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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 45, October 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Sasi Tharoor, my Representative in Parliament

Sunday 25 October 2009, by N A Karim


Dear Mr Sasi Tharoor,

I am a voter of the Thiruvananthapuram parliamentary constituency from which you were returned to the Lok Sabha in the last elections. With the political glamour of a recent Malayalee contestant to the world’s greatest prestigious executive post, Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation, you won the parliamentary elections with a wide margin of votes over your rivals. As expected, you were made the Minister of State for External Affairs in the Dr Manmohan Singh’s Mark II UPA Government. And we were glad that one more Malayalee was added to the State representation in the new Ministry.

You contested as a nominee of the Congress party, formerly an organisation that Mahatma Gandhi led as the spearhead of India’s liberation movement. The Congress party is still proud of that legacy as the whole nation is grateful to the sagacious and unique way in which he led the people of India, then 400 million, a vast majority of them illiterate and in abject poverty. All the same, he stirred them to action and made them a mass fighting force identifying himself in everything with the poorest in the country whom he called the daridranarayan of this country. He taught his followers the sublime life principle of ‘simple life and high thinking’. It is true that this ideal of life had been degraded later to hypocritical ostentatious austerity of a few mere outward gestures of simplicity while they rolled in wealth and luxury with the money and power gained after independence and assumption of various lucrative offices in government.

Even when this was true, there was a large number of honest people who led a simple, honest life without any vulgar display of wealth and power. This was what people expected from their representatives in government. People who had great hope in your performance as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister of State of External Affairs were terribly disenchanted by some of your early actions and words. Those of us who saw in you a new generation of idealistic politicians of great promise were particularly disappointed due to your love of luxury unacceptable in a people’s representative when poverty and hunger stalk this country including the Trivandrum Lok Sabha constituency you represent in spite of the fact the capital city of the State falls within this constituency where life is apparently better. You might have gone to remote interior areas of your constituency in your campaign trail where you might have seen faces of extreme poverty.

MAHATMA GANDHI wrote a long letter to the Viceroy before he led the Dandi March to impress upon him the unjust nature of the tax on salt used by all. Gandhi made a comparison of the Viceroy’s income with that of a poor peasant in the country. If such a comparison is made now between your income and an agricultural worker in your constituency the gap today will appear wider than the income of the British Viceroy and what Gandhiji used to describe as the daridranarayan in the India of the 1930s.

Yet you were angry when you were politely asked to shift your stay immediately from the seven-star luxury hotel where the room rent for a day was nearly Rs 50,000 and fulminated against the austerity measures of the “sacred cows” of your party. It was done in bad taste, by any standard of public behaviour. When there was strong criticism against your reaction on twitter you accused your critics of lack of sense of humour. The whole episode showed you up in a bad light, and contributed to the shrinkage of your profile. You must remember your immediate predecessor elected from here last time, Panniyan Ravindran, was a quintessential Communist who came from the ranks of ordinary workers.

Trivandrum Lok Sabha was once earlier represented by V.K. Krishna Menon, who was your family friend. He sacrificed his whole life for the freedom of the country through his dedicated and sustained work in the India League, and after independence became our High Commissioner in the UK, Defence Minister and India’s powerful spokesman in world bodies like the UN. Even when he was the High Commissioner with a fleet of expensive limousines in the garage, according to a pen portrait published in the New Statesman with a caricature of Menon drawn by Vicky, he could be seen travelling in late hours among the hangers-on in London’s public transport system.

This is an example of unostentatious austerity, not the kind of simple life of latter day Gandhian Congressmen who do not deny themselves any good things of life—all, of course, behind the Khadi curtain. You were right in a way when you referred to them as holy cows but your own action was unacceptable by any means for an elected representative of the people whose vast majority of workers, according to a recent report of the Arjun Sen Gupta Commission, live on less than Rs 20 a day. Therefore it is immoral for any one in this country, let alone a people’s represen-tative, to live in a luxury hotel the daily room rent of which is Rs 50,000 under the plea that an official residence had not been allotted for you.

The latest Development Report of the UN of which you were a part till recently reveals the bogus propaganda of the government that India is forging ahead under their developmental policies. The rapid growth of Naxals and their activities with the moral and intellectual support of a large section of people in this country is a sure index of the actual situation after more than six decades of independence. The new generation of political leaders should take bold imitatives to put India back in the right track of socio-economic and foreign policies we were following till the eighties of the last century.

Wishing you a meaningful political career,

Yours sincerely,
N.A. Karim

N.A. Karim is a former Professor of English

and an erstwhile Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

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