New Delhi: NDTV: Sunanda Tharoor, ever since your husband has become a minister, just 2 days later you are the object of so many people's comments and we have Narendra Modi attacking you. What did you make of that?
Sunanda Tharoor: I was extremely disappointed as I was saying earlier to another friend of mine. I said that the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which is a beautiful state, I mean how could he stoop to something like that and also, come on, Gujarat has given us people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and then you have this guy who is completely out of his mind. I was completely horrified. I mean it was just disgusting.
NDTV: Well, women's groups, women politician are writing in to us. They are all writing in your support but are you bracing yourself for these kinds of attacks now because you are in the limelight? You are the minister's wife.
Sunanda Tharoor: No, I hope that everybody is not, you know, like this guy or people who are supporting him from his party. I expect every Indian family to be like this. Now, I have had some good experience with some great Indian politicians. So I don't think that there is anything to brace for. What I do feel is sad for them that they could stoop to this level.
NDTV: Do you think it's kind of, we have heard a lot of comments. We have heard people saying that the ones who are condemning it is saying that this is part of sexism that they are seeing in politics. We have heard lots of comments. We have heard our cabinet minister Mr Jaiswal talk of marriage in a kind of derogatory manner, that wives lose charm as they grow older. We saw the Home Minister stand in Parliament and tell Jaya Bachchan to keep quiet, this is not about movies. What do you think? Women are being belittled in this manner in the public space.
Sunanda Tharoor: I actually, seriously don't know. That's a question that I can't answer, although I feel terribly sad in a country where we have such great women who are in leading positions in politics. You have got Sonia Gandhi. Then you have the opposition leader. She is a woman. Then you have the Speaker of the House Meira Kumar. She is a woman and a very dignified woman. We have got so many women down south. We have got women in Parliament. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you are born from these women and you have to have some respect, some dignity that would you go home and talk to your wives like this. But in the case of the Gujarat Chief Minister, I cannot say that probably it does. I feel terribly sad that people can get so personal and belittle woman, as you rightly said that to someone to tell Jaya-ji that this is not a film.
NDTV: Did any of these politicians, did you have other women reach out to you in support?
Sunanda Tharoor: Absolutely everybody, which is one of the reasons that I am talking normally. I have made a promise to myself that I will never talk to, I mean, never do a television interview, even when I was involved in the silly controversy, but I have had a lot of women say talk about it, that we are there, we are supporting you. Not just women, what about men. People are forgetting that there are men today who are awakening along with women and lots of women have supported me. But men... Men have come out and said that this is horribly disgusting, and there is one friend of mine, who is an industrialist, I will not take his name who has industries set up in Gujarat, says to me the other day, I respect his privacy, but said to me that I used to admire this man but I have completely changed my opinion about him. You cannot blame a state because of a man, like I cannot blame the entire political system on one man's bad remark.
NDTV: What would you say to Narendra Modi?
Sunanda Tharoor: I would have nothing to say to him. Somebody told to me is he going to apologise. Do you expect him to apologise? I said a man who hasn't apologised to his people for the killing of innocent Gujaratis in his wake, if he hadn't had that decency to apologise to his people, how would I accept an apology?
NDTV: I said to you that lot of our viewers and everyone who's watching these comments, hearing these comments. I want to talk also about other women who go through molestation. It seemed that you had an episode in Thiruvananthapuram. Just to play the devil's advocate and talk about what the BJP, because the BJP responded to these things yesterday, they said, well in a way, some of them tried to vindicate by saying, you know, there is this controversy about IPL Cochin, about the IPL team, the 50 crore. So while Narendra Modi shouldn't have made comments but the Tharoors, and Sunanda Tharoor, need to explain that issue. Do you think that perhaps there are still some questions held unanswered there?
Sunanda Tharoor: I think so. I can see from the question that they have unanswered questions. We have completely sorted it out. I would like to ask the BJP or anybody else who thinks I have this imaginary money, where is it and also how did it suddenly become Rs. 50 crore. Earlier, the imaginary figure was Rs. 70 crore. So have they taken the Rs. 20 crore? Because, I was amused by the figures suddenly. They would be comfortable with using the word 50. Maybe they thought 70 is not comfortable. Maybe they had a strategy. I can say that the BJP really needs to figure this one out and I myself saw a programme yesterday on NDTV at 8 o'clock where Suhel Seth was on the programme. You had a BJP person also there and he had all his facts so wrong. I would like to ask and urge them that you must go do your research. Find out how in the first place did they come up with this Rs. 70 crore and now they have come up with this Rs. 50 crore. That's all an imaginary figure. Show me the money.
