Delhi BJP Leader Rajeev Babbar sues Shashi Tharoor for “Scorpion” remark against PM Narendra Modi

The Delhi BJP leader, Rajeev Babbar has filed a criminal defamation complaint against Congress Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor before a court in Delhi for his alleged “Scorpion” remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, news agency PTI said. According to the report, Babbar had filed the criminal defamation complaint stating that his religious sentiments were hurt with Tharoor’s remark.

Shashi Tharoor, Photo: PTI

“I am a devotee of Lord Shiva. However, the accused (Shashi Tharoor) completely disregarded the sentiments of crores of Shiva’s devotees, made the statement which hurt the sentiments of all the Lord Shiva devotees, both in India and outside the country”, Babbar stated in the complaint.

The complaint further stated, “The complainant’s religious sentiments were hurt and the accused deliberately did this malicious act, intending to outrage religious feeling of Lord Shiva devotees by insulting their religious believes.”

Freedom of Expression

Tharoor dismissed the complaint by terming the defamation complaint as “frivolous” and alleged that it was an attempt to “throttle the freedom of expression.” Babbar, in a complaint filed through the lawyer Neeraj, termed the statement as “intolerable abuse” and “absolute vilification” of the faith of millions of people. Reacting to the complaint, Tharoor told the media, “The charges are frivolous. If we start to stifle the right of the people to quote published material then where would our democracy head? Where is the freedom of expression?”

Babbar filed the criminal defamation complaint under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code relating to defamation. The matter is likely to be heard next Saturday, noted the report.

Controversy

Apparently, Tharoor had created a fresh controversy yesterday while speaking at the Bangalore Literature Festival, claiming that an unnamed RSS leader had told him, “Modi is like a scorpion sitting on a Shivling. You cannot move it with your hand, and you cannot hit it with a chappal (slipper) either.”

New Book

Tharoor’s newest book, “The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and his India” deals with dissecting the Moditva brand of politics, where the author drives home the point that Modi is creating an India in his own image, writes Rihab Najeem in The Business Line.

At a time when it seems the only resource reliably worth the plunder is the public’s attention span, the advertising industry has to toil harder to separate a fool from his money. Take, for instance, books — a considerably attention-intensive product in an increasingly attention-deficit society. When new marketing strategies for books veer from bizarre book trailers to courting controversy on social media, politician and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor chose to promote his latest title, The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and his India, through a device made familiar by his Twitter forays: a long, mildly baffling word.

‘Floccinaucinihilipilification’ was intended to convey what Tharoor thought of the Central government. Contrary to what breathless headlines insisted, the word was not being introduced to Indian audiences for the first time. In his 1991 film Agantuk, filmmaker Satyajit Ray has the protagonist, played by Utpal Dutt, explain the word’s meaning: “It means having little or no value”. Remarking how 29 letters are needed to express this sentiment, Dutt’s character asks: “Is this what civilisation has come to?” Interestingly, Tharoor’s new book sets out to ask the same question, writes Rihab.

A man and his regime

BLink met Tharoor (62) at his residence in Lodhi Estate in New Delhi. The former UN under-secretary general Tharoor bears all the signs of the only leveller in a power- and hierarchy-obsessed city — a smog-induced cold. But that hardly dulls the edges of his words as he explains the focus of the book — a fine-grained scrutiny of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-and-a-half years at the helm of India.

“I look at this phase in India’s political history through the prism of the Prime Minister specifically because his personal stamp is evident throughout his regime,” Tharoor says.

The book begins with a profile, an account of the “fundamental contradiction” within Modi as PM. Tharoor writes, “[Modi] advocates liberal principles and objectives, but if these are to be fulfilled, he would need to jettison the very illiberal forces that have helped ensure his electoral victories.” Referring to how the current dispensation has moved from the classic trope of Hindutva into that of “Moditva” — described in the opening chapter as “a combination of Hindutva, nationalism, economic development and overweening personal leadership” — Tharoor tells BLink, “It became impossible to ignore the PM’s personal responsibility for the direction of the government.”

Rihab writes, “The contents page — generally a benign section in most books — reads like an incriminating laundry list. With chapter titles such as ‘A Growing Wave of Communalism’, ‘The Attack on Institutions’, ‘Destroying Parliament’, and ‘The Dark Truth About Black Money’, the book is a wide-canvas sketch of the government’s many controversial measures and policies.”

A divisive logic

Tharoor, who is a Congress MP from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala, does not find it easy to make time to write. “I have a full day’s work in my constituency and I therefore write at night,” he explains. “So I didn’t sleep much for the last nine months, trying to get the book together. But it was worth it, because the impact of the book is greater now, with only a few months left to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, than had it arrived in the midst of the hullaballoo of an ongoing election.” He says emphatically, “I want people to think about these things.”

