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OK, so let's go with the conspiracy theorists. Why is it that the knives are suddenly out for Mr Tharoor? When Mr Jaswant Singh was sacked from the BJP, one knew it was not merely for his views on Jinnah, but the fact that he had pissed off a lot of Very Important Egos.
Later when Mr Jaswant Singh's book was banned by the Gujarat government, Mr Tharoor had tweeted:
As is the best part about such exchanges, he was immediately questioned:
To which Mr Tharoor replied:
This comparison between the BJP and Congress was picked by the press as well, for example, take this article in the Hindu that pointed out some of the stuff that Mr Tharoor has indeed said about, well, the holiest of the holy cows in the Congress party:
On Indira Gandhi:
"Had Indira’s Parsi husband been a toddywalla (liquor trader) rather than so conveniently a Gandhi, I sometime wonder, might India’s political history have been different?"
“Mrs. Gandhi was skilled at the acquisition and maintenance of power, but hopeless at the wielding of it for larger purposes. She had no real vision or program beyond the expedient campaign slogans; “remove poverty” was a mantra without a method ?. Declaring a state of Emergency, Indira arrested opponents, censored the press, and postponed elections. As a compliant Supreme Court overturned her conviction, she proclaimed a ‘20-point programme’ for the uplift of the common man (No one found it humorous enough to remark, as Clemenceau had done of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, that “even the good Lord only had ten.”) Its provisions ? remained largely unimplemented. Meanwhile her thuggish younger son, Sanjay (1946-1980) emphasizing two of the 20 points, ordered brutally insensitive campaigns of slum demolitions and forced sterilizations.”
On Rajiv Gandhi:
[Instead of the] “visionless expediency that had been his mother’s only credo, Rajiv offered transparent sincerity and conviction ... the rot set in -- Compromise followed sellout as New Delhi returned to business as usual. Charges of corruption in a major howitzer contract with the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors tarnished the mystique of the dynasty; little children sang, Galli-galli mein shor hai/Rajiv Gandhi chor hai: ‘Hear it said in every nook/Rajiv Gandhi is a crook.’?”
On Sonia Gandhi:
[ pointing out that she went to Cambridge to study English, not political philosophy]:
“A builder’s daughter from Turino, without a college degree, with no experience of Indian life beyond the rarefied realms of the Prime Minister’s residence, fiercely protective of her privacy, so reserved and unsmiling in public that she has been unkindly dubbed ‘the Turin Shroud’ leading a billion Indians at the head of the world’s most complex, rambunctious and violent democracy? This situation, improbable if weren’t true, is proof again of the enduring appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.”
On Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra:
“And then there is, after all, in true dynastic tradition, the need to think of the aspirations of the next generation ... Their [Rahul and Priyanka] father’s seat must, observers suggest, be kept warm for one of them — and who better to nurse the Amethi constituency he so successfully nurtured than Sonia herself?”
That was August 22. The marching orders from the hotel were given on September 8. (Interestingly enough, till July 8, Mr Tharoor was being praised by some for his, well, austere ways -- as commended by this blog itself) The latest tweet, literally about the holy cows, may have just been the last straw... That might also explain why the various Congress spokespersons are -- very non-ruminatively, one must say -- foaming at the mouth, and while the PM did try valiantly, if belatedly, to dismiss it all as a joke today, Mr Rahul Gandhi, apparently said at the same iftaar function, when asked for his views on the Cattlegate, that the party had already spoken.
Sherlock Holmes may never have said it, but it sure does seem rather elementary...The more charitable explanation at the time of Jaswant expulsion was that the BJP-wallahs were second-guessing the Sangh leadership and merely wanted to ingratiate themselves with the RSS after Mr Bhagwat had spoken. In this case, too, goes the chartitable theory, all this show of outrage at what should have been dismissed with a laugh, may well be nothing more than an effort to curry favour with the holiest of the holy cows in the Congress.
First, the Indian Express reported that in the age of austerity, "UPA Ministers want Spanish tiles, Italian porcelains... "a Minister of State has demanded a new toilet “on the back side of her seat” in keeping with Vaastu".
The austere "holy cows" of the Congress party did not think it was something worth responding to. The party spokesperson instead decided to join issue with Mr Tharoor's jocular remarks:
"We totally condemn it (Tharoor's comments). The statement is not in sync with our political culture. His remarks are not acceptable given the sensitivity of all Indians," AICC Spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan told reporters.
