What is that single word that could describe someone adamantly refusing to own up a huge blunder and still makes it seem inoffensive?
Sesquipedalian (person who uses long words) Shashi Tharoor, who himself exhibited such a trait and introduced us to floccinaucinihilipilification, can perhaps help us.
On September 23, Tharoor tweeted an image of Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi in the midst of a tumultuous public welcome in some foreign land. “Nehru & India Gandhi in the US in 1954. Look at the hugely enthusiastic spontaneous turnout of the American public, without any special PR campaign, NRI crowd management or hyped-up media publicity,” Tharoor tweeted. Clearly, a dig at the highly publicised 'Howdy Modi' event held in Houston, Texas, early in the day.
Twitterati went on a rampage. It was not 'India Gandhi' that had them all worked up, though they might have sneered at the spelling of a man who had taken so much pride in the impeccable use of English.
They lost no time to fact-check the photograph and gleefully announce that it was taken not in the US but in the USSR. Not just the place, Tharoor even got the year wrong. The fact-checkers said it was Moscow, 1956. Tharoor had claimed it was the US, 1954. A bumper goof-up.
There was more in store for Tharoor. The Congress MP was also told that there were no spontaneous receptions in the erstwhile USSR. Only state-sponsored ones. “The state-sponsored welcome was given because Congress had decided to go into the Socialist fold in its AICC session at Avadi," a fact-checker named Sanjay Dixit tweeted.
Confronted with such emphatic blunder-hunters, Shashi Tharoor said something that felt like he was eating his own words but was not. “I am told this picture (forwarded to me) probably is from a visit to the USSR and not the US. Even if so, it still doesn't alter the message: the fact is that former PMs also enjoyed popularity abroad. When @narendramodi is honoured, @PMOIndia is honoured; respect is for India.,” he tweeted.
One, he made it clear that it was not he who dug up the picture, and therefore absolved him of all blame. Forwarded to me, he said in brackets. Two, he hinted that he still didn't fully believe that the event was in the USSR. “I am told this picture probably is from a visit to the USSR and not the US,” he said. (The emphasis is the writer's)
Perhaps in a private notebook he keeps, this must have been how Tharoor wrote about those twitter gnomes who had caught him on the wrong foot. “We will have to allow some malicious minds their schadenfreude.”
But, as it turned out, the blunder-hunters too were a bit off the mark. The Nehru-Indira picture was not taken in Moscow, nor was it 1956.
The fact-checking website AltNews.in did an independent check and found that the photograph was shot when Nehru had visited Magnitogorsk in August 1955. They also uploaded a clip of the Russian newspaper MagMettal that had carried the news of Nehru's visit with his daughter Indira to Magnitogorsk in 1955.
Truth is but such a fluid thing. Tharoor can heave a sigh of relief. An archival grab from the pages of another Russian newspaper 'Magnitogorsk Worker', which again was dug up by AltNews, shows that Nehru had visited Magnitogorsk on June 17, 1955, and not in August as claimed by MagMettal.
And then there was another report in the Hindu. This says that Nehru was in the USSR from June 7 to 23, 1955. It does not say where in the USSR. The Avadi session of the AICC where Nehru upheld socialism as the goal of the Congress was held in January 1955, a few months before he made his Soviet visit.
Nonetheless, it could also be the case that Tharoor was given the wrong picture. A video doing the rounds in YouTube shows Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to the US with his daughter Indira in 1956 when Dwight Eisenhower was president. The video, however, does not have any clips of a grand public reception that Tharoor could have used to poke fun at Howdy Modi.