Congress leader Shashi Tharoor is lionized by India’s liberals for his English — they fawn over his vocabulary, they swoon over his accent, and they proclaim him an intellectual because he uses words that they need a thesaurus to understand. But beneath Tharoor’s veneer of linguistic sophistication might lie what you’d expect from someone of his age — the propensity to fall for the most banal of fake news, much like your average WhatsApp uncle.
In the midst of the coroavirus outbreak, Tharoor shared an article from a website called “British Herald” titled “A masterclass in tackling COVID 19 from Kerala, India”. The article sung paeans about how Kerala was tackling the coronavirus outbreak. “While the rest of the country has been dealing with religious and political clashes, Kerala is a shining example of how secularism should ACTUALLY work in a democracy- with all religions peacefully coexisting in the state,” the article said, adding that “how Kerala deals with COVID-19 is a model that has been applauded internationally too.” ” Kerala earns international kudos for its valiant efforts to tackle the #COVID19 crisis with efficiency,” an effusive Tharoor said while sharing the article.
Kerala earns international kudos for its valiant efforts to tackle the #COVID19 crisis with efficiency: https://t.co/sevDcyqeJt
Congratulations @vijayanpinarayi @shailajateacher @chennithala @INCKerala for solidarity, awareness-raising, & putting people ahead of politics!
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 21, 2020
But as people immediately pointed out, British Herald was a newspaper all the way back in the 1860s, but was revived in April 2018 by a businessman from Kerala named Ansif Ashraf. As such, it was apparent that the article wasn’t from a British publication (British Herald still bills itself as “Where Britain meets the world”), but from a Kerala website and was clearly propaganda meant to show the Kerala government in a good light.
Incredibly, even after this was repeatedly pointed out to Tharoor, he refused to take the article down. ” Many have pointed out that the source story for my tweet is a hoax site that has been debunked. They are urging me to delete it. Since it’s been visible for more than 24 hours & has been RT’d &liked by 1000s, i won’t delete it,but keep it as a reminder of how one can be taken in!” he tweeted.
It’s an extraordinary position to take — tweets on Twitter are independent entities, and anyone who comes across Tharoor’s original tweet won’t necessarily see the clarification tweet that he posted later. In these times, as the government has been appealing to people to share news only from trusted sources, the Congress’ elected MP went ahead and not only shared news from a dubious source, but also refused to take it down when called out.
To make matters worse, Shashi Tharoor is a repeat offender in the fake news department. In response to the Howdy Modi event last year, Tharoor had shared a picture of Nehru, claiming it was from the reception he’d received in the US. But a quick check revealed that the photo was from Russia, not the US, and Tharoor was forced to apologize.
And before that, Tharoor had fallen prey to yet another WhatsApp forward — that Raghuram Rajan had been appointed as the governor of the Bank of England. “Remarkable: India’s Raghuram Rajan has been appointed Governor of the Bank of England! With an Indian (NasserHusain) having captained the England cricket team already, all that’s left to complete a reverse colonization is for an Indian to be Prime Minister,” he’d proclaimed, before apologizing when his error was pointed out.
Tharoor is now 63, and it’s not unusual for someone in his demographic to regularly fall prey to fake news on the internet. But Tharoor is thought among his supporters to be an intellectual, a modern renaissance man who holds forth on subjects like British history and international diplomacy. To see him share fake news like Sharma Uncle from downstairs has to be disconcerting for his fans — it’s getting harder and harder to do away with the notion that his supposed intellect might just be the biggest fake news of them all.