Shashi Tharoor: Intellectuals can’t be successful politicians?
Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the Minister of State for External Affairs of the Government of India. On February 9, 2007, Tharoor resigned from the post of UNO Under-Secretary-General on and left the UNO to contest elections and elected to become the member of the Indian Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala.
Tharoor resigned as Minister on 18 April 2010 because of allegations of his involvement in influencing a sweat equity of Indian Premier League (IPL) Kochi cricket team to a personal friend Sunanda of Dubai. A prolific author, columnist, journalist and human rights advocate, he served as the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and as the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs.
Presently, he serves on the Boards of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Trustees of the Aspen Institute, and the Advisory of the Indo-American Arts Council, the American India Foundation, the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also serving as an adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, as a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities, a Patron of the Dubai Modern School and the managing trustee of the Chandran Tharoor Foundation which he founded with his family and friends in the name of his late father, Chandran Tharoor.
Shashi Tharoor was born in London to Lily and Chandran Tharoor. Tharoor studied at Montfort School in Yercaud and Bombay Scottish School in Mumbai. He attended high school at St. Xavier’s Collegiate School in Kolkata and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi .He went on to win a scholarship to study at the The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University where he acquired three degrees in as many years: a Master of Arts in International Affairs, a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy and a Ph.D. At the age of 22, Tharoor was the youngest person in the history of the Fletcher School to be awarded a doctorate. His doctoral thesis, “Reasons of State”, is still required reading in courses on Indian foreign-policy making.
Shashi Tharoor career in the United Nations began in 1978 as a staff member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. From 1981 to 1984 he served as the Head of the UNHCR office in Singapore during the boat people crisis. In 1989 he was appointed as the Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in New York. Until 1996, he lead the team responsible for peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia.
In 1997 Tharoor was appointed Director of Communications and Special Projects and as Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In January 2001, he was appointed as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and as the head of Department of Public Information (UNDPI). In this capacity, he was responsible for the communication strategy, enhancing the image and effectiveness of the UN. In 2003, the Secretary-General appointed him to the additional responsibility of United Nations Coordinator for Multilingualism. During his tenure at the UNDPI, Tharoor undertook a number of initiatives, ranging from organizing and conducting the first-ever UN seminar on anti-Semitism, the first-ever UN seminar on Islamophobia and launching an annual list of “Ten Under-Reported Stories the World Ought to Know About”.
Tharoor has written numerous books in English. Most of his literary creations are centered on Indian themes and they are markedly “Indo-nostalgic.” Perhaps his most famous work is The Great Indian Novel, published in 1989, in which he uses the narrative and theme of the famous Indian epic Mahabharata to weave a satirical story of Indian life in a non-linear mode with the characters drawn from the Indian Independence Movement. His novel Show Business (1992) was made into the film ‘Bollywood’ (1994). The late Ismail Merchant had announced his wish to make a film of Tharoor’s novel Riot shortly before Merchant’s death in 2005.
Tharoor has been a highly-regarded columnist in each of India’s three best-known English-language newspapers, most recently for The Hindu newspaper (2001–2008) and in a weekly column, “Shashi on Sunday,” in the Times of India (January 2007 – December 2008). Previously he was a columnist for the Gentleman magazine and the Indian Express newspaper, as well as a frequent contributor to Newsweek International and the International Herald Tribune. His Op-Eds and book reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, amongst other papers.
Tharoor began writing at the age of 6 and his first published story appeared in the “Bharat Jyoti”, the Sunday edition of the “Free Press Journal”, in Mumbai when he was just 10 years old. His World War II adventure novel Operation Bellows, inspired by the Biggles books, was serialized in the Junior Statesman starting a week before his 11th birthday. Each of his books has been a best-seller in India. The Great Indian Novel is currently in its 28th edition in India and his newest volume The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone has undergone seven hardback re-printings.
Tharoor has lectured widely on India, and is often quoted for his observations, including, “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
He has also coined a memorable comparison of India’s “thali” to the American “melting pot”: “If America is a melting pot, then to me India is a thali–a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.”
Alas, Shashi Tharoor, an intellectual to the core and he is in bad company of today’s Indian politicians, Perhaps, now that he is out of politics for the moment, he may as well write his brief political autobiography.