Shashi: Society Has a Socrates, He’s Indian
A couple of years ago I coined “Tharoorian” which still continues to be cherished as a badge of honour for many. However, I can honestly say that when I created the term it was more to signify a school of thought rather than some fan club; at least I can maintain, my end of the faction still works on furthering those values.
What too many do not know is that back then it was not the only term I’d created, I’d also made an acronym: SHASHI: Society Has A Socrates He’s Indian.
The acronym interestingly is something I wrote as a tweet a few years ago and it was one that found a positive frequency with most of the Twitterati back then and is one that all first-generation Tharoorians will remember, or so I hope.
Recently though when I shared it with a few friends, the first question that arose was, Is there really a connection between Dr. Shashi Tharoor and the world’s first philosopher, Socrates? Was it an illogical perplexity or a logical connection? You can be rest assured that this is neither a lofty idea nor a momentary dip in illogical thought. While the contention of my friends may prima facie stand valid, one needs to break down this proposition to understand the veracity of my statement. The truth is that there is a definite connection between these two morally, intellectually and spiritually sound world leaders; one that can be logically broken down. It must be noted here that the similarities may not outweigh the differences, but that is not the moot point as you will realise at the end of this article.
Socrates apart from being the world’s first intellectually sound public individual was also entitled as the world’s first moral philosopher. Shashi Tharoor in politics has indeed advanced arguments in favour of a morally and ethically sound political forum thus bringing the first similarity between the two stalwarts separated by time, distance and geography. For the most part, if you have to carefully listen to him (sans prejudice) you will listen to one principle that he has clung on to over time, something that may look rudimentary but as a matter of fact has earned more appreciation than ire of friends and foes alike. For those who have followed Dr. Tharoor for long enough you will know that he never steps into the well of the House, even though as a member of the Opposition, he can. He doesn’t leave the House either, choosing to show his solidarity by waiting on the fringes far from the Line of Actual Action. It takes courage for someone to stand up for a cause and yet not break the line of parliamentary etiquette which for a while has been all but absent. In the same way, he has chosen to speak for the right, many times putting him in a spot in the Congress but he doesn’t desist from sharing that which is ethically and morally right. At a time when politics has become an Indianised ‘Game of Thrones’ with cut — throat rivalries within the parties and a lust for power, here comes a person who looks you in the eye and says, I’m not a political careerist.
Politics needn’t be the ugly game that we have seen unfold, nor does it have to propagate that which is immoral or unworthy. This can happen with the right kind of leadership and the courage to do that which is politically right over that which is morally right.
The second highlight of the Socratic method and one that found its stamp of approval in his students and researchers alike was the fact that he was indeed the first philosopher who not just questioned everything but appealed to the conscience of young people, making him a first in his times. It was in a later part of recorded history that he found himself at odds on a moral, intellectual and political front with fellow Athenians. Sounds familiar? His constant struggle despite the odds was in the pursuit of virtue over all else. Etymologically the word ‘virtue’ stems from the greek “arête” that stands for moral excellence. In all his time as a diplomat and now in the capacity of a politician despite dedicated and orchestrated efforts to malign him, not one soul in the ruling party or his own cadre have found Shashi Tharoor indulging in political activities either illegal or immoral, further strengthening my argument.
Now it is a fact that the life of Socrates was cut short in a rather crude manner, but there is a little lesson and similarity hidden and buried there too. The fact is that Socrates did not have to die. He did have the option of escaping to a better place where his life would have been secure, but knowing he had done no wrong, between fight and flight, he chose to stand his ground and fight. For the most part, Dr. Tharoor’s political journey has been equally tumultuous but one in which he too has chosen fight over flight. The hallmark of any great world leader is rising to the occasion and facing a challenge with a determined spirit, one that you can see in very few faces in India, today. If that’s not all, neither of these leaders I draw comparison had an easy youth with Socrates having to serve in the military and Dr. Tharoor witnessing something as dark as the Emergency; however their experiences metamorphosed into both sharing ideas and making significant contributions to the intellectual firmament that they have been a part of.
As someone largely popular at law school for my closing arguments, my strongest point as a good law student has been saved for last. The Socratic method that was widely shared by his students, given that he never wrote anything himself (Here, it’s Socrates: 0 Shashi Tharoor: 20) his analytical mind called for a co-operative argument which involved a dialogue between individuals asking and answering questions with a view to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying presumptions, this creative master sculptor gave the world a logical methodology to adopt. At random I would appreciate if you pick up any one work of Dr. Tharoor whether any of his writings or even a speech and at the end of it ask if the methodology followed is an exact replica of what I have written in theory laid out in practicality before you. Should you do it faithfully, trust me, we will be on the same page!
So where exactly do these two world leaders differ? First up, Socrates is said to be rather ugly, Shashi Tharoor, well, he could still bag a role in Bollywood! While Socrates denounced democracy in principle, Shashi Tharoor has obviously done the reverse. Last but definitely not least, Socrates in a way promoted exclusivity by keeping women and slaves out of the political equation, while Shashi Tharoor has spoken extensively on an inclusive and equal society. So the argument that with times not only has man evolved, his thoughts have evolved too, stands proved.
While many may still argue that there is a lot more to both personalities, my attempt has been to showcase what is common, and that is that all popular world leaders stand just, fair and good for their contemporaries setting an exemplary bar that not many succeed in achieving.
The idea I’m trying to market here, is that be it Shashi or Socrates, they didn’t wait for their time to come, they seized the opportunity to make a genuine and long term difference to their society when they were still very young, and academic achievements aside, you cannot turn away from the truth that their thoughts have found ground on a global level.
As members of an effervescent and technologically driven community, life has simply become far easier than it once was. Contributing to the global intellectual pool has never been easier than it is today. You just have to start off with a thought that looks at binding not blinding the moral collective of the Indian community today. My constant stress on India is primarily because we are for all practical purposes, Indian by bread and blood. You cannot entertain the utopian thought of changing the world, until you have enriched your own home turf.
Not everyone is an intellectual, nor is every person a politician, but I have a firm conviction that everyone is gifted! It is this individual dexterity in a plethora of fields and this independent gift that transcends all other differences making us worthy competitors at a global level.
India cannot entertain thoughts of becoming a superpower until we have thinkers, reformers, and people of mettle who keep the Greater Good above personal aspirations.
Today, On Guru Poornima, this tribute is for both Gurus one who shaped the Western thought and the other who is shaping the Eastern School of thought.
The underlying reality is, Tomorrow will be our turn and we’ve got to ask ourselves, who will the next Socrates-Shashi Tharoor be?
Maybe we may never match their political-philosophical wizardry but can we at least aspire to not etch our names in history as a part of the coterie of modern-day ignoramus?
It’s time we rise above our differences and instead of highlighting the negative in every person try and make an effort to appreciate those who have created some positive impact.