Modi distracting attention from real issues: Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

Controversy seems to tail senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. In an interaction with Sagar Kulkarni of DH, Tharoor says it was a classic ploy of the BJP to divert attention from real issues such as rising petrol prices and unemployment.

Why this book the 'Paradoxical Prime Minister'?

First of all, this was the prime minister who set off on a course that would transform India into something it never has been and it never should be. Because of his personal stamp on the policies of his government, I felt the need to look at the government through the prism of his leadership.

So, Modi needs to be defeated in the next Lok Sabha elections?

I think this is a battle for the soul of India. It is a battle for an idea for what India should be all about — what kind of India we want our children to grow up in. ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ would be an excellent objective, but if you are not Sabke Saath, how would Sabka Vikas come?

Is the Congress doing enough to defeat Modi?

That is for the electorate to judge. Certainly, as far as I am concerned,  Congress is doing its best and doing its best to highlight a lot of these things. We are living with the consequences of five or six years of very assiduous marketing of the Modi image. While my book is partly an attempt to go behind the marketing to reality, many people may not see beyond the marketing.

Can we draw any comparisons between the final years UPA-II and present NDA?

A lot of the UPA’s bad news was exaggerated. It is interesting to note that the whole Rs 1.76 lakh crore allegation in the telecom scam has been found by a judge to be completely baseless. The reality is closer to Kapil Sibal’s ‘Zero Loss’ theory.

Right now, we are seeing an implosion of institutions. The year started with the Supreme Court drama, we now have the CBI drama – in between, we have had real questions about the Election Commission, the Vigilance Commission, Information Commission. All the institutions that uphold our democracy are wobbling.

It is worse than the last couple of years of UPA II where the public’s imagination was captured by the Anna Hazare movement. In the case of Rafale, we haven’t seen a Gandhian, but we have a Gandhi standing there in Rahul. Perhaps it is too complex for them to understand and it was much easier to go after a strawman like corruption in the abstract.

You seem to be controversy's favourite child? Why a brouhaha over every Tharoor statement?

Well, I have to ask you in the media. Every single statement would not have caused a controversy anywhere in any other democracy. Cattle class remarks were deliberately twisted by the media because the media loves every opportunity to whip me. Hindu Pakistan remarks were made by Jawaharlal Nehru way back in 1947. It was a completely normal statement. But, when there is a slow news day something Shashi Tharoor says can be whipped up into something else.

If you ask about rising petrol prices, unemployment, what is that you get as an answer – Ram Mandir, Hindu Pakistan, Ayodhya.

This whole business of using religion and communal identity politics to distract the electorate is such a classic old ploy. It dates back to the Roman empire when Roman emperors used bread and circuses to distract the public from their own oppression. The emperors put them in the Colosseum to watch gladiators being devoured by lions or vice versa. That is what Mr Modi is doing with communal debates and Ayodhya politics.

Shashi Tharoor at Bangalore Literature Festival
Shashi Tharoor at Bangalore LiteratureFestival . (DH Photo)

There is a perception that the Modi government is on the decline, but there is an argument that the opposition lacks a credible face. Is that a handicap?

If we had a Presidential system, that would be. But, we don’t. We have a Parliamentary system.

Modi might be the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in this election, but that does not mean he would be prime minister after the election.

If you look at history, nobody went to polls in 2004 expecting to see Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. But he was PM for 10 years. In 1996, how many went to vote expecting H D Deve Gowda to be prime minister? Or, I K Gujral, a year later? So, this argument of Modi versus who is completely irrelevant.. You may see, it may not be Modi at all.

Rahul started off as a reluctant prince, has he changed over the years?

I think it is very evident. Many of us felt he was capable of a greater sense of enthusiasm for the poisoned chalice he has been handed. But, now he has clearly demonstrated through his energy and commitment, the tirelessness of his travels everywhere. I mean look at the five states that are going to the polls. Every single day, he has been in one state or the other or if he has been in Delhi, it has been for a meeting of the appropriate bodies for screening candidates. He has been relentlessly focused on the elections. He has been a full-time political leader beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Has Modi not done a single thing that could be counted as an achievement?

There haven't been too many positives to mention. If you look at foreign policy, for example, I have praised some soft power gestures such as the International Day for Yoga, I praised the tireless travels around the world, but I have questioned what those travels have brought us. In economics, Mr Modi made a good series of speeches, but nothing has been implemented. There is no ease of doing business in India. Instead, you have had the disaster of demonetisation that cost the economy literally lakhs of jobs.

Has Rafale become the Bofors moment for the BJP now?

I would say it is somewhat worse than Bofors. Bofors scandal, sum total was Rs 84 crores and on Bofors, everyone agreed that it was a very good gun. The problem with Rafale is that by reducing the Air Force requirement from 128 to 36 in order to change the terms of the deal national security has been imperilled. Not only the numbers are much higher – thousand times higher than Bofors, but the danger to national security makes it far more serious than Bofors. The Bofors was never a threat to national security, we needed that gun, we got it and it served us well. We needed 128 Rafale and thanks to Modi we have decided to buy only 36. Why?

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Modi distracting attention from real issues: Tharoor

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