Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shashi Tharoor, you did nothing wrong. But this is India, minister... so, tweet cautiously

The moral of the story is that you cannot expect to be forthright or straightforward and earn a name in India. Nor should you try and be funny at times; appreciating humour is not something Indians are known for. Not at least Indian politicians.

What really was wrong in external affairs minister S. M. Krishna and his deputy minister of state Shashi Tharoor in staying a five-star hotel as long as they were paying for it from their own money? At least Tharoor said he was; he has after all a right to decide how his money should be spent. Of course, it is another matter that staying in a five-star hotel may not really be the right thing for any minister in India, a land of plenty, but sadly overridden by poverty and corruption and all the ills that can plague a country and its people. Yes, he could have stayed in a smaller hotel – not that you have to do a Mamata Banerjee every time, but when you have so many poor people who you are representing as minister, why should you flaunt your riches and live five-star, when you can very well set an example and be economical?

On that count, Tharoor has failed, that there is no doubt. But on the other hand, he has scored, with his transparency on networks like Twitter. It may be no surprise that Twitter itself must have got a larger following now thanks to the Tharoor tweets. Every second person I meet seems to be talking about “cattle class” and the “holy cow”. Hmmm…

So, where was the issue really? Why should people of his own party try and rake up the issue and make comments instead of accepting humour for what it is. After all, Tharoor did explain what “cattle class” really meant - it had nothing to do with people. Yes, the moment was opportune for some of them to throw barbs at him. Sonia Gandhi was travelling economy class; Rahul Gandhi made a Shatabdi journey; and others were following suit, more an effort to please party bosses. What else? Tharoor’s comment thus came at the wrong time for him and he said or tweeted what he did without even realising how nasty politics and politicians in India can be. Now, surely, he is much the wiser.

Aren’t there more important issues for politicians in this country to dwell on? Instead of wasting precious energy on matters that have really no significance, can’t our MPs and MLAs and ministers do something for the country’s betterment? What about providing drinking water in every village and district? What about ensuring citizens have good roads, electricity and access to hospitals? What about ensuring that every child gets a basic education? What about weaning youth away from drugs and alcohol? There are so many issues, you could write a book about them. But are our politicians interested at all in solving such issues? No way. They’ve never been the past 62 years… so why should they now? That substantial progress has happened despite all that is truly a wonder. Yes, a handful of people who have contributed, selfless people, very few of them from the political class. Without them, we might as well have remained a land of snake charmers and elephants.

The big lesson for Tharoor: Communicate cautiously; India is not the UNO. Also, try and spend less, even if it be on a personal front, when you are in politics you are supposed to be serving the people. And, yes, be very careful about the kind of jokes you want people to hear or read. Tweeting can be dangerous at times, minister.

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