Write Back: Was in Thiruvananthapuram during Kerala floods, says Shashi Tharoor

"Had Ms Kapoor bothered to conduct even elementary research to look at the facts of the matter, she would have realised that there was no occasion for the nastiness she displayed today. But I have given up expecting any fairness from her. I would just have hoped for better from the Indian Express."

Updated: September 15, 2018 3:56:40 am

Responding to the item ‘Missing MP’ in Coomi Kapoor’s Inside Track column (The Sunday Express, September 2, 2018), Shashi Tharoor, Lok Sabha MP, writes:

For some years now, your columnist Coomi Kapoor has been disparaging me in her gossip column… I have so far shrugged off her barbs with good grace. But today’s poison dart goes too far, since literally every sentence in it contains a falsehood.

To start with the first sentence, she writes: “When the flooding in Kerala was at its peak and disaster relief measures were urgently required, Thiruvananthapuram Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was away…” The fact is that the flooding in Thiruvananthapuram, my constituency, was at its peak on August 15-17, when I was very much in my constituency, visiting flooded areas and speaking to evacuees in 18 different relief camps (The real-time visual evidence for all this is on Twitter). It was only after the rains ceased in Thiruvananthapuram and evacuees started returning to their homes that I left for Europe. It is true that severe flooding continued for several days elsewhere in the state, requiring “desperate relief measures”, but as an MP my on-the-ground role is unavoidably confined to my own constituency.

Now for her second sentence: “Tharoor had got special permission from the court to leave the country on the grounds that he had to condole with the family of former UN chief Kofi Annan”. False. The court was specifically given both reasons for my visit — the other being discussions arranged with the UN humanitarian agencies in Geneva on those “desperate relief measures”, as well as longer-term concerns. Both were cited by the court in its permission.

Fourth sentence: “When questions were asked about his absence back home, Tharoor tweeted that he had gone to Geneva to meet high-ups in the United Nations about flood-relief assistance on behalf of the government.” False again. I never claimed, in any tweet, statement or interview, that I had gone on behalf of the government. Since my party is neither in power in the state nor the Centre, that would have been an absurd claim to make. I stressed throughout, including in each of my meetings, that I was there in my individual capacity as a Kerala MP and former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, to see what could be done in case national resources proved insufficient to deal with the scale of the disaster.

Final sentence: “The problem was that both Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Central government denied that he had gone as an emissary on their behalf.” Obviously since I had not claimed to be an emissary, a misinformed question as to whether I was one, was answered in the negative. But the Chief Minister went on to add, in the same television broadcast, that I had consulted him fully before my trip. He also received me for a 45-minute debriefing discussion on my return, during which he took careful notes. Had he considered my visit to Geneva not to be useful, he would scarcely have spent so much time with me on this subject.

Had Ms Kapoor bothered to conduct even elementary research to look at the facts of the matter, she would have realised that there was no occasion for the nastiness she displayed today. But I have given up expecting any fairness from her. I would just have hoped for better from the Indian Express.

Coomi Kapoor replies: The question as to who is dissembling is for the readers to judge.

1. I did not write when flooding in Thiruvananthapuram was at its peak but “when flooding in Kerala was at its peak’’. Dr Tharoor may believe that his duty extended only to his own constituency’s welfare, but many people in his party and the state felt the absence of his dynamic presence at the time of his state’s distress.

2. Dr Tharoor has not denied that his application to the court to leave the country was to condole the death of Kofi Annan. This was the main reason reported in the newspapers covering the application.

3. In reference to my statement that Dr Tharoor claimed he had gone to Geneva to meet United Nations relief bodies about flood assistance on behalf of the government. My natural assumption, and that of many others, was that when an individual approaches UN bodies to discuss assistance for state relief he is acting on behalf of the government and not in his individual capacity. My assumption was incorrect. The error is regretted.

4. That the Kerala CM and the Central government both stated that Tharoor was not an emissary on their behalf is a matter of record, even if Dr Tharoor offers extenuating circumstances in his defence.

5. No nastiness was intended. I merely questioned, as did many in the state, why Dr Tharoor should be visiting not just Geneva, but also Germany and England, when Kerala was in the grip of the worst flood in decades.

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