Shashi Tharoor running in elections for India's Parliament

What do people want?

India’s Congress Party, headed by Sonia Gandhi, has been inspired to field former UN official Shashi Tharoor as a candidate from Kerala State contesting India’s forthcoming parliamentary elections on 16 April.

Here is a photo from his campaign website:
Shashi Tharoor campaigning for a parliamentary seat from Kerala

Should he win, apparently, he could even become the future External Affairs Minister of the Government of India, according to some observers.

This is not my fight.  But, would I vote for him?  Nope.  I learned my lesson — Shashi Tharoor says one thing, and does another.  If the direction of the wind shifts, he immediately changes his mind, and apparently doesn’t feel either guilty, or ridiculous.  He exhibits no apparent need to reconcile his actions with his position [and by this I do not mean with his position in the world, but with his personal moral stance]. And he shows not even a twinge of conscience.  The absence of principles makes this possible.

His one and only calculation is what might be good for him.  Just him.  Only him.

This inclination easily guided him to his chosen modus operandi: Shashi Tharoor cravenly seeks to please the powerful.  This is, of course, a time-proven formula, it’s one way to climb up the ladder, and it works à merveille, to perfection, in a hierarchical world.  Shashi Tharoor’s career trajectory is a textbook example of how to succeed as a rather middling bureaucrat, with a leisured sideline as an author.

But, there are people who admire this, who think it’s smart, who say it works.

Some people apparently would choose to be represented by a relatively good-looking and superficially glamorous somebody with an international profile, by a person who turns on the charm only for people who he thinks are important and who he thinks might be able to help advance his own interests.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the content is there.  It doesn’t matter if the character is hollow, shallow, insincere, and guided by ambition rather than principle.  Appearance is everything, substance is not important.

Yet, his campaign website bears this slogan:  “I enter political life in the firm belief that: Politics is an opportunity for public service, not for self-advancement … The principles and values I have upheld all my life should not be altered to suit the political convenience of the moment”.

You see, he knows.  He knows his weaknesses.

His website lists these promises:  “My beliefs and principles will never be for sale.  I will never lie to you or intentionally mislead you.  You can always count on me to do my best.  I will work with dedication and sincerity for your well-being”.

Are you gonna buy that, people of Kerala?

His campaign website informs us that “Dr Tharoor left the UN on 31 March 2007. Since then, he serves as the Chairman of the Dubai-based Afras Ventures, a company that aims to promote socially-relevant investments in India. While it has a number of projects on the drawing board, its first project was the establishment in May 2008 of a state-of-the-art training centre in Kerala, Afras Academy for Business Communications (AABC), to develop business communication and presentation skills”. This, and more, can be read online here.

Yes, business communication and presentation skills — this is what matters, isn’t it? Those of us who observed his career from inside the UN knew that he was seriously contemplating a try at replacing his then-boss, Kofi Annan, as UN SG when Shashi Tharoor began making a serious effort at improving his French. (France is one of the veto-wielding Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, and will not allow any candidate to pass who does not speak French…)

His campaign website also spoke about promoting Thiruvananthapuram “first-class international film festival” — he would be good at that. He was memorably good at positioning himself for a photo op with film stars passing through the UN (Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie come to mind).
And, using Kofi Annan’s name, Shashi persuaded members of the UN Security Council to allow the UN Secretariat building, including the Security Council chambers, to be used to film a Hollywood movie, The Interpreters. Everybody was tickled about that brush with reality by proxy — which Shashi argued, absurdly, would be good for the image of the UN.

