Somebody should tell Shashi Tharoor to cancel his Twitter account, in the interests of self-preservation if nothing else. It seems to have slipped the mind of the member of Parliament (MP) from Thiruvananthapuram that he’s a minister in the Indian government. Again.
Indiscretions in word and deed during his first tenure in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers had led to an ignominious exit in 2010.
After 30 months away from the government, he was reappointed to it last year, this time as minister of state for human resources development. A few days ago, he tweeted that the identity of the Delhi gang-rape victim should be made public so that the country could honour her.
The Congress party left no one in any doubt about what his colleagues thought of the remark.
“It is his personal opinion. I suggest that since he is a part of the government, he should have given the suggestion to the government rather than making any such statement in public,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said on Wednesday.
Tharoor is also in favour of naming the proposed anti-rape legislation after the victim of the horrific rape and torture. But under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, naming a rape victim is punishable by jail and a fine. And as minister and parliamentarian, Tharoor has taken an oath to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established”.
India does not name laws after individuals. And in the US, where Tharoor has spent much of his working life, laws are named after senators who move the legislation. Besides which, India is a country where many incidents of rape and molestation are not reported because of the social stigma attached to them and because of the widespread negative attitudes of the police when it comes to registering such cases.
If Tharoor, as a prolific writer and an articulate speaker, does have an opinion on a subject, the social network isn’t the place to express it, as long as he is in government. Does he believe that none of his colleagues, including many younger than him in age and experience, in the 78-member council of ministers have personal opinions or are not articulate enough to express them? As a minister and a member of the ruling party, he has many platforms to express his views and give suggestions. When a minister makes a public remark, they will likely be construed as the government’s view.
Tharoor has been getting into trouble because of his ignorance about Indian laws and regulations.
On Wednesday, the Kerala high court declined to stay further proceedings pending in a lower court against Tharoor, in a case relating to alleged disrespect of the national anthem. It was alleged that Tharoor, on 16 December 2008, interrupted the national anthem at a function of Federal Bank at Kochi and asked the audience to sing the Jana Gana Mana by placing right palm on chest like the Americans do, instead of standing to attention as is done in India.
A case was registered against the minister after a complaint by a human rights activist in the chief judicial magistrate’s court, saying that Tharoor had committed an offence under Section 3 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1977. Tharoor has argued that the case was motivated by “political consideration”.
The rules for singing the Indian national anthem are clear: “It should get over in a stipulated time frame over approximately 52 seconds… You should stand up, with your shoulders held straight, and head held high, showing your utmost respect for the nation… Whenever the anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention.”
Ignorance of basic Indian law is not a virtue, especially for an Indian law maker, and that too a minister.