NDTV: There were reports that time that you gave back the equity.
Sunanda Tharoor: We were planning to in the future, perhaps in 10 years' time, if they made anything, the shares would be of some value. There was no money.
NDTV: So it was just a promised commitment.
Sunanda Tharoor: Absolutely.
NDTV: And no money was given?
Sunanda Tharoor: And there was no money. If you asked any IPL owner, they will tell you it's a difficult proposition. Today you bid at such a high rate. Where are you going to make the money? In fact, I don't understand where did this figure in the first place come up. Why don't they explain this to me? Why don't they explain this to the nation that where is this Rs. 50 crore that they think I have?
NDTV: Or the Rs. 70 crore at that time...
Sunanda Tharoor: Now it's 50. So I am going to say 50 because let me not, if they have decided that.
NDTV: Do you think that this needs to be sorted out? You say that you have explained everything to the Enforcement Directorate and it's sorted and do you think that politically, because that's the kind of politics we are seeing these days of targeting, of taking up, washing dirty linen in public, of course of family being targeted, do you think it needs to be settled. How do you think it would be settled?
Sunanda Tharoor: I don't think they should target a family. Whether it is a Robert Vadra, whether it's me, whether it's anybody, the family members, I don't see why you are targeting individuals who are not in politics. And for that matter, at the moment, Priyanka is not in politics either but you are targeting her husband. Fine. If Shashi has decided to be in politics, ask him directly. Why are you looking for crutches? Why would you demean women? And I've seen these guys demeaning women from the beginning saying such bad stuff about women. They are calling people cows. They are calling people all sorts of, love, whatever it is...
NDTV: Well you are talking about Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's statement talking about Shashi Tharoor calling him an international Love Guru. Where did he get that from? What do you think?
Sunanda Tharoor: I don't know. I can only say it's very sad that in a country like ours that they don't believe in PDA because the point is we are a country...
NDTV: PDA, I want to explain for our viewers, is Public Display of Affection...
Sunanda Tharoor: ...In our country, I grew up in a family where my father would hug me, kiss me, my mother would hug me at the drop of a hat, I hug my son at the drop of a hat. We are an affectionate family. Shashi is an affectionate person. I have seen only Shashi is targeted. But if you are going to ask any young minister, do you love your wife, obviously, he would say yes.
NDTV: But they don't talk about their wives the way Shashi Tharoor does?
Sunanda Tharoor: But do you interview them? Did anyone ever ask them? Look at the interview. Shashi is probably asked because we are still in love, and we are still not, what's that guy who said marriage is getting old. That was just a sad thing to say.
NDTV: By the way, you are asking me why don't you interview them. I wanted to interview his wife after that, with him sitting alongside his wife, Mr Sri Prakash Jaiswal and I was told definitely not, no way. I don't know for what reason but they said we are not going to let them speak but we try. So do you think that Shashi Tharoor talks about his deeply felt emotions about his wife and that makes people uncomfortable? Is it the Indian thing or is it a political thing?
Sunanda Tharoor: It's not an Indian thing. I think you must have experienced when you go and meet people. Today every Indian hugs and kisses each other, I mean the younger generation. It's time for the younger generation to look for a change and say why. We go around, we haven't seen any place, I have gone to places in Delhi including where there are ministers, where everybody hugs each other. But why do you want to show and you are showing it to an average audience who are any way affectionate. I am from an average family, you are from an average family. Are you trying to say your father and mother never hugged you? There is some kind of a strange, perhaps an unwritten, law that happens and, in our case, because we have cameras all over they placed focus on us. But you take any other minister and focus on him, a younger minister. You will see he is very affectionate. I don't want to name names but I am glad to see that all of our young ministers are very affectionate towards their wife and why not.
NDTV: And, of course, I am not saying this in any way to say it's a bad thing. Perhaps you think that they are not used to, people are not used to seeing politicians talk openly about their private life and talking about love which is a wonderful emotion. Are you surprised at the kind of attack, are you surprised about that?
