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Tharoor will make a great leader

By M K Bhadrakumar
April 19, 2010 15:59 IST
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M K Bhadrakumar, the distinguished former diplomat, offers an unusual perspective of Shashi Tharoor's ouster from Dr Singh's government.

I begin on a personal note. I was the chairman of the Left Front's campaign committee that opposed Shashi Tharoor's candidacy in the Thiruvananthapuran Lok Sabha constituency in the parliamentary election last year.

I have disagreed with his thinking and writings on foreign policy issues. But I have never met him and I am merely a curious bystander like lakhs of Indians who mutely watched the Shashi Tharoor saga painfully unfold through the past fortnight.

To begin with, to say that Shashi Tharoor's fall has a Shakespearean ring about it might sound banal. But a media report cited a text message that he sent to one of India's top television journalists expressing his shock at how he whom Tharoor all along counted as a dear friend too pounced on the IPL scam to stab the wounded minister at the penultimate hour of the sordid drama.

Tharoor apparently told him to never again contact him. He banished him from his circle of friends. His words could as well have been: 'Et tu Brute? Then fall Caesar!' Those were the famous words of Julius Caesar when he saw his close friend Marcus Junius Brutus among the conspirators in Shakespeare's play.

Evidently, Tharoor thought banishing a friend for betrayal signified the ultimate punishment that he could mete out. It revealed something of Tharoor's personality.

Everything for him lies in the domain of personal networking. Tharoor did not care to build up a systemic network that would have acted as a safety net in stressful times such as the present one. He was a quintessential soloist.

Of course, he was once again wrong. In the Delhi trapeze, one doesn't operate at dizzying heights without a safety net below. Betrayals are not at all uncommon in Delhi.

It comes as an amazing revelation that Tharoor who is a party animal par excellence and is on first-name basis with the political class (equally of the Right, Left and Centre) was so much out of his depth about the intense feeling of envy that he aroused among the Delhi elites.

Tharoor is a better-than-average novelist and ought to know the frailties of the human mind. He should have had the poetic imagination to visualise what stormy emotions he evoked among his envious onlookers as he began striding the Delhi elitist circles with such swagger.

Simply put, his glamorous professional and intellectual background, his brilliant wit and charm and, of course, his meteoric rise in politics combined to do him in. And all the while, he thought they were his great assets.

This extraordinary 'Mallu' who stormed into the centre-stage of the Delhi durbar was too much of an eyesore for the city's elites. From day 1, a systematic vilification campaign has been under way to bring Tharoor down.

Tharoor is a bit like Santiago Nasar in Gabriel Marquez's famous novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold. No one really cares whether Nasar actually took Angela Vicario's virginity. Are we to believe that those who throw stones at Tharoor today are the paragons of virtue beyond all reproach? How many people are left today among our townspeople's elites who were never ever smitten by love and indiscretion?

Or for that matter, who is authorised to define the subtle intersection of human values regarding crime?

On a broader plane, can any political party in India today claim to be above board in its financial dealings? How did the Indian politician get the resources to spend so lavishly during his election campaign last year? Who financed him and what is the quid pro quo?

Faced with a similar predicament as Tharoor's, any other professional Indian politician would have insisted that unless a formal inquiry came up with an indictment of his conduct, he would stay in office. Even the stalwarts of the Left nowadays insist on the due process of law taking its course.

Instead, Tharoor quit. That is because he knew he owed just about everything he attained in Indian politics to a single person -- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- whom he knew a long time ago and there was nothing more to be said or expected when that person expressed the wish that he went away quietly.

Tharoor, arguably, did the prime minister a favor by quitting. How many fronts that an increasingly besieged prime minister can handle at the same time?

Ironically, if Tharoor had belonged to any other party in the UPA than the Congress, Dr Singh might have been better placed to protect his protege.

To compound matters in the present case, any realistic prospect of success in Congress party's agenda to get into the driving seat of the IPL -- unseating such formidable personalities like Lalit Modi and Sharad Pawar -- vitally depended on making a great moral issue out of Tharoor's conduct.

There is an old African saying that when elephants fight it out, the grass below gets crushed. A battle royale for commanding the IPL is now all set to begin. The IPL is the gravy train of this century and it is no small matter for even a ruling party to take control of its steering wheel.

Tharoor's exit, therefore, became an all-round political necessity. But, alas, it is nonetheless a big loss for Kerala. He was a rare phenomenon in Kerala politics.

His impressive majority in the 2009 election was possible only because thousands of Communist supporters crossed the divide and voted for this attractive Malayali "Congressman".

Tharoor essentially turned out to be a consensus candidate of the Congress and the Left supporters.

The Thiruvananthapuram constituency witnessed such a thing happen only once before -- when V K Krishna Menon, hounded out of the corridors of power in Delhi, trekked back to his homeland and won the erstwhile Trivandrum constituency in 1972 as an Independent candidate.

Without doubt, Tharoor inspired enthusiasm among large numbers of the urbane voters of Thiruvananthapuram who are fed up with Kerala's mofussil-type politics. They fondly hoped that Kerala politics would inexorably transform under the spell of the sheer cosmopolitanism that this charismatic world citizen could bring in.

Evidently, the bandicoots who ruled the roost in Kerala politics felt uneasy about his appearance in their midst. The sad reality is that out of the elected MPs from this most literate Indian state, there is hardly anyone today to measure up to Tharoor in intellectual sophistication and power of articulation before a national audience or his command of personality.

To be sure, Malayalis deserve better than the vice-like grip of their professional politicians lining up in the two contending phalanx of united fronts, which alternatively rule their state.

The average Malayali is fed up with the charade of 'coalition politics', but he is stuck with it. This is where Tharoor could have made a historic difference. The best hope for large segments of Malayalis is that someone like Tharoor would some day land in their midst to lead the state government and churn up the ABC of established party politics.

They feel infinitely disappointed today.

What can Tharoor do after his exit? Most certainly he should stay put in politics. As Manmohan Singh said, politics has its ups and downs.

As a sadder but wiser man, Tharoor will make a great leader and an outstanding parliamentarian.

In a fashion, his political life may yet be only beginning. Seared by the anguish of the past week's hellish experience, he may henceforth see things and India's political culture in a new, mature perspective. His 'homecoming' may have become complete.

Actually, he should now onward spend much more of his energies on Kerala. All accounts show that the bulk of Malayalis who are not fundamentalists in their party affiliations and are capable of independently thinking through issues, warm up to Tharoor almost instinctively. He has a significant following among Malayalis in his search for 'new politics.'

The treatment meted out to Tharoor is way out of proportion to any offence he may have committed and it happens to be inconsistent with the standards in probity and accountability that the Delhi elites and political class who preach morality have commonly set for themselves.

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M K Bhadrakumar
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