New Delhi, June 5: The Congress has disowned as premature some of its spokesperson Shashi Tharoor’s appreciative remarks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, arguing it would wait and see how his government performs.
But if Tharoor’s article in The Huffington Post tracking Modi’s transformation from a “demonised” figure is hard for the Congress to stomach, his statements at yesterday’s media briefing seemed to belie the charge that he is becoming a “Modi fan”.
Tharoor was critical of the BJP’s ideology and only argued that Modi should not be attacked till he committed mistakes. Here’s the text of his official briefing yesterday:
“Finally, from this podium, I just want to express deep condolence to the family and loved ones of 24-year-old Mohsin Sadiq — an IT professional who was beaten to death in Pune by seven goons belonging to an outfit that calls itself the Hindu Rashtra Sena because of apparently derogatory comments about Mr Bal Thackeray on Facebook.
“(That) the country has come to a point where somebody can be beaten to death for what he has said on Facebook is a very serious indictment of some of the extreme beliefs that have been allowed to take hold in the imaginations of certain people.
“You all know that I particularly have been appreciative publicly, and on the record, of the very conciliatory and inclusive language that we have heard from Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the election but I would say respectfully to him and others in his government that a clear message has not reached everybody.
“Perhaps a message needs to be reinforced and sent down the list of people of a certain political persuasion that the answer to an opinion is another opinion. The answer to a word is another word. It is not violence — seven people going around claiming in the name of a religion the life of another human being.
“I happen to practice that religion myself. I am ashamed that these people can use my Hinduism as a justification for assaulting somebody for what he has done and said on Facebook.” (The police had clarified yesterday that Mohsin was in no way connected to the Facebook post.)
Tharoor was grilled over his remarks about Modi having behaved appropriately since the election victory.
His response: “Let me just again repeat, we encourage and repeat our own appreciation of the very positive and inclusive language we have been hearing from the highest echelons of this government and we urge all concerned to ensure that (the) language and spirit behind those words is heeded at all levels of those who follow this particular set of political beliefs.”
He added: “We have not heard the intolerant language, nor the language used in the run-up to the election, after Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister. It would be churlish for us in the Opposition to ignore the voices of inclusive outreach of the Prime Minister.
“I said jokingly that this may be Modi 2.0. But we will robustly oppose him if Modi 1.0 emerges.”
Many Congress leaders privately admit that Modi has conducted himself with restraint and grace so far and there is no need to be critical without a reason.
But in the Huffington Post article, Tharoor wrote: “To almost everyone’s surprise, Modi and the BJP have eschewed the hubris and triumphalism they might have been assumed to have earned with their sweeping victory.”
He wondered whether “this all adds up to a Modi 2.0, a very different figure in government from the ogre some of us had feared and demonised for years”.
He also wrote: “It is still too early to tell, but the initial signs are encouraging. An ambitious man, Modi appears to realise that if he wants to make a success of his government, he will have to lead the nation from the Centre and not from the extreme Right where he had built his base in the BJP.”
Asked about these views, Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza said: “These are his personal views. Let the government work. This is too early to decide.”
On Tharoor’s appreciation of Modi’s recent language, Oza said: “Not only (the) preaching, (the) practice also we have to see. They coined this slogan during the campaign, ‘Bahut hua naari pe atyachaar, abki baar Modi sarkar (Enough atrocities on women, now it’s Modi’s turn to rule).’ Rape and murder of women have become rampant since then. Let the government work first.”
After the party distanced itself from his stance, Tharoor told a TV channel: “We have been extremely concerned about what Mr Modi represents and his aspirations and ambitions on coming to Delhi. What has been a pleasant surprise for the likes of me is the way in which he has actually conducted himself and spoken after his election.
“From the moment of his victory, he has been amazingly gracious and accommodating, particularly in the language he has (spoken) and the tone he has used. I think it would be churlish not to acknowledge it, for example, when he says that he would be a PM for everyone, including those who have not voted for him.”
Tharoor also said: “We will certainly robustly oppose him. The duty of an Opposition seems to me to stand up for national interest, not to oppose for the sake of opposing everything the government says or does.”
Asked if his party was OK with his high praise for the Prime Minister, Tharoor said he had not been fired yet and was still a spokesperson. He added that his party understood what he was trying to say.
Some in the party could view this as defiance, which is how the Congress has sometimes responded in the past to candid expressions of views by members. The leadership’s reaction will be watched closely over the next few days.