Sunanda Tharoor: No, I'm not because I think that in this case, the BJP had nothing else to attack you on. I mean they were real men and real people out there. They would actually look at proper issues. They would attack the Congress on proper issues if they felt there were any. By doing this, they have nothing else to say. They obviously are satisfied with the government because everything they have, there is no proof. They attack everybody without proof. They just make up stories as they go and so this guy wants to win the elections, who has turned around and called me a 50, put a price tag on a woman and I am glad that women are rallying around and saying we will not. Somebody asked me what do you think of him as a future PM and I said I certainly do not think of him as a future PM. But I would like to ask the youth of this country and women of this country, would you choose a man like this to lead you? A man who doesn't respect you, who is talking about malnourished women in Gujarat as fashion conscious. That's why they are malnourished. Does he even know his people? Has he gone out there? Fine, he has been lucky till now I guess. But I think it's time that people rise up and say that, wait a minute, we are in the 21st century and do we really need a person like this to lead us? I mean what would the state of this country be? You can't if you don't have anything to attack Congress so he decides to attack a woman. How good is that?
NDTV: What do you think it says about the voters that a lot of these politicians and, obviously, you have to admit that two of the sexist comments, the ones you were talking about are coming from Congress as well BJP. So it's across the board. The fact that these people can get away, they are in positions of power and they can get away with making comments like these about women, what do you say? And even after that, they keep running elections.
Sunanda Tharoor: I just hope and pray that women in our country and younger generation of men in our country wake up and say we are not going to have any place and anything negative. I hope that women get together and say enough because there's always a time. Our country is changing. We have people who are below the age of 25 which is 60 odd per cent. So I think there will be a change in our country and people will see. We will not let people get away with actually bad remarks. It's unnecessary.
NDTV: You have actually had a bad couple of 24 hours. That footage, when you talk about what other women go through, one we see talking about love getting attacked. The second you arrived in Trivandrum and, like a lot of women in crowded places, go through terrible experiences and you had one as well.
Sunanda Tharoor: It was a joyous occasion actually. We had all of the Congress workers and people to applaud Shashi. They were happy he was back as minister and we were all very happy and there was a mob scene and as wrongly reported by the press, he was not a Congress reporter who did this. It was a young 19-year-old. We found him later because of the footage. We were able to track him down, he apologised. What happened is, as all women who have been in a mob will tell you, this. Of course, I broke my thumb and had a bruised body as well. As it happens in mob scenes like this, men somehow feel that they can take advantage of a woman's body. So I have had a previous experience at the World Cup and I had got out. I was completely shocked as my clothes were torn and Shashi's kurta had been torn. His wallet fell off in Bombay. We just decided to say nothing, not decided to react.
NDTV: He was an MP at that time?
Sunanda Tharoor: That's right.
NDTV: I want to clarify, you were at the VIP box?
Sunanda Tharoor: No. When we all left, Rahul Bose and Shashi kind of rescued me, put me in a jeep and we all sort of escaped. This was in the mayhem when we won that World Cup in Mumbai. At that time, I did not react. I remember I was going for dinner after that. We met up with a few people. We were just horrified by how people do this. Preity Zinta, the same thing happened to her in Delhi some time ago and other people go through the same thing. I think, at that moment, men feel that they have the right to be able to grope you, hurt you, molest you.
NDTV: Are you pressing charges?
Sunanda Tharoor: I and Shashi decided not to put charges because the young boy first admitted that he had done it. Secondly, he apologised profusely and his parents said his career will be finished. He is 19-years-old and he had some chaps with him who did this. I was trying to hit out at that guy. Some people told me later you shouldn't have done this. The politically correct thing would have been to smile and grin and bear it and that women have been put through centuries of this. We smile and grin and bear it and I decided I am not going to do that. So I hit his hand and again it was reported wrong by the media that I slapped his face. His face was a bit too far away. His hand was close to me. His arms were doing the stuff.
NDTV: But does this standing up also mean, you know, just pursue this case?
Sunanda Tharoor: No. As long as I did say that I can protect myself and I did have Kerala women say I am so glad because we suffer this all the time and we don't have sort of guts to do this, thank you. You have become a role model for us and I am a huge person in forgiving people. If you admit that you are wrong and you are never going to do this, I am going to trust you. I am not going to destroy your career or life by putting you in prison.
