A high society tragedy amid decline of Indian elite

Updated: 2014-01-27 09:47


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Series Of Scandals

The drama around Tharoor comes after a series of scandals that have dented the idea of a rising, confident India.

The image of an economic juggernaut was undermined last year when growth fell to its lowest in a decade.

Politicians have been dogged by allegations of corruption on a spectacular scale, and a grisly gang rape in Delhi at the end of 2012 that sparked huge protests has marred the "Incredible India" slogan meant to draw tourists from around the globe.

Even a former Supreme Court judge has been probed over alleged sexual harassment and one of India's most powerful journalists was arrested last month in another sexual assault case.

Tharoor may survive politically. He has received backing from the leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and sympathy from many politicians. One TV channel called him the "Comeback Kid" for his ability to bounce back from reverses.

"There's a tendency to caricature Tharoor. He's glamorous, in gossip columns, a fashion statement," said Ghose. "But he is also a very intelligent man and talented politician."

Tharoor left India as a student and, after nearly three decades at the United Nations, he returned to join local politics when he lost to Ban Ki-moon in the race for Secretary-General in 2006.

He made his mark quickly, becoming one of the first Indian politicians to harness social media. His Twitter handle shows more than 2 million followers.

"He became a symbolic person for a more modern India," said Bhaskara Rao, a well-known commentator on social and political issues and head of a New Delhi-based think tank.

Tharoor has had his share of problems. As junior foreign minister, his political career almost ended after he tweeted that he would fly "cattle class" in solidarity with "holy cows" - sparking a storm of criticism from the country's Hindu majority, for whom the cow is sacred.

Tharoor was also reprimanded by his foreign minister that same year for criticizing the tightening of tourist visa requirements.

In 2010, Tharoor resigned over allegations concerning a $333 million cricket league franchise bid when it was revealed - again on Twitter - that the winning consortium allotted stakes worth about $15 million for free to Pushkar, his then-girlfriend.

Tharoor returned to the council of ministers two years later and is now the minister for human resource development.

"He has a charming personality and is an astute commentator," said Rao. "But the hype also has its pitfalls. And that is rather symbolic of the emergence of India."

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