Shashi Tharoor's Good Turn U-Turn...

Published: Monday, Feb 04,2013, 16:25 IST
MP Shashi Tharoor, Parliamentarian Naveen Jindal, Flag Foundation, Tiranga Bangle

MP Shashi Tharoor must, by now, be sorely regretting his decision to assist fellow Parliamentarian Naveen Jindal's Flag Foundation of India with the launch of the infamous Tiranga Bangle.

Jindal is already famous for his seven-year court battle that won Indians the right to display the national flag, and infamous for the Coalgate affair, in which he used cheaply-obtained coal to make very expensive electricity. Now, the steel magnate – who also has interests in Zambian and Tanzanian copper – is behind an initiative to bring the Tiranga Bangle to India.

After it has been exposed to South African Tri-Vortex sound technology, this copper bangle is claimed – apparently, without substantiation -  to offer natural, environmentally-friendly and non-chemical-based healing to people suffering from, amongst other things, arthritis, gout and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Jindal reportedly said he was glad that such distinctive technology was being used in India, and was confident that it would help people lead a healthier lifestyle. Tharoor was even more effusive, saying, “I wear the national flag everyday, thanks to the court case Naveen fought. This bangle initiative by him is good for health and also advertises his loyalty for the tricolour.” He went on to  congratulate the foundation for coming up with this “Therapeutic idea”.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? And, with two eminent MPs vouching for their efficacy, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Tiranga Bangles are tried and tested remedies, with a wealth of medical evidence to prove how useful they are. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Evidence from South Africa suggests that there is no scientific proof for the claims made by Tri-Vortex. The consumer complaint made to the South African Advertising Standards Authority was upheld – read the findings here. It noted as follows:

“Despite the respondent’s denying breaching the Code or the complainant’s allegation, it submitted no substantiation as required by the Code, verifying the truthfulness of the claims”

This situation clearly presents a grave threat to public safety. Indian culture is, and always has been, riddled with superstition. Belief in magic cures and remedies is rife, often to the point where demonstrably effective scientific medicine is disregarded in their favour. A doctor in India recently revealed that one of his patients, believing that bangles would cure their high blood pressure, failed to seek proper treatment and ended up in an intensive care unit as a result.

So widespread is this problem that, in 2003, the Jadu Tona Andhshradha Virodhi bill, the so-called “Magic Bill”, was tabled. Although the 2003 bill never came into force, a new, slightly amended draft was tabled in March 2005, and came into force in December of that year. Nor were these the first attempts to curtail misleading, superstition-driven “remedies”. The Drugs and Magic Remedies (objectionable advertisements) Act of 1954 had much the same aims, although, with hindsight, it was obviously not as effective as might have been hoped.

Needless to say, by targeting this mindless superstition mixed with a dash of patriotic pride – the packaging proudly carries the Indian national flag – Tiranga Bangles already stood a good chance of selling by the truckload. With the added endorsement of two prominent MPs to raise both their profile and their credibility, a handsome profit for everyone with a financial interest in the bangles seemed virtually guaranteed.

Unfortunately, the curse of the Blue Bird has befallen this cunning enterprise, bringing with it public humiliation, political embarrassment and, with any luck, a wake-up call to anyone who was tempted to buy one of these wretched bangles. For, although the general population may be too busy with their daily lives to spot (or even care about) the obvious flaws in the political pair's sales pitch, the ever-vigilant Twittersphere is never too busy to ask awkward questions.

Eagle-eyed Twitterati swung into action, setting aside their conjuring tricks, navel gazing and other, less important, tasks to demand evidence – incontrovertible, scientific evidence – of the Tiranga Bangles' efficacy. Silence fell like winter snow – cold, deep, and covering things that certain people didn't want revealed.

Undeterred, the questions continued – weren't unsubstantiated claims a risk to the public? Might not sick – and thick – people rely on the bangles instead of proven medical procedures? Jindal remained tight-lipped, but, after several days of uncomfortable scrutiny, Tharoor's nerve cracked.

He issued a statement on his website, that is as perfect an example of political double talk and damage limitation as I have ever seen. It is the written equivalent of a tongue-tied actor shuffling crab-wise towards the wings, rictus grin firmly in place, mind devoid of any coherent thought beyond “Oh NO, this looks really BAD!” This is what he had to say, along with a translation and commentary for the less cynically minded reader:

“I am writing in response to your query regarding the Tri-Vortex technology and the Tiranga copper bangle.”

Translation: Maybe, if I say something, they'll stop asking awkward questions.

“I had accepted a request from my friend and fellow Member of Parliament, Naveen Jindal, as founder and head of the Flag Foundation of India, to launch a new “Tiranga bangle”. In accepting, I was merely obliging a friend, as indeed is a common practice.”

Translation: Don't blame me for anything, it's that Jindal guy you need to talk to. I was just doing a favour for a friend. MPs often do each other favours. It's not called corruption, at all. No. Not at all. Honestly.

“I have the highest respect for Mr. Jindal and his excellent work promoting our national flag.”

Translation: I've put my foot in it now! I can't be seen to criticise Jindal, or people will wonder why I supported him in the first place. But I can't be seen to support him now, either, or I will be caught up in this scandal. What's a politician to do? I know, I'll praise him for something good he did ages ago, and then distance myself from the present mess!

“Nonetheless, let me clarify that my launching the product does not in any way amount to an endorsement of any of the claims associated with it. I do believe that a scientific temper requires that any claims of health benefits be tested empirically before being accepted or dismissed.”

Translation: Just because I helped him, it doesn't mean I agree with him. I was just doing him a  (non-corrupt) favour, remember? Now, to save face, I must be seen to agree with the people who want evidence. Maybe they won't remember that I called those pesky bangles a “theraputic idea” that was “good for health”. Anyway, saying something is “good for health” doesn't mean I endorse it. It's just my personal opinion. Yes, I know, I'm a respected, influential MP whose widely reported opinion matters to lots of people, but that's not the same as endorsement. Is it?

“Thank you, nonetheless, for writing to me, and for your concern.”

Translation: I wish I'd never heard of those dratted bangles. Or Jindal. Or you. GO AWAY!

It is often said that no good deed goes unpunished, and that certainly seems to be true of the “good turn” Tharoor claims to have done for his friend, Jindal. In this case it has led to a humiliating U-turn and a sharp exit, stage left, for the man with the fringe. Rumours that he's developing a violently allergic reaction to copper bangles are currently unconfirmed.

As for Naveen Jindal – watch this space ...

Continued at Naveen Jindal's Tiranga Bangle Wrangle...

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