The outsider-insider


BV Rao | April 19, 2010

This morning's Indian Express's editorial castigates Shashi Tharoor for thoughtlessly blowing up a great opportunity, not just for himself, but for all professionals who might want to make a lateral entry into politics:


Out of the many lessons to be taken away from Shashi Tharoor’s spectacular self-destructiveness, the saddest would be that lateral entry into politics is not all it’s cracked up to be. Those who came into government after proving their professional mettle elsewhere, it was expected, were going to be a rejuvenating force. They would amp up the government’s metabolism, supply new and interesting ideas, and provide a bracing counter to those who had got too cynical about politics.

Tharoor won Thiruvanathapuram with a dramatic mandate, but how has he repaid that trust? After he was made a junior minister for external affairs, his cockiness resurfaced. He talked of changing the system — but after he got inside the political tent, he figured it was bad only for those outside, and proceeded to embrace the worst of Delhi’s political culture. Instead of trying to dismantle the IPL oligarchy, he jumped right in, cutting deals and favour-mongering. Meanwhile, he continued with the too-cool-for-school moves — forced out of his fancy hotel, he mouthed Congress pieties on austerity, but playfully undercut them on Twitter. He was obliged to toe his ministry’s line on visas or his party’s beliefs about its own leaders, but his convictions were larger. He was in Indian politics, but not of it. He has made his party look like a fusty encumbrance, while he had a direct line to the ‘new India.’ New India deserves better.

Why is Tharoor’s infraction so unforgivable? Because he stands for those who explicitly promised otherwise. This episode has not only depleted his own credibility, but also undermined the idea of the accomplished outsider who can tilt the political field. It has undermined a case for professional expertise in government, in part for the guarantee of personal probity. Certainly, those who parachute into politics could be just as likely to play the insider’s game, once they are inside. But government and politics in India are particularly closed to giving leadership roles to those without long apprenticeships. Tharoor, as Pied Piper, has now put the system on guard. Fortunately there are redeeming examples like Nandan Nilekani, pouring his experience and intellect into the UID project with quiet efficiency. It would be a terrible pity if the Tharoor example was snatched up those who wanted to keep politics and governance a closed ladder. But it should certainly dent the empty, untested, unqualified enthusiasm about PLU politicians.



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