If appearances are anything to go by, Shashi Tharoor’s tweets smack of a fight between a jaded establishment and a younger minister who is not in awe of stuffy procedures.
Tharoor, who is also the minister of state for external affairs, had in a tweet said that terrorists who carried out the 26/11 attacks did not have visas. He also highlighted the concern that new rules would make India a less welcoming destination. He was ticked off by minister of external affairs S.M. Krishna, who told journalists that such differences in “perception” should be aired within the four walls of the ministry.
Much of this would be comic, if it did not involve more substantive issues. Tightening of visa rules was a knee-jerk reaction to the David Headley affair. Given the poor state of coordination between the various wings of the government, it was, however, the best that could be done under the circumstances. Tourist inflows are, no doubt, important but can they come at the cost of loosening security procedures, however, imperfect the latter may be? For a minister, Tharoor missed this elementary point. Moreover, the manner in which he raised the issue, on Twitter, trivialized the point. Had he raised the subject internally, his voice would have been more effective.
The controversies that Tharoor finds himself in come against the backdrop of a much-diminished role for the ministry of external affairs in formulating foreign policy. Much of that role has been appropriated by the Prime Minister’s Office. It could be said, uncharitably of course, that Tharoor has plenty of time to tweet. That may not be the case. But it can certainly be asked when was the last time that ministers in the ministry of external affairs were involved in serious policymaking on climate change, international trade or on bilateral relations with other countries.
This is a curious spectacle. The country faces serious external challenges, both in the neighbourhood (one only has to look at Nepal and Pakistan) while ministers dealing with foreign policy are caught in arguments that are best avoided. No one is arguing that Tharoor be prevented from tweeting. But all that his tweets are doing now is to create controversy for him.
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