Exclusive: Digital media has championed Indian democratic renewal; voters have emboldened the judiciary: Shashi Tharoor


I am curious by nature, especially about authors and writers. They are my favourites. When I was invited by Penguin to attend a talk by four-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor, it was an invitation I couldn’t pass. The former union minister is often the subject of memes and internet jokes, as his spoken English is sometimes Google-worthy.

In a nation where youngsters, who do not read, constitute 67% of the population, he may seem an enigma.

Tharoor’s love for words came from his father Chandran with whom he used to play Scrabble. The senior would keep teenager Tharoor guessing, till he got the words right. Don’t be surprised when you hear words such as ‘snollygoster’, ‘farrago’ and ‘rodomontade’, which earned him the title ‘Tharoorosaurus’.

Tharoor adored his father. His mother Lily read to the blind for 30 years. There was a culture of reading and writing at home, where liberal views were encouraged.

Tharoor lost his father, who was only 63 years old, to a heart attack when he was 10. His mother raised him and his two sisters. His book, ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister’ was only the tip of the iceberg; he went on to pen more than 20 books.

At the book launch of Radha Kumar’s ‘The Republic Relearnt’, where I was to hear Tharoor speak, I saw the small auditorium filled with guests, but – unlike most Delhi events – no one jostled for seats. Even senior bureaucrats, activists, journalists, admirers and detractors were happy to stand, listen, argue. Tharoor came on time, sans fanfare, in a henna-coloured kurta, matching pocket square, a red coral shining from his digits, red threads on his wrists, and a brooch that was the Indian tricolour!

Talking about Parliament opening after the elections, Tharoor said he believed the speaker controversy died down as Om Birla, despite protests, was confirmed as the 17th Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

“There were protests in Parliament over NEET; we must have a wider range of views, or it will be like clutching straws in the wind. It is too early to talk about the government in power. I don’t agree that we are living in the second republic; we are, according to me, still in the first,” he said.

“The aware Indian voter has emboldened the judiciary, and even though the government controls the CBI and IT, and uses them against the opposition, voters have finally shown their assertion. The eco-system has changed due to the elections,” he added, as his eyes scanned the room to find columnist Tavleen Singh, and former diplomat Mani Shanker Aiyer, in attendance.

B.R. Ambedkar had rightly exclaimed that institutions are more important than the people who ran them. Tharoor recalled how Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were earlier State leaders, who got national prominence only later. “Now both these leaders will be working with some constraints, as the election results have made sure,” he added, saying the integrity of institutions is based on those helming them as they take the final call.

Tharoor said the digital media championed democratic renewal during the elections. “I have run a political office for 20 years from Delhi. I employ many young people. The pay is not so good, but the youth gain great experience. Most have interesting ideas and orientation. These young people will own the democracy of the future. I see many of them working in Niti Aayog too. They should understand what politics means; they seem ready, and it gives me confidence about where we are headed. They work in the grassroots, where the real learning is,” added Tharoor, who has worked with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

If the 84th amendment of the Indian Constitution lapses, it could change the fundamental character of the Constitution. This, Tharoor believed, will change the DNA of democracy. He hoped many things were in the offing. There have been almost 106 amendment acts made in the Indian Constitution which have altered Indian polity.

Tharoor disagreed with Aiyer on how panchayats are a stepping stone to learning the ropes of politics, as the former believed they do not have the resources to continue good work. “Women often helm panchayats, by default; they are quite effective in Kerala. I recently got a rude shock, on reading a poll that said 85% of the respondents preferred an authoritarian rule. It is a cause of worry, and is disturbing,” added Tharoor.

He highlighted how a lot of time had lapsed from when laws were made for the country. Now, one should ideally not take them out of context but look at them in the current scenario. The first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, pushed for passing the first Constitutional Amendment Act; it empowered the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially/ economically backward classes.

“Let me tell you, Hindi is not our national language as many think. There is no one language. Look at the lessons the ruling party learnt in Uttar Pradesh. For their efforts to create a Hindu belt, they were pushed back by voters,” Tharoor asserted, adding he was in favour of passing the anti-discrimination law.

Education, he said, was the final frontier; it could change the character of the country. Tharoor seemed unhappy with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which “unceremoniously removed some chapters during COVID. The kind of education that NCERT is attempting to give will become a big obstacle. Kerala reinstated the deleted chapters; States have the power to right a wrong. I have also been prosecuted by authorities. We all have faced the brunt of injustice, but won’t stop our fight against it,” he concludes. – Asmita Aggarwal is fashion & lifestyle editor of nrifocus.com


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