NDTV: It's just been 2 days since you have become a minister's wife. Already there are so many things surrounding you. Are you prepared? What do you think it takes? Is it tough being in the limelight?
Sunanda Tharoor: I have always said that it is very, very tough being in the limelight. You have to be careful and measured and I am like the most bindass person you will meet. I don't know whether I am saying the wrong thing or right thing, whatever, I have just decided to go with the flow.
NDTV: Controversies stalk Shashi Tharoor?
Sunanda Tharoor: Yes, I think so.
NDTV: Have you told him to stop tweeting? Everyone is talking about the fact that he is not tweeting as much. Why is that?
Sunanda Tharoor: Because he is married to me I think. Yes, I have I told him to be very careful. When we got married, I told him I was not happy with some of the tweets. This one I am quite happy about because the Gujarat CM, I don't even want to mention his name, should understand that you cannot just keep on attacking people. You have someone who will retaliate.
NDTV: You put a ban on further tweets?
Sunanda Tharoor: No, I have just said that you need to be very careful. Tweeting is important. During a crisis, you can reach out. You can get blood, you can reach an ambassador. During the Japan earthquake, they were able to reach the US ambassador. They were able to reach a lot of people. They will mention Shashi's silly tweets. Even his cattle class tweet is not that he was saying that Indians are cattle class. He was saying the airlines treat you like cattle. Be careful when you are tweeting. Don't think yourself as American because you have worked there for 30 years.
NDTV: And, in India, people don't understand certain things.
Sunanda Tharoor: And it's not their fault. Some people are not educated in convent. They don't understand the word 'cattle class'.
NDTV: But even the convent educated people, his colleagues in the Congress party, also misunderstood the word. Don't you think that?
Sunanda Tharoor: No, no.
NDTV: They were the ones who raged the outrage. It's not the media, not the public because the public doesn't have a say?
Sunanda Tharoor: People on Twitter raged the outrage first and then it was probably followed. I can't answer that because I was not there at that time. In fact, I was not living in this country as well.
NDTV: But like you said, just to kind of finish up, one of the notes that you have said before today. Again, we have civil society activists, IAC, raising exposes against another one. They are targeting families. Is that the kind of politics that people are coming in now? People are becoming ministers, people are talking about reshuffle and raising question about it. Is that going to be the order of the day and are you prepared for that?
Sunanda Tharoor: I hope not. I am a very positive person and an optimistic person. I think that the reshuffle has been really good and not because Shashi became a minister. I genuinely believe that some of the young people in the Cabinet have been given good responsibility. They will prove themselves.
NDTV: The family being held up, being probed isn't that also, in a way, healthy? Because you might be a minister, and think my father is a politician and I have to live up to higher standards. Don't you think that it's fair that everyone is under scrutiny now. That's not fair, you think?
Sunanda Tharoor: I think that everybody, whether you are in politics or not, should live up a good moral life absolutely.
Sunanda Tharoor, wife of minister Shashi Tharoor, has spoken to NDTV about the sexist and offensive remarks made against her by BJP leader Narendra Modi. At a rally, he called her "a 50-crore girlfriend."
NDTV: And you are kind of prepared for the new kind of scrutiny that you are going to see in the next few days?
Sunanda Tharoor: I don't think that I have done anything wrong and I don't feel I am going to do anything wrong. I welcome the scrutiny. But I don't want people to say bad stuff about women and I don't want to be targeted in a wrong way. You can scrutinise everything. If anybody from the BJP says show us your bank account, I am prepared and I will never stand down and say no. I said do your research. When I see this BJP guy talking with Suhel, he was actually turning around and saying what you people have done is wrong. But he didn't know what he was talking about. I am being careful, I am choosing my words.
NDTV: You are learning to speak like a politician as well.
Sunanda Tharoor: I am learning to speak to see how you media guys are going to go about it. You people are going to put tickers. Sunanda Tharoor raises another controversy. Sunanda has said this and then you will take pieces of what I had said and put it. I hope you don't because I like NDTV very much and I hope and pray you will never do that.
NDTV: Thank you so much for speaking with us and being so candid and giving us your point of view.