He has had to put out several “brush fires” in this campaign. He posted, on the large American blog, Huffington Post, this response to Indian critics of his association with Coca Cola, here. In this response, he drops names, exhibits injured feelings — and even more insensitivity, writing “You express your ‘shock and dismay’ at my membership of the Advisory Board of Yatn, the Coca-Cola India Foundation and go on to ‘condemn [my] insensitivity and unconcern to align with the criminal Coca-Cola against the people of Plachimada’ … I serve, alongside several renowned social activists and human rights leaders, under the chairmanship of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice J.S. Verma, on the advisory board of a purely philanthropic organization. The Foundation is financed by the Coca-Cola Company as part of its corporate social responsibility, which is a practice that I have encouraged around the world since my United Nations days, when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the ‘Global Compact’ to encourage corporations around the world to adhere to certain globally-accepted principles and practices … You level a number of charges against the Coca-Cola company’s operations at the Plachimada plant, notably relating to ground-water exploitation and pollution of groundwater through toxic waste from its plant. As I stressed, I do not represent the company in any way, but I am fully aware that such charges led to the plant ceasing operations in 2004. Needless to say, far from being ‘unconcerned’, I inquired into the matter to satisfy myself that these allegations had been thoroughly examined by the competent authorities. I note that a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court ruled, in a judgment dated 7 August 2005, that the company was not guilty of unfairly exploiting the groundwater, and that indeed the groundwater in Plachimada continued to dry up after the company ceased operations, leading the Court to conclude that other factors, including a shortage of rainfall, were to blame … I do not understand on what basis you are questioning the Kerala High Court’s conclusions … On the question of ground-water toxins and toxic sludge, I have seen reports from reputed governmental bodies, including the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and the Central Ground Water Board, New Delhi, refuting your charges. Once again, I am unable to understand the scientific basis for your continued charges against the company, and can only conclude that they are politically-motivated. Finally, with regard to the discontinuation of the supply of drinking water by the company, I note that this supply in fact continued till December 2007, almost four years after the plant’s forced closure, but that it was not practical for the company to continue beyond that date in view of its lack of operations in the area. The Court order required it to supply drinking water to the community only so long as it continued operations there. Nonetheless, the Yatn Foundation intends to give thought to developing a philanthropic project in Kerala in the area of drinking water, an issue to which I have personally attached the highest importance in my interventions on the Advisory Board … Let me add, in conclusion, and with a heavy heart, how much I deplore both the content and tone of your letter. Since leaving the United Nations, I have been doing my best to promote investment into Kerala, which alone can generate the employment that is so desperately needed by our people. As a Keralite, I am ashamed that our people have to find work elsewhere in India and in the Gulf because the over-politicized atmosphere in Kerala discourages companies from investing in our state. The only result of your agitation over the Plachimada plant has been to close down an investment worth over Rs 80 crores in our state, which provided direct employment to 400 people and indirect employment to more than 5000 persons, including transporters, construction workers, and distributors. While all these people are now out of a job, no one has benefited from your continued protests. Instead, the image of Kerala as a place in which it is unwise for businesses to invest has been reinforced. It is tragic that actions such as yours ensure that politics overrides the genuine needs of the people.” …

How’s that for strategic communications?

He said that the company continued (benevolently) to supply drinking water until December 2007, but “it was not practical to continue” after it stopped operations in the area. Now — 16 month later, the Foundation “intends to give thought to developing a philanthropic project in Kerala in the area of drinking water”.

Is this good enough?

I most recently took issue here with views Shashi Tharoor expressed in an article published in multiple media sites around the world, including in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, saying that post-Mumbai-terror-attack India envied Israel’s ability to act as it wanted in Gaza (which he coins the cute and catchy phrase, the “Gaza option”).

This article was also posted, on 19 January, with the title (he wrote it) India longs to follow Israeli path of reprisal, on Huffington Post, here — where he appended the following “author’s note”: “this article was written just two days into the Israeli operation against Hamas but has appeared in syndication around the world over the last week“. Readers have posted a few scathing comments here.

Now, I have learned, Shashi Tharoor has published his own retraction, on 27 January, which he entitled “Apologia”, here.

