It’s been a commonly held – and cherished – belief of those of us who live in an India far removed from reality that much of the rot in Indian politics stems from the predominance of uneducated, uncouth and ‘unlike-us’ politicians, and that the entry of more ‘people-like-us’ into politics would – almost magically – change everything.
News flash, people…..there ain’t no magic, though it seems there’s been considerable sleight of hand.
Take the good diplomat-turned-conjurer, Shashi Tharoor. He was everything we hoped for in this new breed of saviour-politician that we so desperately craved. Educated, erudite, intelligent, cultured, professional, progressive, independent (in the sense of not belonging to a political dynasty)…..the adjectives could go on and on. We gave him a long rope and looked on with amused indulgence when he used Twitter almost like a policy forum…..at least he could spell twitter correctly, we thought to ourselves. Finally, we tittered, someone of class amongst the cattle.
And then the man goes and does something stupid. He lobbies for a team on the grounds that it represents his home state, and does not disclose that his girlfriend gets a free equity stake worth a very substantial amount of money in the same team. It reeks of quid pro quo, and when this point was raised – albeit by a man who has quite a few skeletons in the closet himself – it seemed the easiest thing in the world to resort to an ad hominem argument. So we had some smarmy aide of Tharoor implying that all allegations made by Modi were false, because – get this – the accuser was charged with drug possession while a student in the USA, and entered into a plea bargain later. Well, we know that. He may be all that you say he is, and more. But there’s a difference between discrediting the man (an easy enough job, when you consider whom we’re talking about) and discrediting the argument. And the fact is, the allegation has not been refuted. It has been denied and then it has been ignored.
Shashi Tharoor denies any impropriety, but has not bothered to explain how his girlfriend –also referred to as his fiancée – coincidentally, some would say almost magically, happened to get free equity in the very team he lobbied for. And why was this very relevant detail not disclosed in the initial protests of innocence? The lady in question claims that the payment was made in lieu of her ‘marketing expertise’, and that she had also been approached by KKR for similar services – something SRK promptly denied. So if it all seems murky, underhand and tiresomely déjà vu-ish, there’s good reason to believe it probably is. And I’m sorry Shashi, but calling your accuser names and questioning his admittedly ambivalent integrity do not make his accusations false. Though one has to admire the neat side-stepping and evasiveness on your part. One can see why you were such a successful UN employee.
Of course, the Congress spin doctors, aided by the usual suspects in the media, have very competently swung this around. By bringing The Other Modi in, they have ensured the debate about Shashi’s impropriety and possible misuse of power and position gets completely sidelined. Because, as we all know, the moment The Other Modi is brought into the picture, it’s all his fault, blah blah blah, from Dantewada to the Iceland volcano, yada yada yada. And so Shashi Tharoor, like so many before him, and undoubtedly like so many more to follow, survives and lives to lobby another day.
Speaking only for myself, though I have no doubt that others share similar sentiments, I think the ‘who’ is more galling in this case than the betrayal itself. Hell, the ‘betrayal’ itself is so commonplace and pedestrian in post-independence India that we would be surprised if a politician did not take advantage of such opportunities. Only in this case, we were hoping to be surprised. I think what we are most upset about is that our fondest hope – the idea that the ‘right kind’ of person in politics would make a difference – has died a very public death. We were hoping that our fantasies of politicians with integrity would be validated by Shashi’s performance. For wasn’t he almost like our own Clean-Sweep Ignatius? And which is why this incident really rankles. Because it tells us that educated or drop-out, social worker or criminal, professional wrestler or professional diplomat, our politicians are all the same. They are well and truly taking this country down the tubes, and there’s bugger all we can do to stop it.
Let’s also take a minute to examine our own biases – whether based on caste, gender or class. Many people panned Mayawati for accepting a garland of currency notes. But are we looking the other way now because this time it is a well-groomed, well-spoken man from the right caste and the right political party who is involved?