Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mukul Kesavan - In his image: The importance of being Shashi

There is something of the spurned lover about the BJP troll army's attitude towards Tharoor
Arnab Goswami's fascination with Shashi Tharoor has survived his transition from Times Now to Republic TV. In itself this obsession is curious but unimportant, but as a symptom of a broader sangh parivar condition and as an illustration of the Hindutvavadi view of the world, it repays examination.
It isn't surprising that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its fellow travellers dislike Tharoor. He seems to be a living, breathing incarnation of everything that makes them uneasy. He's a Nehru-lover (he's written a biography of India's first prime minister), he is ostentatiously secular and flamboyantly anglophone. His social media response to Republic TV's insinuations went viral as an example of 'too much ingliss'.


This is what Tharoor tweeted: "Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist." The really worrying thing about this sentence isn't the big words in it but the fact that it's easy to imagine Tharoor saying it out loud and getting to the full stop without faltering. No one has spoken English like this since Curzon died. 'Farrago' briefly became the most searched for word in India afterwards. That's the other thing that irks the cadre and online choruses of the brotherhood. For a deracinated elitist Tharoor has a large and devoted online following, some five and a half million followers on Twitter. People seem interested in his doings, not least bhakts.

This is because there is an old-fashioned way in which Shashi Tharoor embodies middle class success in India. Before liberalization, the salariat's ambitions centred on the civil service examinations. Tharoor went one better. He topped his university examinations as a high-achieving desi should, earned a PhD in a foreign university in short order, immediately joined an international civil service, the UN, and very nearly rose to the top. In the idiom of Indian educational credentials, he is 'Secretary General (Fail)'. It doesn't matter that he didn't make it; it's enough that he had a shot at the top job. It didn't stop there. After leaving the UN, Tharoor embarked upon a political career. The highlights of this career aren't the official positions he has achieved - Tharoor is unlikely to see a junior ministership in the HRD ministry as a political summit - but the elections that he won. One reason why the sangh parivar's trolls, both online and on television, take Tharoor seriously is because he is a Lok Sabha MP twice over.

Both in good times and in bad, both when the Congress won and when it lost, Tharoor was sent to Parliament by Thiruvananthapuram's electorate. Unlike other English-speaking types who became parliamentarians through the Rajya Sabha route, Tharoor won proper elections. I have CPI(M) friends who are still traumatized by his victories: how, they ask incredulously, could a carpetbagger with barely any Malayalam win Thiruvananthapuram twice? Tharoor once said that when he began his political career he was approached by the Congress, the Communists and the BJP. He chose the Congress because he felt ideologically comfortable with it. But it isn't hard to see why the BJP was interested. To recruit this cosmopolitan civil servant plus writer plus Nehruvian to the BJP would have been something of a coup… read more:

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