We are a dour people and can’t take a joke. Or else, why would we be up in arms against an innocuous remark by someone in a social networking group? But then Dr Shashi Tharoor is not a ‘someone’; he is a sun rising on the political horizon of
On Twitter, journalist Kanchan Gupta (Associate Editor, the Pioneer) asked Shashi Tharoor on 14 September 2009 at 11:57 PM on if he would be travelling by cattle class during his next visit to Kerala. Tharoor’s tongue-in-cheek twitter reply was: ‘Absolutely in cattle class, out of solidarity with all our holy cows!’
This is humour. Friendly banter. Good back-slapping fun. Nothing less, nothing more. (For the uninitiated – and this may include the Congress High Command - ‘Cattle class’ is an internationally popular slang for the standard class, lowest class or the Economy class.)
Now, what’s wrong with that?! Anybody – and that includes a minister – with a reasonably good command over English idioms and phrases will jump to give such a reply! You say ‘cattle’ and a witty person is most likely to think of the exclamation ’sacred cow!’ or the expression ‘holy cow’.
It’s even more likely to happen when you are writing at a micro-blogging site like Twitter where you have to sum up what you have to say in 140 characters or less! Tharoor gave a clever reply to a simple query. He spoke so much in so little.
I consider it quite acceptable and think it has nothing to do with hurting the political sensibilities or offending the religious sentiments of people. It is humour: appreciate it or ignore it! But the Congress is doing neither. It has misunderstood the comment and thinks Tharoor is ‘referring to a certain person as cow!’ It says ‘high command will decide.’
He asked for it. Shashi Tharoor, back to
When the number of his followers crossed one lakh, alarm bells started ringing. Outside of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Tharoor, a political novice, had become the first leader to connect directly to so many Indians, and that too interactively on a daily basis..
His soaring popularity, highlighted regularly by the media, created a new star in the Congress overnight. More significantly, it also made many Indians acutely aware of the distance and the disconnect that existed between them and the much more youthful Rahul Gandhi, the uncrowned king of the country..
The High Command had to do something. Sure enough, it reacted a few days back by publicly ordering him out of the five-star hotel he was staying in. He would have to shift to a place like the rather humble Kerala House where not only was there no gymnasium, Tharoor even had to eat food in the canteen like, and with, the real ‘aam aadmi’.
It is clear that Tharoor did not get the real message then. His explanation that he wanted privacy for which he was paying from his pocket and that in order to keep fit, he needed to use the gymnasium did not wash.
The Congress was not going to let him get away. It was just waiting for that inevitable slip that would give it just the opportunity that it needed to censure him even more severely and put a firm end to his twittering ways.
He did that and more in his reply to a tweet about travelling in Economy Class as a part of the austerity drive launched by the Congress High Command. It did not matter that he was not the first to use the ‘offending’ expression ‘cattle class’; he was only repeating the words of the journo. It did not matter that it was repartee and wordplay.
The Congress party hit back hard saying that his remarks were ‘unacceptable, given the sensitivity of all Indians and not in sync with our political culture’. The ‘political culture’ bit is the operative part. How can any Congressman dare to even remotely compare Sonia Gandhi with a cow? Criticising the party's Holy Family is blasphemy!
Tharoor, in his subsequent tweets, says:
1. learned belatedly of fuss over my tweet replying to journo's query whether i wld travel to Kerala in "cattle class". His phrase which i rptd
2. it's a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle. Many have misunderstd
3. i'm told it sounds worse in Malayalam, esp out of context. To those hurt by the belief that my repeating the phrase showed contempt: sorry
4. i now realize i shldnt assume people will appreciate humour. &u shouldn't give those who wld wilfully distort yr words an opportnty to do so
5. holy cows are NOT individuals but sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge. Wish critics wld look it up
But then who has the time or inclination to learn the nuances of the language when the brief is to destroy a rising star?
I am sure this is not the end of the story. I will not be surprised if he is given a ‘punishment transfer’ to the Ministry for Rural Development and soon finds himself travelling in real ‘cattle class’: a bullock cart, on the dirt tracks that you find in India's hinterland. Any bets on the timeframe?