The Telegraph
Saturday , June 7 , 2014
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Curious case of Cong kid gloves for Shashi

New Delhi, June 6: If Narendra Modi has told his flock not to address the nation every day, the Congress has turned permissive overnight.

So tolerant is the Congress that it has decided to look the other way for now as Shashi Tharoor merrily — and publicly — stands by his adulatory comments on the Prime Minister and advises “liberals” on how to conduct a debate.

“I stand by every 1 of my criticisms of @narendramodi in the past just as I appreciate his words in the present. Will watch his future actions,” the former Union minister tweeted.

He followed it up with another tweet: “Indian liberals should understand we can only win on the quality of our arguments, not the intensity of our anger. Our virtue isn’t self-evident.”

Several Congress leaders — some in private and a few in public — greeted the tweets with derision and claimed the “top leadership” was extremely unhappy.

But they added that no punitive action was being contemplated “as of now” — which brings up the question why the Congress has become so indulgent now.

While the crushing defeat may have robbed the party of the stomach for another fight within, some wondered if the party was sending signals to the Modi government that it was not averse to a working relationship.

The party leaders vehemently discounted the possibility of any such thinking. But they could not explain why else Tharoor, who is neither considered a loose cannon nor known to be nursing ambitions to cosy up to the BJP, would stick to his guns on such an issue.

Tharoor not only tweeted his views but also explained to the party his stand on Modi through a letter to Congress communications chief Ajay Maken, which was not made public.

Sources said Tharoor strongly defended his remarks and contended that the Congress should not appear fixated on Modi’s past and instead send a message that it was assessing his performance with an open mind.

He felt that the Congress would enhance its own credibility by judging the new government on the basis of its performance.

Senior leaders insisted that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul disapproved of Tharoor’s conduct while most general secretaries claimed to be livid with him.

But the Congress leaders also conceded that in the letter, Tharoor did not express any regret but lectured the party on the right strategy to be followed. He rubbished charges that he had turned into a Modi fan and was ready to undermine his secular credentials.

Tharoor was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.

Others said the Congress leadership had already sent positive signals to the government by not being churlish in defeat — which is far more difficult than being gracious in victory — and did not need to do so through Tharoor. They cited the examples of Sonia attending Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and Rahul paying tribute to Gopinath Munde who died on Tuesday.

Sources said Tharoor stuck to his line by contending that by praising Modi on specific issues, “we help frame public expectation of his continued behaviour and raise the bar against which we will judge him in future…. Our credibility as attacker will be far greater if we have been gracious when it seems to be warranted.”

While some leaders claimed that they were extremely angry with him and would like the leadership to remove him from the spokespersons’ list, others felt that acting against him at this point would trigger bigger controversies and the best option was to close the chapter.

A senior leader said: “Modi hasn’t yet acted positively on concerns that are very genuine in the context of his track record and the communal polarisation we saw during the campaign. Making Sanjeev Balyan, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, a minister was a dangerous signal. We hear he wanted Amit Shah to be the BJP president. What evidence has Tharoor gathered to prove Modi’s graciousness?”

Another senior leader said: “Modi may not have committed too many mistakes so far but that doesn’t mean we should sing his praises and describe him as an avatar of development. Tharoor has to be told that articulation and understanding are both required in politics. One should wait for a few years, see the larger picture and finer points and then review Modi’s politics.”

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh tweeted: “Modi avatar2. Let’s not jump to conclusions but wait.”

Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda on Friday met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who tweeted a photograph (above) of the meeting. The visit drew attention because on the campaign trail, Gowda had vowed to take political sanyas and leave Karnataka if Modi became Prime Minister. Modi had then replied that the former Prime Minister could go to Gujarat where Modi would serve him like a son, to which Gowda had retorted he had four sons and two daughters to take care of him. A source in the government said: “Those who think Modi pursues vindictive politics are mistaken. You will see how his conduct in the Lok Sabha belies their false belief.”