Many people I know, especially the urban, educated, liberal bunch, were thrilled when Shashi Tharoor, a former UN Under Secretary General, was voted as a member of parliament from India’s southern Kerala state in last year’s general elections. Owing to his long and illustrious career in international diplomacy, Tharoor was also inducted into the union cabinet as a junior minister in our External Affairs Ministry. Suave, articulate and modern, Tharoor, who’s also a prolific bestselling author, is someone my friends would say is exactly the kind of minister India needs as it makes itself count on the global stage. I had my doubts, not because Tharoor is not intelligent or up to the job. But, because I had a niggling feeling that he had been away from the country for too long, and could not possibly hope to effortlessly glide into our rambling polity.
It’s a gut feel that’s been validated by his rocky ten-month tenure as a first time MP and minister. Ironically, for a man who had risen up the ranks of the United Nations, with the help of his enviable communication skills, in India, Tharoor has often found himself with his foot in his mouth. An avid ‘tweeter’ and one of the most followed Indian celebrities on the micro blogging site, Tharoor has generated more headlines than he would have ever wanted. His remarks on flying ‘cattle class’ during an austerity drive by the government, his utterances on India’s visa regulations, his comments on ties with Saudi Arabia have kept him in the public eye, often leaving the government and his Congress Party red-faced and embarrassed. After his last ‘discretion’, he was called in by the Congress Party’s media cell, allegedly to be told to ‘keep a lid on.’
This time though it’s more than what he said. Indian Premier League, a cricket league, boss Lalit Modi tweeted that Tharoor is unethically linked to the recent awarding of IPL’s new franchise to Kochi, a town in Kerala. Modi has hinted that Tharoor’s ‘girlfriend,’ Dubai-based businesswoman Sunanda Pushkar, has been given free equity in Kochi’s new cricket franchise probably to please Tharoor, who Modi said canvassed for the Kochi consortium. In true twitter style, Tharoor denied these allegations but this mega murky deal, a concoction of big money, political power and cricket, has the entire nation hooked. It’s also probably India’s first Twitter-enabled political slugfest, with Tharoor charging Modi with discrediting the Kochi franchise so he can give it to bidders he favours. Opposition parties have demanded Tharoor’s resignation but the Congress Party and the government have been quiet so far, seemingly letting Tharoor manage his latest controversy. It’s more than a ‘virtual’ mess. And, Tharoor probably needs all his skills to scrape through this one.