The Various Faces of Shashi Tharoor

Excerpt from a recent news report about Shashi Tharoor's utterances while on a visit to Saudi Arabia

"Saudi Arabia has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even more of a valuable interlocutor...” Ministry officials were aghast when news filtered in that Tharoor’s statement had begun doing relentless rounds on television channels back in New Delhi. Attempts were made to verify the authenticity of the soundbyte and alas, it emerged that it was true that Tharoor had indeed made yet another of his throwaway remarks without exercising the kind of caution diplomats are famous for. Ironically Tharoor was not even slotted for a speaking part. At a reception in the Indian Ambassador Talmiz Ahmed’s house journalists were requested to move to a corner where a few chairs had been laid out so that National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon could highlight salient aspects of the Prime Minister’s visit. The junior Minister appeared magically, seemingly out of nowhere, and seated himself. As journalists gravitated there a foreign ministry official requested the NSA to proceed for the interaction. Menon took one look at the Minister and gathering journalists and cautiously preferred to remain in the diplomatic foothills. He said, “When he (Tharoor) is there, let him proceed.” Soon journalists were asking the junior Minister’s opinion which he freely gave in plenty. And mostly he mouthed diplomatic inanities.

Soon journalists began to drift away, which paid off for the journalist with the most patience. When Tharoor used the word “interlocutor” his day was made. As the story spread like a virus the wait began for the inevitable denial or spin. It came late in the afternoon but by that time most journalists had consulted online dictionaries which reaffirmed that an interlocutor is indeed a middleman or a man who enters a conversation in the formal sense. The joke doing the rounds was that the junior Minister had managed to steal the thunder from a prime ministerial visit, the first one in 28 years."

Here's another excerpt from a piece on Tharoor:

"I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the school/college debating team or something and still hasn’t quite got out of that. He comes across as precisely such a type. This reporter had an experience with Shashi Tharoor where my former editor played — what’s that word again? — an unofficial ‘interlocutor’, much as it pains me to trivialise that loaded word. I had done a story (Sour endnote, Outlook, October 16, 2006). It recounted the way Nick Burns, then undersecretary of state for political affairs, sometime before he withdrew from the UN race, conveyed to a petulant Shashi that the US was not going to support his candidature to the post of UN secretary general and the US explanation to the then foreign secretary Shyam Saran: that the US assessment was based on leadership qualities required to head the UN, the implication being this was seen as somewhat lacking; moreover the US wanted someone from outside the UN system. When the story broke, Shashi began hounding my editor Vinod Mehta with your-reporters-should-check-their-facts-and-do-their-homework kind of mails. Unfortunately for him, the other weekly that comes out from Delhi also, simultaneously as it were, carried the same story saying more or less the same thing but languorously over two pages. The episode told me that Shashi Tharoor has too thin a skin. I’m afraid it is not a good quality for holding public office. Now that he is part of the ministry of external affairs he no doubt must have called up the relevant files to check for himself what the ministry was reporting on his chances back then. But for the record, no denial came from the ministry of external affairs; none came from the Americans either.

People are not infallible. This applies, I’m afraid, even to Shashi Tharoor. This newspaper I remember carried a review of a book Shadows Across the Playing Field: 60 Years of India-Pakistan Cricket wherein Shashi Tharoor wrote an essay. Our reviewer ruefully pointed out, “We are told on the inside flap of the book that he (Tharoor) has “encyclopaedic knowledge” of Indian cricket which makes it even more surprising that he has committed so many factual errors in his essay.” I looked for a number, naturally. This is what I found: “As for the errors in Tharoor’s essay, they are too numerous to list here.” I don’t remember Tharoor reflex-shooting us a missive saying your-reviewer-must-check-his facts kind of mail. It is good that our junior minister has friends in the media. I saw a story the other day saying something about a “storm in a v-cup”. Now I have heard of a teacup, A cup, B cup and C cup, but never v-cup. I was sufficiently intrigued. It turned out to be a sobering English language lesson on one of the lesser known usages of the word ‘interlocutor’ which the minister must have no doubt forwarded to those in need of the lesson; again I must clarify I didn’t get a copy from the minister; but funnily enough, the hoary paper’s editorial leaned in a slightly different semantic direction while castigating the government for “overtly drawing Saudi Arabia into the India-Pakistan equation” and “needlessly” opening itself “to the charge of diluting the principle of bilateralism” that governs New Delhi’s engagement with Islamabad."

