Vegetarian Row: Why Shashi Tharoor should give sarcasm a hard pass

The Congress MP is one of the most outspoken leaders of our time, known for his wit and intellect, but most of his supposedly witty remarks are followed by an apology

Manasa S MurthyUpdated: Thursday, May 28, 2020, 03:19 PM IST
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Congress party leader Shashi Tharoor | File Image

In his Amazon Prime comedy special, Shashi Tharoor joked about how people assume every thing he says to be more complicated than it really is. While the audience cheered, if we think back to his quips and jabs at others' expense, we find that a lot of things he says are in fact quite 'problematic'.

On Tuesday, Tharoor quote-tweeted a Twitter thread correlating meat-eating to aggression, and affirmed that as a vegetarian, he was easily persuaded to believe this theory. "Hitler was a vegetarian.." one Twitter user responded and soon Tharoor was being called out for holding 'casteist' views.

Shashi Tharoor's largely public persona tells us that he is an intelligent, well-read and, obstinately, one of the more progressive leaders of our time.

However, upon taking a closer look at the things he has said in the past, and continues to say now, is proof that knowing how to use every word in the Oxford dictionary is not a measure of how self-aware one is to their internal prejudices.

Earlier this year, he compared Delhi CM Arvind Kejrival's silence on the violence in his state to as a 'prerogative of eunuchs'.

The comment has long been around in British politics and was also used by the legendary fictitious civil servant Sir Humprhey Appleby but it ill-becoming in this day and age.

As his comment drew widespread criticism on social media and many pointed out that such comments were transphobic and offensive to the LGBT+ community, Tharoor was quick to retract the statement.

Under the garb of an apology, the MP tweeted that he offers his deepest apologies to those who were offended by his words and referenced it to a line from old British politics.

The apology was in order, , not because people took offence to his tweet statement, but perhaps because one's jokes give us a deeper view into a person's psyche.

The author of multiple bestselling books and an opinionated person, Shashi Tharoor rarely shies away from addressing the issues at hand, but his colourful criticism of others only ends up exposing his own questionable views.

At some point, Mr. Tharoor, will have to stop hiding behind the excuse of being sarcastic or misinterpreted, and think about the context in which he makes statements.

It also goes without saying that there are some who agree with his statements, laugh with him at his 'witty' jokes and another camp which may not agree with him, but will quickly forgive him for issuing an apology, as they believe it is a mark of greatness for a popular leader such as him, to publicly apologise.

The problem with such reactions is that it does not hold the person accountable for what they say, and dismisses it as trivial. To apologise for a mistake one makes knowingly or unknowingly is not a heroic thing worthy of praise, but basic courtesy. And, if citizens have to praise leaders for being able to admit when they are wrong, it shows that the bar we set for our leaders is not very high.

Tharoor has had to face the consequences of his statements in the past. In 2018, when he remarked that PM Modi was like a 'scorpion sitting on a Shivling', he has faced charges of criminal defamation.

The same year, in a bid to call out Modi for being discriminatory towards Muslims, the Congress leader foolishly display his own inherent racist prejudices when he described the Naga headgear which Modi donned on his visit to the North-East as 'outlandish and funny'.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and the highest form of intelligence." Perhaps, Shashi Tharoor has managed to be an exception to the rule.

Disclaimer: The views are the author's own.

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