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Sunday, May 17, 2009

India elections 2009

I have not been able to write a whole lot in the last two months - due to my full time schooling, work and other responsibilities - Mike

Shashi Tharoor Creates History

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Shashi Tharoor has created history by winning the Lok Sabha seat from
the Kerala capital, Trivandrum by an unprecedented margin. Never
before has any one not born in Kerala or not educated here or not
proficient in Malayalam registered an electoral victory in the state.
V.K.Krishna Menon and K.R.Narayanan claimed victories on the basis of
their accomplishments abroad, but they had their places of birth and
educational institutions in Kerala to speak of and they spoke
reasonable Malayalam. More significantly, Tharoor has never worked for
India or represented India at any international forum. He came, he
saw, he conquered.

I was not surprised when Shashi told me more than a year ago that he
intended to seek the Congress ticket for Trivandrum. I knew from his
various moves since his leaving the United Nations that he would seek
political fortunes in India in one way or another. He visited Kerala
many times, held meetings with political leaders, set up an academy of
communications and was generally seen and heard. He had said long ago
that India always mattered to him and that he hoped that one day he
would matter to India. But I had many doubts as to whether his quest
for a political role would be successful. I told him that he had to
overcome several hurdles, which had been built by vested interests in
the political system to prevent new entrants. Dynasty, party hierarchy
and money power were powerful deterrents, I said. I told him that it
would be an uphill task even to get nominated by the Congress Party
and the fact remained also that no Congress candidate had won in
Trivandrum for several years. Shashi had no ready answers, but he
seemed well aware of those challenges and determined to meet them as
they came. He had a sense of mission and nothing would stop him.
In the days that followed, I saw closely how he tackled each issue and
overcame his many opponents. Several Congress leaders were sceptical
about his chances of success on account of his lack of experience and
past record of disapproval of Congress icons. Efforts were made to get
him to contest in a Communist stronghold, Palakkad, which eventually
went to the Left Front. At one stage, Shashi himself seemed to be
reconciled to contesting from his ancestral constituency. In the end,
it was the strong position taken by the Congress high command that
clinched the Congress seat for him.

Once he won the Congress seat, his transformation was complete and he
became a professional politician with gusto. He dressed himself in the
Congress uniform of white khadi, merged into the Congress mainstream
and conducted himself as a traditional Congress candidate, including
hugging babies and throwing garlands to the crowds. He followed the
directives of the local Congress leadership, even though he was aware
of the murmurs of protest among them and went about charming the
electorate. Not many knew who he was or what his achievements were,
but even in the poorest localities, he was welcomed like a new
messiah, untainted by corruption or nepotism. He turned his lack of
proficiency in Malayalam into an advantage by using a few words with
electrifying effect. “If you elect me, I shall work for you
wholeheartedly. I shall try and turn Trivandrum into a city of
international standards”, was his refrain. He did not have to say more
and his transparency and sincerity of purpose won him an army of
admirers, among them many young people, who were attracted by his
pleasing personality.

The Left Front strategy was to discredit Shashi in every possible way
rather than counter his message of change in Indian politics and his
vision for his constituency and his country. A former diplomat,
currently a leftist commentator on international affairs, was brought
in to hatch one theory after another to paint him as pro-US,
pro-Israel and anti-Muslim. Shashi’s writings over the years were
dissected to demolish his image. A 700-word article about Israel, in
which Shashi had argued that India could not emulate Israel in dealing
with Pakistan, was shown as evidence of his love for Israel. Of
course, the article was not publicised, but its many interpretations
were given by Ministers and “intellectuals”. At the same time,
Shashi’s admiration for M.F.Hussein was projected as anti-Hindu. A
frivolous charge about showing disrespect to the national anthem
dragged him to a District Court in Kochi. Shashi was not shaken by any
of these; he simply brought out the facts of his position without
disowning what he wrote in the past. He had his record at the United
Nations and his many articles on contemporary events to show his
objectivity and convictions. His campaign team merely had to invite
attention to those to prove the Left Front wrong. Perhaps, Trivandrum
was the only constituency in India where the nuclear deal and policy
towards the US were made into election issues. I was amused that I had
to debate foreign policy with a former colleague on a Trivandrum beach
with bewildered fishermen watching us!

Shashi, having declared his wealth, did not seek campaign
contributions from the public and found the money for the campaign
himself. This made a remarkable impression on the public mind and
assured them that he will not serve the rich campaign contributors. He
had his supporters around the globe, some of whom camped in Kerala to
work quietly for him. They kept away from the Party campaign, but
worked away on their laptops through night and day to spread the word
around in favour of Shashi Tharoor. The NRI excitement over Shashi’s
candidature resulted in their relatives back home extending support to
him. The cyber space was agog with campaign slogans. Facebook, Orkut,
Twitter and other modern means of communications among young people
must have helped him in various ways.

Shashi Tharoor and Congress party coming together was a recipe for
success. If Shashi had chosen to contest on his own on the basis of
his personal accomplishments, he could have presented an agenda for
change and made a splash, but like some of the other independent
stars, he would have made a point, but not gone any further. But once
he made the necessary changes in his perspectives to come to terms
with the Congress ideology, the way was clear for him to claim
victory. In the ultimate analysis, he can take the credit for taking
the right decisions at the right moments in the last few months. No
one has played a more decisive role in his victory than himself.
In giving a massive mandate to Shashi, Trivandrum has not only elected
a Member of Parliament, but also a Minister in the central cabinet.
There is a clear expectation that his talents in foreign affairs and
his contacts around the globe will be put to productive use by the
Prime Minister. The fact that the Congress will not have too many
pressures on cabinet formation in the present scenario has raised
these hopes further. But whether this happens or not, Shashi is sure
to make an impact in New Delhi.

Shashi did not overplay the “change” card as Barrack Obama did,
because he was seeking to get elected on the ticket of the grand old
party of India. But he does represent the urge for change---change
from an old generation to the new, from corruption to cleanliness in
politics and from inefficiency to effective action. He has already
created history; he should now proceed to prove that change is
possible.

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