An Embarrassment called Shashi Tharoor

Consider the following:

1. Tharoor says that he gave up a coveted U.N. assignment to become a Minister. The fact of the matter is that after he lost out in his bid to become Secy. General, his position became totally untenable and his options were to either hand in his resignation quickly or be booted out by the new regime of the incoming Secy. General, Ban ki Moon, against whom he contested.

2. For over a year before he surfaced in India, suddenly became a Congressman and became a junior Minister, Tharoor was 'engaged' as a 'consultant by a Dubai based consortium. The ineffective Indian mainstream media, which thrives on instant sound-bites valid over 1 or 2 news cycles, has never ever quite investigated who this consortium exactly was and what, if anything, Tharoor was doing for them. Given the recently unearthed fact that Ms. Sunanda Pushkar, apparently Tharoor's latest bride-in-waiting, is a Dubai based 'businessperson' whose last husband allegedly 'died in an unfortunate accident' isn't there a case at least for this aspect to be checked out thoroughly?

3. Ms. Sunanda Pushkar and the consortium holding the IPL Kochi franchise have suddenly started making a series of bewildering claims. These include assertions that Ms. Pushkar holds significant shares by way of 'sweat equity' - a nice euphemism for freebies - owing to the expertise she brings to the table (shouldn't the people get to know a little more about this hitherto untapped and unrecognized expertise of Sunanda Pushkar) and that the IPL supremo Modi offered a hefty bribe to them to give up the franchise. Surely Ms. Pushkar's expertise must be tremendous for her to be gifted with anywhere between 18 - 20% of an expensive franchise, for free.

4. Tharoor now claims that he has been a mentor and an advisor to the consortium and has had nothing else to do with the IPL Kochi franchise. Isn't Junior Minister a full-time job by itself and does mentoring include calling up the IPL Supremo and pressurizing him to keep the name of Ms. Pushkar under wraps, as publicly claimed by IPL Chairman Modi?

5. Tharoor, who spent most of his working life outside India, apparently picked up tweeting after getting back to India. Didn't someone ever tell him that tweeting is an unregulated, un-secured form of 'viral' communication since one has little control over people who may latch on to messages and send back their own messages. He had no qualms about commenting on Govt. austerity measures and various policies through tweets and, through carefully calibrated news bites, let it be known that his following on Twitter was near the half million mark. Yet, suddenly after the latest IPL controversy breaks, Tharoor claims that he has received death threats (through tweets or SMS- tweets can be sent out & received as text messages too!) from the Mafia. Aside from the fact that this is an unprecedented first for a Minister who has Z-level security, didn't someone tell Tharoor that any of his half a million followers, if unhappy about something, are perfectly at liberty to send him uncomplimentary messages or threats even? Or did he expect that they will only be sending him tweets saying, "Tussi great ho!"?

6. Sections of the Indian intelligentsia, who can be quite vacuous, superficial and pretentious, regularly keep alluding to how Tharoor was deprived of the U.N. Secy General's post. They should be eternally grateful to the Bush administration for putting its foot down about his candidacy, citing among other things, a total lack of 'leadership qualities'. Imagine what an acute embarrassment to the U.N. as a body and to India this inept joker, who also happens to be an unabashed publicity hound, would have been as the U.N. Secy. General. The intelligentsia also keeps pointing out that he is the author of quite a few books. I doubt how many of them who go around proclaiming this have read any of his books at all. I have read a couple and wouldn't ever want to pick up another. Aside from the fact that Tharoor is a good communicator and wordsmith (one will grant him that and also his carefully cultivated 'posh' accent), the books written by him are utterly banal and mediocre and don't contain a single original or innovative idea or thought.

7. One has heard over the last one year and more, stories about Tharoor hanging around for too long in 5-star deluxe hotels, about his putting his foot in his mouth every so often and about his embarrassing gaffes like suggesting Abu Dhabi as an 'interlocutor' for India Pakistan negotiations. Has anyone ever heard or read about any achievements of Tharoor in his capacity as a Minister of State for Foreign Affairs?

Need one say anything more about a joke and an embarrassment called Shashi Tharoor!

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