Monday, April 19, 2010

For Sashi Tharoor

I rarely take serious note of any political event in India. Definitely not seriously enough to write a blog about. And never have I blogged about any one single person centric event. But this time with this forced resignation of Sashi Tharoor, I am seriously perturbed.

First of all I know Sashi Tharoor only as much any lay man knows from his websites and public statements. But I have known about him since a long time from he used to be the under-secretary  general to UN and later executive assistant to Kofi Annan. More because as far as I remember he happened to have studied at the St.Xavier's Collegiate School Kolkata where I studied from Class 7 to 12. If my memory is not failing me badly I remember my english teacher there Mrs.Ranjana Bhattacharya telling me that Sashi Tharoor was in her class. I also happend to be in Ranjana's class quite a few times. A very charistmatic english teacher who started off by giving me the near failing marks in the beginning and scaring me to death with her principles but ending with giving me the highest scores in my final english exams. Getting almost full marks in her english correction scheme is not a cake walk. 

The basic point that is far from clear is, what is the crime? In no allegation that I hear people putting up against him is there a crime! I see no victim! He apparently "influenced" Sunanda Pushkar's getting a stake in the IPL Kochi team. So what? What prevents me from helping a friend of mine get something as long as I am not breaking the law or infringing into the rights of some more able candidate?

There is no clear allegation of crime against him as far as the news reports go. I suppose he probably being unfamiliar to Indian politics became just an easy target.

I believe our home minister Chidambaram is a very knowledgeable and respectable man and he has also stated that Sashi Tharoor didn't benefit from the IPL bid. This statement obviously has no legal value but is definitely important.

It seems more to me that it is hurting the deprived sensibilities of some people to see an "elite" in a high post. If this results in me being labeled an "elitist', so be it.

There is little doubt that very few people in the Indian parliament have the level of know-how of international politics as Sashi Tharoor. Goes back to his extensive involvement in the past notably with the peace processes in Geneva and Yugoslavia. It is hard to imagine a person with such extensive international experiences in the Indian government.

Now isn't the cost that India incurred in losing his know-how quite substantial?

More importantly, why are the people who have something against Sashi Tharoor not filing some police case against him and take to proper legal route if he is suspected for some crime? Why just create a ruckus in the parliament and cause personal embarrassment? 

Deplorably it isn't unusual in India for a technical problem to be turned into a personal mud slinging.
Even in research institutes during scientific discussions!
Unfortunately Sashi Tharoor hasn't been spared either.

And this isn't the first time. His tweeting has wrongfully been repeatedly pulled up against him many times. We as a nation don't seem to really believe in freedom of expression and all this hue and cry about maintaining secrecy about government policies is just arcane psychology to say the least. Wonder when people will realize that paranoid secrecy in the functioning of an administration is the perfect womb for corruption.

In India one is free to have an opinion as long as it agrees with the person higher up.

His comment about not enjoying a holiday on Gandhi Jayanti was definitely a good point and didn't obviously go down with the section of people who mysteriously feel that holidaying is a great way to show respect to a person. I think if not anything Gandhi was at least quite a hard working guy. We even give holidays for voting!

Here we see not just causing personal embarrassment to a person but a signal to the intellectual class of the population. "Stay Away".  The entire Sashi Tharoor episode casts a deep shadow on the sensibilities of the Indian parliament and its sensitivities about the upper educational echelons of India.

There seems to be a systematic (deliberate?) disconnect between every Indian administration body and the intelligent educated Indians.

It in someway comes as a very little surprise since quality education never really was in the priority list of the Government of India. It has always been focussed on opening "more" institutes than to build even a single best-in-the-world institute. It continues to live under the self-defeating delusion that quantity can substitute for quality.

We as a nation are still far away from realizing that education is NOT about being able to turn knobs of some machines or read and write or even being able to compute some Feynman diagrams! Education has to beget ability to have researched opinions. Now you cannot expect people to get more educated and yet have no opinions in the public. Civilization is essentially characterized by the extension of the means by which every opinion can get heard in the world and resulting in more and more sophisticated public discussions. Democracy by discussions is an idea championed fiercely by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. We have moved from speeches to posters to books to web-pages to blogs to Orkut to Twitter. The Indian administration has to realize that they cannot live under the delusion of wanting hordes of educated people without opinions!

Then let the government invest more money into making A.I and robots and not on schools, colleges and universities. They might just then have the country they dream of, lots of intelligent machines working day and night and producing results but will have no opinion whatsoever. Robots will not blog or tweet.

This episode further deepens the fatal chasm that exists in India between the intelligent educated people and the administration systems.  We are just making it threateningly impossible or people in the former class to step into the second. May be its the way it is designed to be.


