shipping lanes in the Arabian Sea; it is an ancient port, and could well be the historical and storied Ophir.

Similarly, Thiruvananthapuram's airport -- a major international gateway because of Gulf traffic -- has been downgraded to be an adjunct to Chennai's. Tamil imperialists consider Kerala to be a colony of Tamil Nadu. Another UPA minister, R Velu, minister of state for railways, said in so many words that no part of the railway network in Tamil Nadu could be controlled from Kerala, and thus he took away a lot of Palakkad division's territory and created a new Salem division.

But then why is all of Kerala's rail mileage controlled out of Chennai as part of the Southern Railway zone, and why isn't there a Thiruvananthapuram-based zone for the Malabar/Konkan coastal railway?

Thiruvananthapuram lawyers have been agitating to get a bench of the state high court set up there. Thiruvananthapuram has the dubious distinction of being the only state capital in the country that lacks a high court bench. There has been a peaceful struggle for about a year, but to no avail.

What is Shashi going to do for the constituency in all these cases?

Thus, while I think Shashi Tharoor is a great guy, and I am delighted about his candidacy, and I wish him the best of luck, I would like to remind him that he needs to represent all his constituents, not only the non-Hindus. He needs to be more sensitive to Hindu concerns. And he needs to represent the interests of the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, unlike all the other gray individuals who have come and gone as the local MP. If he can do this, and as a sensible and decent person he should be able to, then he has my wholehearted support.

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Rajeev Srinivasan