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58-year-old Shashi Tharoor gave up a career in the United Nations in 2008 to join politics as a member of the Indian National Congress. He contested his first election for the MP seat from Thiruvananathapuram in 2009 and won. This year he is seeking re-election from the same seat. He has served as a Minister in the Ministries of External Affairs and Human Resource Development. He is also an official spokesperson of his party.
Excerpts from an interview.
I brought out a full-term report about a month-and-a-half ago before the elections were due and had it released here. It’s about 40 pages long and I have left out things that I couldn’t fit into those 40 pages.
The sort of campaign I am facing has been a new low—a vicious, unprincipled, amoral, and dishonest campaign has been mounted by both left and right. The Delhi Police has shown no suspicion of foul play. There has been no charge sheet, no FIR against me or against anyone. In other words, there isn’t only no criminal but no crime. And yet there are people openly portraying me as a murderer in such a disgusting and deplorable way that it has certainly shaken my faith in our democratic process that such a thing is allowed to happen with such impunity.
I would like to empower the Election Commission more, give them the right to fine people who flout the code of conduct, give them the right to forbid people from campaigning if they campaign in such an evil way. There must be things that can be done other than merely issuing a notice, which is essentially ignored.
As per a recent poll 52% of those surveyed in Kerala are for Rahul Gandhi as their PM—that obviously includes many left voters. Because they would rather see Rahul Gandhi than any other figure. They see him as a progressive figure even from the point of view of the Left.
Kerala is a bit of an outlier. If you look at election results when the Congress was repudiated in 1977 across north India, they won every single seat in Kerala. Conversely in 2004 when the UPA swept to power and defeated the NDA, they lost every single seat in Kerala. So there are some very unusual trends here.
I don’t think very highly of the Communist ideology which has been rightly discarded around the world and which has been thoroughly discredited in India too. But at least it stood for some principles; some values. Now to see a party which is avowedly atheist, that is avowedly Marxist and so on, openly campaigning on the basis of caste and clan is certainly to my mind negative step in Kerala politics.
Politicians are banking on people thinking that we as a community deserve to have a minister in the State government, why don’t we have one? That kind of argument. It is a sense of almost overweening arrogance which confounds the issue of representation with the issue of the community’s honour or its place in society. The truth is any community would be better served by a representative who has the clout to deliver for them in Delhi than a first termer from a party which has a very, very mediocre, if not almost non-existent presence in Parliament and who has no connections or impact in Delhi.
Social media is here to stay, that it’s become an extremely important forum for the young and that increasingly India is heading the way of the internet.
I still think however, that there is a big difference between talking rhetorically to an audience from a platform that Mr. Modi specialises in and talking heart to heart with a person, a journalist which Mr. Modi runs away from. So I still don’t think that we are somehow inferior. The way that Rahul Gandhi stood up to 90 minutes of interrogation by an unfriendly journalist, Mr. Modi has never shown the capacity to do.
There should be a way to make sure the Parliament is allowed to function. The rules exist in theory. Thou shalt not raise slogans, thou shalt not stand up without being asked by the Speaker, thou shalt not speak out of turn, thou shalt not wave placards or printed material, there’s a whole bunch of rules. But they are violated and when you ask the Speaker, why don’t you take action, you’re told there is a consensus in our country that the opposition should be allowed to have its say because it’s anti democratic to throw them out.
RTE was adopted before I became a minister. There are some things that I would have perhaps done differently but that’s academic. When I came it was law. As law I believe it served a couple of very important purposes.
Ours is a federal system Pragya so you have to accept that in any case there will be things that will vary from state to state because each state has its right to run its school system, to prescribe its own textbooks based on the guidance it gets from the National Curriculum framework but which sometimes is sometimes not fully respected by some states. There is no question that the average kid in the state school in Kerala gets a better education than the average kid in the state school in Bihar. That’s life. And it’s a shame. It’ a pity. It shouldn’t be that way but that is the way it is.
The public discourse has been run by the media and its TRPs is dominating what people think and talk about and foreign policy is considered the esoteric privilege of a few and not of interest to the general public. And so the only foreign policy that gets space in our media is those which are immediately relevant to our neighbourhood and are usually national security related. . I wrote Pax Indica partly to attack this and I failed.