HOW long does it take the Congress party to turn a babu from New York into a full-fledged politician? Six months, give or take a few days. That is how long it took Manmohan Singh & Co. to turn Shashi Tharoor, a harmless little bureaucrat from the United Nations, into a politician, complete with a Nehru jacket, woman or women in tow, and, of course, a king-sized fortune out of virtually nothing.
The trouble with Tharoor was that he tried to do in India what his friends have been doing in the United Nations, namely, use their authority to help their friends make money. For the UN is one of the most corrupt bodies in the world, so corrupt that the US refused to pay its dues for ten long years until corruption was brought under control. But India is not UN. To start with, we don’t have that much money here, or at least we didn’t until IPL came in. Only those who operate IPL know their way around and outsiders are suspect. Tharoor’s goose was cooked even before he had knocked at IPL’s door.
Tharoor was not a UN diplomat, as many people believe. He was a PRO, or public relations officer, with a high sounding designation, which is a UN specialty. If he was a genuine diplomat, he would not have made a fool of himself in the election to the top job at the UN. He got a few small nations to back him but his biggest catch was Manmohan Singh. How Dr Singh fell for the bait is a long story but the fact is he did. Singh backed him against all odds and also against all warnings, including from his own foreign office which told him repeatedly that Tharoor had no chance. But Singh ploughed on nonetheless and raised the biggest laugh this side of the Atlantic.
Apparently, this was not enough. Singh also gave him a ticket for the Lok Sabha and had him elected from Kerala. He was told he would be made deputy prime minister but saner counsels prevailed and he was asked to cool his heels in the foreign ministry, where his own boss had no use for him.
By that time, Tharoor had become a full-fledged congressman and was thick with the sort of people who gather at the five-star watering holes in the capital and exchange gossip, mostly about other politicians and money. Delhi had always had a fascination for politicians who flit in and out of the city, and also for money, of which there is no dearth. The combination-money and politics-is tantalising for a man on the loose in the political jungle that is Delhi and you are quickly caught in the swirl. You forget you are a minister bound by certain rules. But which Congressman ever cared for rules? And that is precisely when your downfall begins. In the case of Tharoor, the famous diplomat from the United Nations, it took just six months from beginning to end, and the man is now back where he came from i.e. the street.
When Tharoor came to Delhi, many thought that, with the kind of background he had, he would be quite an asset to the party in power. He would sit down and draft policy papers on issues pertaining to foreign affairs and hold seminars at India International Centre. That would give him an opportunity to carve out a niche for himself in a field Congressmen generally keep away from.
But this is not what Congressmen do when they are in power. They wangle trips to New York and Washington, with stopovers in Geneva, to look up old friends and collect rents from their tenants in Manhattan. Congressmen have more apartments in New York than you and I have in Dadar, Mumbai, or Karolbagh, New Delhi. They probably own most of Manhattan, not to speak of Chunks of Zurich, where you have all those banks. You thus have very little time for seminars on such weighty subjects as nuclear proliferation, let alone China. The nearest our Congress friends have ever been to China is when they order chow-mein at the Dragon restaurant in Janpath, New Delhi.
What we should worry about is not Shashi Tharoor, who is small fry, but his seniors in the party who have been incredibly naïve in regard to people like him and the whole business of IPL. What exactly is IPL and how does a minister, who has nothing to do with cricket, get involved in it? Is it a cricket tournament or a gambling den masquerading as a tournament? IPL is said to be worth around Rs. 15,000 crore, most of it owned by men and women who deal heavily in black money-hence the strong presence of Bollywood actors, whose fascination with cricket must be a well-guarded secret.
What has Shah Rukh Khan to do with IPL, or, for that matter, with cricket? Has anybody ever seen him with a bat? What is Shilpa Shetty doing there? Nobody has ever associated these people with cricket. Then there is a man from Solapur – Solapur, mind you, not exactly famous for its cricket team – who is said to be absconding from a government department and who is facing several charges of hera-feri, and who is said to be a shareholder in one of the franchises.
Isn’t it the job of the finance minister to keep an eye on such goings-on and find out where so much cash has come from, and so suddenly? Have people paid taxes? If not, why not? It is said that IPL has received tax concessions from the government in order to promote the game. Promote the game? Indians have been playing cricket for a hundred years, which is why they play it so well. So why this sudden burst of tax exemptions? Who asked for them and who sanctioned them? Did they do it on their own, or was the finance minister consulted? And if the FM, or the PM, were consulted, why did they allow the concessions?
The government now says that there will be a full-scale inquiry and nobody will be spared. It is like locking the door after the horse has bolted. Indians are being robbed right and left by this new class of marauders, close to the government as well as the ruling party, who have descended on the game like so many giant caterpillars, from their usual perch in Bollywood, not to speak of breweries, beauty parlours and God knows what else. Why have these people suddenly become so keen on cricket, when, until a few months ago, they had never been near a cricket pitch, and didn’t know a mid-on from a mid-off?
The question is not about cricket, nor is it about IPL, but who is really ruling this country? Can anybody set up a body of businessmen and film actors, collect a few cricketers, and stage matches – and I am using the word deliberately – and make money by the handful, and the government knows nothing about it? The prime minister says he had never heard about IPL. If the prime minister of a country has no idea that thousands of crores are changing hands at every match, and some people, including several from his own party are minting money, then it is time we had a new prime minister. Poor Shashi Tharoor! He has been made a scape-goat by the very people who had been promoting him so far!!
(The writer can be contacted at 301, Mani Kanchan Apts, Kanchan Galli, Law College Road, Pune-411004)