Eye of a Storm

Stating that Tharoor has frequently been in the eye of a storm for making remarks that raise the hackles of either his own party members or his detractors, Rihab goes on to write that Tharoor was dropped as a spokesperson by the Congress when he congratulated Modi for his victory in the 2014 polls, while earlier this week, he was attacked by the BJP for describing Modi as a scorpion sitting on a Shivalingam. One cannot hit it with one’s hands, nor with a slipper, he said, and later clarified that he was merely repeating what an unnamed RSS member had been quoted as saying in a published article.

The new book was launched in very short time as his book, titled: “Why I am a Hindu” was released only in January this year. Reaffirming the pluralist ethos of the Hindu faith, the book defends the more inclusive and compassionate tenets of Hinduism against the excesses of Hindutva — cow vigilantism, lynch mobs, ghar wapsi, love jihad.

“It’s startling to know that of all the cow vigilante incidents, 97% took place in Modi’s regime. We’re looking at an extraordinary transformation here,” Tharoor writes and adds: “I grew up in the India of the 1960s, the India of inclusion, national integration, along with a certain amount of complacency about the fact that we had rejected the logic of Partition, and that we were a country for everyone. All of those things are now being fundamentally questioned.”

Pointing out “an intangible but perceptible change in the attitudes of people”, Tharoor who was the Union Minister during the previous UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh, uses the Modi’s meteoric political ascent as a metaphor that explains the creeping resurgence of Hindu chauvinism in modern India, writes Rihab.

Wielding a sales pitch as a weapon

In the article, Rihab continues, “Tharoor locates Modi’s intellectual and political conditioning within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which from its origins in 1925 propagated a vision of a Hindu Rashtra founded on an aggressively masculine and exclusionary nationalism.”

Charting Modi’s political maturation from pracharak to Chief Minister of Gujarat, amid the 2002 riots that later led the Opposition to coin the epithet “Maut ka Saudagar” (‘Merchant of Death’), to eventually becoming a Prime Ministerial candidate on the strength of his economic management of Gujarat, Tharoor cites a market analogy.

“All this was deftly portrayed through skilled marketing: the product was the chief minister himself, the sales pitch was slick and tirelessly repeated, and the ‘consumer’ was the Indian voter, first in Gujarat but thereafter across the nation,” Tharoor writes in the book.

Weaponising Social Media

The way the Modi government has weaponised social media and image marketing is a recurrent theme in the book, Riham writes.”Discussing Modi’s ‘politics of performance’, Tharoor had written in the new book, “It goes back to 2012-13 when Modi starts building up his personal image, hires a number of internationally recognised public relations firms and starts putting out images and messages that are meant to change the perception of what people assume he is and what he might be.”

“Suddenly, a very successful and rather expensive and extensive campaign is conducted to portray him as not another khaki shorts-wearing RSS pracharak, and to actually sell the idea to young Indians that here was a man who could identify with their aspirations”, Tharoor writes. “Here was a new standard-bearer, a smartly attired modern man who could click a mouse with one hand while brandishing a trishul in the other”, Tharoor was quoted by Rihab as stating in his book. However, the MP believes Modi has had less success in selling his government policies to the public, despite the staggering budget for publicity alone, writes Rihab.

The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in response to a Right to Information query was quoted as saying by the BL report as early as May that the Modi government had spent ₹4,343 crore on publicity since it came to power in May 2014. Tharoor points out how the publicity budget for the Swachh Bharat Mission was five times the outlay for the mission itself. “This is very much a government of smoke and mirrors, that substantive results are far less important to them than the appearance of results; and this is apparent across the board,” he argues. “The photo-op trumps the outcome.”

My party, right or wrong

“One wonders what will remain of the pillars of our democracy by the time Modi is done if he gets another second innings, and therefore it is extremely important to deny him that,” Tharoor says as he concludes the interview.

The book heaves with the weight of its intended purpose — to change the fate of an election. But the “thoughtful, book-reading, Indian public”, for whom Tharoor says he has written his latest title, is certain to notice a glaring blindness in the essays, writes Rihab.

If someone unfamiliar with Indian political and social history were to read them, they would come away thinking worse of the Indian voting public for electing such a government. Unless, of course, one also widens the scope of enquiry to include the role that Tharoor’s own party has had in making Modi seem like the inevitable, inexorable choice, notes the report.

The Paradoxical Prime Minister styles itself as the literary equivalent of a speeding, wailing ambulance taking the voter’s moral and intellectual conscience through the path to recovery — a Modi-mukt sarkar. But it fails to acknowledge the many ways in which the voter was so severely ailing that Modi seemed like a cure, added the report.