India’s Congress Party Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor complains that nuance is lost on some of his tribe, his tribe being politicians. Tharoor, who has to frequently shake his head sideways to keep his silky, lustrous hair from falling on his forehead in the 1960s version of Justin Bieber, is getting some grief these days for what some of his fellow Congress members in his home state of Kerala describe as his “love letters” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Kerala Congress members averse to Tharoor think that he is not supposed to express anything that sounds even remotely civil about the prime minister.
I suspect part of the criticism comes from the hair envy that some of Tharoor’s Kerala Congress colleagues might feel.
Tharoor, who is a prolific social media presence and a regular TV commentator, blogger and columnist, has occasionally said things about the prime minister which might be construed as positive. However, he insists that what he has said by way of genuine constructive criticism about Modi far outweighs anything that he might have said in nuanced praise or acknowledgement. It is in this context that Tharoor complains that nuance is lost on some of his fellow Congress politicians.
Here is what I think. Congress politicians do like nuance. It is just that they like brutalizing it for political reasons much more. Tharoor, who made a successful career as a United Nations diplomat who very nearly became its secretary-general, is obviously seen as a bit of a gatecrasher by some members of the Kerala Congress Party. He is perhaps just too sleek, urbane, nuanced and even hipster for them. They see him and think “Interloper.” In fact, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a brilliant but increasingly curmudgeonly senior colleague of Tharoor’s who does not belong to Kerala, has by implication called him a comprador.
Tharoor’s problem is that he is trying to keep the discourse at a reasonable, rational level in a profession that abhors both. In some ways, professional Congress members are justified in reacting the way they do because before he became prime minister Modi was known to be a master of gratuitously knee-jerk denunciations of the party and its leadership. He never saw nuance that he did not want to grab by the scruff of the neck and rough up.
Speaking of nuance and stomping on it, the prime minister is also getting a taste of his own medicine on the question of the continuing firing by Pakistani troops along the Kashmir border. The Congress has described him as an “absentee PM” prompting the prime minister to plead with the party not to politicize because it can demoralize Indian troops retaliating against Pakistan’s ceasefire violations. Funny story. Modi used to do the same thing and more effectively so when he was in opposition to the federal government led by the Congress Party. So he might consider his own utterances in the past during Pakistan’s many such violations before feeling slighted.
The lesson to be learned here, if there is ever a lesson to be learned, is that nuance can go suck its thumb in realpolitik.