Keep in mind, as you read this, that Shashi Tharoor wrote his article (on India’s envy of Israel’s ability to act in Gaza) on 29 December, two days after the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The opening day. 27 December, gave the world the highest death toll of any single day in the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, with between 250 and 300 deaths, including many civilian police officers attending their graduation ceremony in Gaza City. From Day One, this Israeli military operation was clearly not about “taking out a few rocket sites and withdrawing in 3 or 4 days” — and warning statements from Israel’s military and political echelons clearly indicated that the military operation would be carried out on a large scale and would be unlike anything seen before in Gaza. So, what does this tell you about Shashi Tharoor?

In this somewhat dizzy retraction, Shashi wrote: “Many of you have read my article as endorsing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and deplored the article’s apparent indifference to the humanitarian tragedy that followed. I regret the misunderstanding of the intent and thrust of the piece, which was not written as a commentary on the conflict in Gaza. When I wrote the article I was thinking only about india/pakistan – the assault on Gaza had just begun when I put my fingers to the keyboard … Obviously I had no sense at the time of writing of the scale of the israeli action that was to follow and the toll that would be taken in civilian lives. But in any case the article says India cannot, should not and would not do what Israel has done … Using the Israel parallel – at a time when my email inbox was brimming with messages of the ‘why can’t we do the same as Israel?’ variety – was just a way of bringing greater attention onto India’s dilemma and its anguish, while arguing that there is no ‘Gaza option’ for India. Of course I should have realized that using an unfolding event as a peg would make my argument hostage to the way that situation evolved. Inevitably, some readers would judge the article in the light of what has happened in the two weeks after I wrote it. Had Israel taken out a few rocket sites and withdrawn in 3 or 4 days, as I had expected, perhaps the analogy would have seemed less offensive. But the article was always meant to be more about India’s options than about Israel’s actions. Anyway, I am chagrined and chastened – and I intend in future to discuss each issue I tackle in its own terms, rather than draw analogies which only serve to obscure the point I was trying to make”.

Is this not enough? Would you vote for this guy?

This was clearly not just a humanitarian tragedy. And, what does he mean, this “was not written as a commentary on the conflict in Gaza”. Just in Gaza?! How can he in all conscience say, “I was thinking only about india/pakistan” … that this “was just a way of bringing greater attention onto India’s dilemma and its anguish”? Remêmber, this guy worked for the UN for 30 years.

It is worse than disingenuous, it is worse than dishonest, and it is a lousy and embarrasing excuse for an apology to write that “the assault on Gaza had just begun when I put my fingers to the keyboard”, and “Of course I should have realized that … inevitably, some readers would judge the article in the light of what has happened in the two weeks after I wrote it”. So, it is the readers’ fault?! He does not take any responsibility here, in his “apologia”, for his lazy and uninformed stupidity. He had every opportunity to be better informed. He just doesn’t care. He knows what is important to him, and what is not.

This “apologia” is creepy, sleazy, shameless, ugly, and manipulative.

I am informed that Shashi Tharoor claims to have been “a close personal friend” of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Well, that would not impress me at all — even if it were to be true.

Even if true — and there is no evidence that it is — does Shashi Tharoor seriously think that being a “close personal friend” of Arafat gives him any understanding of the Palestinian situation? I won’t go into the harm that Arafat did — of which Shashi is apparently unaware — regardless of Arafat’s important role as icon and national leader. Here, yet again, Shashi must think that if he drops a name, that if he squeezes into a photo op, that gives him something.

