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Tharoor was made a sacrificial lamb

By Aseem Chhabra
April 19, 2010 11:55 IST
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Aseem Chhabra reacts angrily to Shashi Tharoor's resignation as a Union minister.

Yesterday a good, honest man was made a sacrificial lamb on a stage packed with politicians with skeletons in their past, hugely wealthy businessmen, movie stars, suggestions of sexual scandal, gossip material churned out by the media, and the popular sport of cricket that time and again gets tainted by allegations of wrong doing.

Shashi Tharoor's resignation as a minister of state is a shame for India just when the nation is inching towards being accepted as a global power and a true democracy.

The facts and the murky details related to the relatively new Indian Premier League of cricket will be debated and discussed until hopefully some form of truth will emerge. This week's Tehelka has a detailed, in depth article that examines what appears to be the truth and gossip in the very public battle between Tharoor and IPL's chair Lalit Modi. But none of that matters right now.

Tharoor's resignation was disappointing, but also expected. In less than a year that he has served as a junior minister, he has been again and again mired in controversies -- issues ranging from his staying in a five star hotel while his official residence was being renovated, to his insistence on being on Twitter and the official remarks he sometimes made, such as that Saudi Arabia could play a role of a 'valuable interlocutor' in the dispute between India and Pakistan.

Each time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his government and Congress President Sonia Gandhi backed Tharoor. But obviously their patience was running thin. The IPL scandal is way too ugly, and Tharoor's support for Rendezvous Consortium that managed to win the bid for the team in Kochi became too much of an embarrassment. The scandal will not go away, but the Tharoor controversies were mounting up and so his exit makes the government look clean.

But what was Tharoor's recent crime? Everything he did seems to be in the open, including the business stakes of Sunanda Pushkar -- the woman he is currently dating -- in Rendezvous Consortium. No one has shown any impropriety on Tharoor's part. He was never involved in any illegal money transactions -- at least it has not been proven so far. He said he supported the consortium's bid in the interest of Kerala, the state he represents in the Lok Sabha. He may have made errors of judgment, but why would anyone have a reason to disbelieve his statement?

As a New Yorker I have closely followed Tharoor's career at the United Nations, and as a writer and a novelist. He joined politics in India, not just because his career and life was at a crossroads after his unsuccessful run for the secretary general's post at the United Nations.

Tharoor joined politics, because India needed someone like him -- an educated, bright, articulate and erudite thinker who -- as I had hoped -- would never be accused of being corrupt or taking a bribe.

The Indian political system needed a man like Tharoor with his secular views, as has been reflected his writings. I was confident that his politics was going to be correct.

There are some other bright, young and educated faces in Indian politics, names like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, but most of them had earned their positions through their family connections -- their late fathers's loyalties to the Congress party and the Gandhi family.

Unlike these young men, Tharoor, 54, was an outsider. He left India years ago to pursue his education and returned after having spent more than half his life abroad. He transformed himself into a politician from Kerala in an organic manner, contested election on the Congress party ticket from Thiruvananthapuram constituency and he won with a huge majority.

Most Indian Americans dream of returning back to their home country. The liberalisation of the Indian economy made it easier for a lot of Indian Americans to return back, taking up cushy corporate jobs or launching businesses in the mushrooming IT sectors in Bangalore or Hyderabad. Some returned home to launch micro credits companies, assisting the poor, while others went back to join India's exploding media companies -- as journalists and managers. But hardly anybody went to India to join politics.

Indian Americans may clamour to attend public receptions hosted in the honor of politicians visiting from India, but most still view the politics in India a messy field, mined with often corrupt, often uneducated, often crass and crude individuals who believe that they have the divine right to lead its people. But in winning the election, Tharoor chartered a path for Indians living abroad to connect with their mother country.

Last year a journalist friend repeated an assessment he had heard about Tharoor -- that while he was doing fine as a junior minister, he had to continuously watch his back. He had enemies within the ruling coalition and the Opposition, people who were envious of his sudden rise to power and his visible persona.

A few months ago I started following Tharoor on Twitter, getting daily updates from him about his meetings with foreign leaders as well the official functions he attended. He never gave away State secrets in his tweets, and often his postings were dull and uninteresting. Yet he was the only Indian politician so openly connecting with people -- sharing drab details of his daily life as a minister.

There is a reason why among celebrities and well known personalities in India, Tharoor leads in the count of followers. He has over 700,000 followers on Twitter. Stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra lag behind with less than 300,000 followers each. Tharoor's followers thrived on his daily, sometimes hourly updates. It was out in the open -- just simple, clean reporting.

Indian political scene is laden with corruption, improprieties and crimes committed by politicians from just about every party and ideological frame of mind. The criminals who were responsible for the massacre of Sikhs in New Delhi and other parts of India following Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984 have yet to be brought to justice. The same is true of those responsible for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. There is a criminal investigation on against L K Advani -- the Bharatiya Janata Party's 2009 candidate for the post of prime minister -- for his role in instigating the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The Bofors kickbacks scandal with connection to the late Rajiv Gandhi has never been resolved.

It is shameful that India -- a democracy, with a thriving media -- has not found quick, simple solutions to walk beyond its recent ugly past. Instead a man like Tharoor, a breath of fresh air in Indian politics, has been forced to resign for committing no crimes. It is a sad state of affairs.

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Aseem Chhabra