"Certainly the party does not endorse it. It is absolutely insensitive. We find it unacceptable and totally insensitive," she said when asked to comment on Tharoor's remarks on Twitter, a social networking website.
..."I am only commenting on his statement. It is absolutely insensible," she said when asked whether the party committed a mistake by giving him a ticket to contest Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, one Jacob Joseph, described on his Twitter page as "Director/OSD to MoS(ST), MEA" got into the act to post the above photograph of Mr Tharoor showing him "in cattle class a month ago" and retweeting many tweets favouring his boss and suitably dissing some of the humourless holy cows in the Congress. Here's a sampler:
Sure enough, soon there was a helpful TOI report as well:
Sources close to Tharoor said the minister had taken almost 5 flights from Aug 9, travelling to Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi, and on all occasions he had booked himself in economy class.
"The austerity measures were announced mid-August during the party's working committee meeting but it came into effect later. However, Tharoor has been on these economy flights earlier. He began taking a Kingfisher flight from Mumbai to Kochi on Aug 9," said a close aide.
“As a politician, you have a duty to be austere,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters here last week during his tour of Tamil Nadu. But the travel bill the Congress general secretary toted up during his three-day visit down south ran to seven figures, not exactly a sum the word “austerity” conjures up.
The Congress decided to austerely keep quiet.
But all this talk of cattle and cows had perhaps made it inevitable that the "foot and mouth" epidemic would spread. And sure enough, the BJP joined the fray, and its spokesman, Mr Rajiv Pratap Rudy, added for good measure that Mr Tharoor had not only "blatantly insulted", but had also - mysteriously - "tantalized", a large middle class: "ostensibly mocking their austere lifestyle." He clearly wanted to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that his parsing abilities are no better than Ms Natarajan's:
Mr. Throor has termed economy class in airlines as a “Cattle Class” which outrightly smacks the insensitivity of the minister pounding the feelings and respect of a common traveller. This tantamounts to a deep injury to the self-respect and esteem of millions who travel economy class. The statement of Mr. Throor gives a display of unprecedented arrogance which in a way has been usually witnessed in the congress party.
After letting his OSD take care of the dirty work, Mr Tharoor, on his part, seemed to have decided to play the elder statesman and broke his silence on the subject with the following tweets:
Given the surreal preoccupations of our high-minded prinicpal political parties, it seemed perfectly reasonable to read a report during the day that the VHP and the Sangh Parivar have extended their full support to the hassled minister:
the VHP President said that the fact that Tharoor offered solidarity with our holy cows is proof of his Hinduness. He also dared the press to show one statement in which a “Congresswala” has called our cows ‘Holy’. He also took strong umbrage at Jayanti Natrajan’s statement calling the cattle class reference as insulting. The Gau is given the status of a Mother in ancient Hindu scriptures, and so belonging to her ‘class’ should be a honour and not an insult, he further added.
Read more here
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in the Indian Express:
Just fantasise how different government’s attitude might be if everyone in government was actually asked to arrange for their own house, facilities, domestic help, etc, as others do. We might even get sensible government policy!
...The irony in the case of someone like Shashi Tharoor is that we have moved him from honesty to dissimulation. One may not agree with his choice of residence. But on the face of it, it was at least honest and (if he was paying) did not impose much on the taxpayer. Now he has to pretend that he belongs to a class to which he palpably does not. Where is there more hypocrisy? In the honest admission of privilege? Or in the pretence that you are poorer than you are? Which sort of politician would you trust more?
...Let us have an honest debate about the broad culture of consumption; we need that discussion as a society. Let us have a debate over taxpayer money or policies for the poor. But let us not pretend that forcing austerity on individuals by unmasking hypocrisy is a serious ethical issue.
Read the full article: Anti anti-hypocrisy
Shashi Tharoor was asked on Twitter earlier in the day:
"Tell us Minister, next time you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?".
"Absolutely," he replied, "in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!"
We are not sure whether the holy cows would be amused but, meanwhile, his senior minister too has joined the conspicuous austerity competition and announced that he would fly economy class to Minsk. As K.P. Nayyar reports in the Telegraph, "it will cost the government much more than any money saved by South Block's symbolic austerity measures, which are acquiring the trappings of a cruel joke on people suffering from drought."
Read on here