A colleague who worked with Shashi Tharoor at UNHQ/NY wrote this to me recently:
I guess running for a political office in India would be something to add to his CV if he intends to run again for UN SG!  My most outstanding memory of this guy is that his ego was bigger than large India. I recall a staff member, who worked for him directly in his office, complained to me once that he did not see her or talk to her for days or even weeks as he was too busy looking after his self-promotional activities. I read recently in the Israeli press that Israel is most popular in India. Could that be a reason for him to promote Israel to win the backing of Indian supporters of Israel?  My guess is that Israeli supporters in that country are those directly benefiting from trade with Israel, particularly arms trade.  I don’t know what kind of relations he had with Arafat, but I know that he contacted many UN system and Government officials on behalf of his boss, Kofi Annan. I never heard any thing from him or about him indicating support to the Palestinians.  Salim Lone, a close collaborator of his, in an article for the Independent during the campaign for SG, mentioned that pleasing the US and Israel had been the centerpiece of Shashi’s and Annan’s public relations policy. For that purpose he initiated the establishment of a DPI [Department of Public Information] unit to promote awareness of the Holocaust, and at the same time Shashi acted to weaken DPI’s unit promoting Palestinian rights. In general, it’s well known among many in DPI that he was a self-serving opportunist“.

We, as well, posted earlier on this here and here.

7 thoughts on “Shashi Tharoor running in elections for India's Parliament”

  1. From the BBC:
    KERALA: Seats: 20

    Population: 32 million

    A communist bastion with the highest literacy rates in India. Nearly a quarter of its population are Muslim. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) alliance won 19 of 20 parliamentary seats in 2004. The Congress-led alliance won just one.

    Infighting within the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), is likely to mean the left does less well this time. Traditional CPI(M) allies are unhappy at Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan’s links with Abdul Nasser Madani, who leads the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

    Mr Madani was arrested in 1998 in connection with an election rally blast in Tamil Nadu in which 60 people were killed. He was acquitted of all charges in 2007, but some of the mud has stuck.

    Strained ties with another former ally, the Janata Dal (Secular), are also expected to work against the CPI(M).

    The Congress party has been making a major push in the state, sending Rahul Gandhi to campaign. It is also fielding former UN under secretary general Shashi Tharoor as a candidate.

  2. Tharoor’s article (India’s israel envy) was shameless. I was stunned that an intellectual of Tharoor’s calibre would resort to publishing comments that are so shallow in their attempt to pander to the west. How can anyone condone Israeli barbarism in gaza? Israel’s actions are not about self defense, but oppression through collective punishment.

    Whatever happened to Gandhi’s solidarity with the Palestinians? Nehru’s staunch Non Aligned Third worldism? India has surely lost its way.

  3. The couple will have their reception in Dubai from August 29-31, and though the location has not been shared yet due to security reasons, it is going to be a grand celebration.

    1. Dear Shashi, We love you, too…
      Many congrats on your recent wedding, a love match if ever there was one.
      Sorry that you had to resign as Foreign Minister for appearing to have
      directed financial favors to your bride [when you were still just friends,
      and married to someone else] while in office…
      All’s fair in love and war, [or so one tend’s to think, while in either state],
      though in your own immortal words, sometimes you just fall out of love…
      As you recently reportedly tweeted, “u shouldn’t give those who wld wilfully
      distort yr words an opportnty to do so”

  4. Dear Marian & Mel,

    I am an Indyan and I totally agree with you people on this thing called Taroor. There is a huge group here in Indya that is exactly like this Taroor and they hang around in our Capital Nai Dilli, and all that are concerned is their self growth, let the country go to hell. This elite is like the French elite during the French Revolution. We call it ‘ Dilli Sultanate ‘. Tharoor is now a leading light of this elite. You see in Electronics there is something called Series and Parallel connections. If apply this concept to marriages, then people who have extra marital affairs can be likened to Parallel connections 😉 Our man Tharoor practices Series connection i.e., he changes his spouses every 8 to 10 years :D. FYI recently there was a rumor that the recent one is on the rocks so he posted a pic celebrating their anniversary, indirectly denying the rumor.

  5. And regarding we Indyans backing Israel, that’s because of our anxiety born out of the helplessness vis-a-vis terrorism. otherwise GOI and people in general have always backed the Palestinian cause. And it’s true that Indya is now the biggest client for Israeli arms. I think it’s necessary in the geo-political environment we live in.

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