Modi's Clean India tag: Tantrum throwing Cong is childish, not Tharoor

Ogden Nash wisely wrote:

A panther is like a leopard
except it hasn’t been peppered
should you behold a panther crouch
prepare to say ouch
better yet, if called by a panther
don’t anther.

Had Nash been around now, he might have said his warning applied to being tagged by a panther as well as Shashi Tharoor is finding out.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tagged Shashi Tharoor in his Swachh Bharat campaign and Tharoor has said that he is "honoured". The cat is out of the bag say some in Tharoor's party and rumours are flying wild that Tharoor is about to switch over to the BJP.

Some in the Congress have not forgiven Tharoor for a piece he wrote in the Huffington Post that said that as "Modi had remade himself from a hate figure into an avatar of modernity and progress, he is seeking to remake the BJP from a vehicle of Hindu chauvinism to a natural party of governance." Mind you, Tharoor offered no opinion about whether that makeover was genuine or cosmetic and opportunistic. And he also said the killing of the Muslim IT professional in Pune showed Modi’s message had not trickled down. But in the modern-day Kurukshetra of Indian politics even the slightest praise for the other side is immediately painted as betrayal and treachery and construed as the prelude to defection. No matter that the same Tharoor also endorsed the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Kugelman’s view that the Modi visit to US was "long on pageantry and short on substance."

 Modis Clean India tag: Tantrum throwing Cong is childish, not Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor in a file photo. Reuters

But that does not matter. In politics where everything is a loyalty litmus test, especially in a party like the Congress, and even a nod at the opposition becomes tantamount to sleeping with the enemy.

The Kerala unit spokesperson of the Congress says "Tharoor should stop his constant adulation of Narendra Modi" and "disciplinary action against Tharoor" would be discussed once the Kerala unit president returned to the state capital. What should Tharoor have done – untagged himself? Said he is against Clean India? Against toilets? For dumping garbage and urinating in public spaces?

Modi is no doubt trying to score a political coup by trying to own the Clean India campaign and project himself as a national leader rather a BJP strongman. It’s a smart attention-grabbing PR move but the issue is a genuine one. If anything it shows someone on Modi’s team is very social media savvy and paid attention to the viral power of the Ice Bucket challenge. The launch of a government initiative is usually a case-study of the unimaginative — soporific and preachy. The tagging idea actually gives the whole campaign a fillip these initiatives sorely need.

"When a PM picks up a broom, it is news; the country pays attention," admits Tharoor on NDTV.com even as he goes on to say "the real challenge will be to sustain it beyond a week of photo ops."

Some of his colleagues in the Congress think Tharoor is a fly walking into the Modi’s silken web. "Tharoor is not a second standard student and had the responsibility to see the political motives behind the cleaning mission," scolds state unit general secretary M Liju as quoted by The Telegraph.

But it is the Congress that sounds more like the second grade student — petty and churlish in defeat. Opposition does not mean opposing for the sake of it. When Modi re-deploys the damaad weapon, party loyalists can rally around Robert Vadra if they so choose. But Robert Vadra is one thing. Toilets are another. Congress should pick its fights a little more wisely.

Tharoor has had to issue a hasty clarification on Facebook pointing to his "30-year paper trail of published writings on (his) idea of India" and saying he remains a "proud Congressman and a proud Indian. In short: not pro-BJP, just pro-India!"

Just as Modi supporters want to construe anything remotely anti-Modi as anti-India, some in the Congress are equally virulent about rejecting any good idea by Modi. The loser on both sides becomes India as good ideas remain imprisoned in political straitjackets. Clean India should not be one party’s monopoly.

When an Obama invited a Republican to be his defense secretary or George W Bush invited a Democrat to be his transportation secretary it was not regarded as high treason. And it’s not like Narendra Modi offered Tharoor a cabinet position. He just tagged him along with eight other public figures including Sachin Tendulkar, Priyanka Chopra and Baba Ramdev. It says more about Tharoor’s social media clout and public profile than his stature as a Congress politician. The overreaction to that in the Congress says more about the party’s insecurity than anything else.

Not everyone in the Congress has been as hysterical. Rajiv Shukla did tell Mint “Why should we be surprised about it? There are lot many things, which every government has to do and the opposition has to cooperate.” The outcry in Kerala might have more to do with the resentments and feuds in its local politics than any real Modi-Tharoor bromance but it does little for the image of the already battered Congress. Mani Shankar Aiyar sounds more peeved than anything when he tells the Economic Times he is honoured not to have been invited by the Prime Minister just as Tharoor says he is honoured to have been invited - a clear case of swachh Bharat abhimaan as opposed to swachh Bharat abhiyaan.

If a Congress leader feels the Swachh Bharat campaign is going about it the wrong way he should make that case. But Narendra Modi, whether you like him or hate him, occupies the position of the prime minister of India.

And when he tags you, you cannot not "anther".

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Updated Date: Oct 08, 2014 11:41:39 IST