'Cattle' remark was a joke: PM


Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor,  traveling economy class in the first week of August. Photo posted on 'Twitter' by his aide. PTI

On Friday evening, Singh sought to downplay Tharoor’s remark, saying “it was a joke”, just a couple of hours after the Congress condemned his comments and even stated that “appropriate action” would be taken against him at an “appropriate time”.

Though Tharoor apologised for describing the economy class “cattle class” in his post on Twitter, the Congress high command seemed to be unimpressed. The party rather described as a “natural reaction” Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s demand for Tharoor’s resignation.

Congress sources indicated late on Friday evening that the AICC would let Tharoor off after issuing him a stern warning against making controversial remarks. This indication was given after Tharoor called up party president Sonia Gandhi from Liberia and apologised for his comments. The party may, however, seek an explanation from him. Tharoor is currently on an official tour of Liberia and Ghana, but doesn’t seem to have stopped tweeting.

“The Congress condemns what he (Tharoor) had said. The party will take whatever action is appropriate and necessary at an appropriate time,” said AICC spokesman Manish Tiwari.

Tharoor was asked on Twitter if he would fly economy class to his home-state Kerala next time. He tweeted back: “Absolutely, ‘in cattle class’ out of solidarity with all our holy cows.”

The Congress, which, of late, has prodded ministers to fly economy class, was quick to disapprove of the statement and termed it “insensitive” and “unacceptable”. The minister’s tweet came soon after party supremo Sonia Gandhi herself flew economy class to Mumbai and Bangalore earlier this week. Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi too travelled by train to Ludhiana in Punjab last Tuesday. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and several other ministers of the Government too have opted for economy class for flying within the country.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna also flew economy class to Turkmenistan and Belarus recently.

The snub from the Congress prompted Tharoor to tweet an apology, albeit with smartly chosen words. “i now realise i shldnt assume people will appreciate humour. & y shouldn’t give those who wld wilfully distort yr words an opportnty to do so,” he posted on Twitter from the Liberian capital of Monrovia, of course using his Blackberry. “To those hurt by the belief that my repeating the phrase showed contempt: sorry.”

Tharoor wrote he had belatedly come to know about the ‘fuss’ over his cattle class remark. He pointed out that the cattle class phrase was used by a journalist, who posted the question for him on the Twitter, and he had just repeated it. “it’s a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle,” he added.

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