Amitabh Mitra said...

My dear Anirbit
A great aricle, enjoyed reading it.
Tell me one diplomat who continued to be a successful politician. Tell me one army officer who succeeded in politics. I accept whatever you said about Shashi but believe me he could never have been a politician. Politics in India is a different ball game. Nobody here needs experience in international diplomacy and nobody loves a minister who refuses to calm down. The downfall of Tharoor is his own making; he never enjoyed a great rapport with his boss Mr. Krishna nor with Sonia Gandhi. Amartya Sen can be a world renowned economist but can never be a great finance minister. Our former President had to move out because he was never a politician, just a great scientist.
My apologies, Anirbit if I have hurt your sentiments but this happens to be the truth. We love people like Rahul Gandhi, Amar Singh and Stalin because they can run this country by speaking the local language, by merging with the dalits and the disadvantaged and not by twittering. Jyotiraditya Scindia also worked at the United Nations and has impeccable credentials but remains a shadow minister and speaks out only when he is asked to do so.


Praveen Thivari said...

Though I agree with your posts other aspects, I like to say tht I would differ from u on the topic for which u wrote this post.

Well, Let me just give u an example for why I think tht wat Mr.Tharoor has done is wrong.

Consider this, there is a big function going to b held in ur city and that is going to be a big event. Wit lots of popularity surrounding it. Now many people want to try their chances of getting involved in the event.(May be they are not least interested in the event but in the popularity rise it will bring to them).
Many have applied for being participants,but the entries are limited.
Incidently U are a BIG man in ur city, wit lot of influence. Ur friend approached u wit the proposal tht he wanted to get an entry into the event but because it has limited entries, he is finding it difficult to get in.
So, wat do u do?
U reach out to him and assure him, tht u would certainly help him.(After all, A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND IN DEED). So, u approach the manager of the event and settle things,so tht ur friend gets in. U r a happy man bcoz U thought u hv helped a friend:-)

But the problem is, u have forgotten tht there were many others who wanted to b in tht event. And by helping out ur friend by ur INFLUENCE, u hv just denied an fair entry of someone else(Who may b more competant than ur frnd).

Isn't it Unfair?

Same has happened with Mr.Tharoor. I agree, he belongs to the goup of very few politician in our parliament who hv actually some knowledge of INTERNATIONAL affairs. And tht is the precise reason why I would not want to him to b invovled in some petty things. And that too after being in such a ministerial post, he should hv restrained himself from tht.

Just think wat would happen if tomorrow every politician starts to exert their INFLUENCE, to get some of their loved one's work done. Will u still hold tht It isn't wrong to use the influence?

Mr.Tharoor may belong to an more educated group of politicians, but wat is the point if he too resorts to some silly things instead of thinking of bigger issues.

Frankly, wen I heard tht he was contesting for Loksaba seat, I was very much hopeful of some radical changes to be brought into sys by him. But so far hv not seen any worthful. May b because everytime he puts out something he is attacked left and right.
(Ofcourse, the fact tht he contested the election for the LS seat and didn't get directly nominated into RS, itself is a good thing!)
Still would like to see him in future (now tht he lost his ministrial poat) understand the politics and present himself to the nation in better way, certainly not as the one who cannot argue with his BOSS, so he puts his frustration out on twitter!!!! :-)

Anirbit said...


In principle I agree with your point. If indeed Sashi Tharoor has caused such a thing then proper legal action should be taken.

But here is the debate between knee-jerk reactions to malign someone and taking proper legal course.

All questions of him resigning etc would come once say police starts investigating into the case. If all those do-gooders posing to be paragons of justice are so concerned then why don't they go file a case and let law take its course?

Why cause public humiliation to a person based on stories and rumours?

This is just cheap politics with no larger intent.

If Sashi Tharoor would have to understand politics the way you seem to state and if he has to take efforts to make himself more "presentable" then it would be just a waste of him and he should better go back to the UN job and quit Indian politics. Why waste your life on a job which doesn't let you use your talents?

It would be so spineless of him if he would have to buckle under pressure and try to make himself like other smooth talkers.

Its the Indian politics and the mass which has to mature up to accept Sashi Tharoor and not the other way.


Its again the same thing I was talking in my reply to Praveen. The state of the Indian politics as you put it is true and it is hard for someone with refined sensibilities to make a cut here.

The question is whether this is a wanted situation?

I would stick my neck out to say that it isn't.

We need to have a political atmosphere which is more inviting and congenial to thinkers and scientists and knowledgeable people rather than to just people who can make tetra-pack speeches in local Indian dialects harping on pickled for centuries rural sentiments.

I hope the Sashi Tharoor episode pushed Indian democracy up the maturity and sophistication ladder.

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