Shashi Tharoor – the background

I got this in mail and thought it needed a bigger platform


When I turned on the television, when I refreshed my twitter or when I checked my BlackBerry Messenger, only one question seemed pertinent; do these people truly know Shashi Tharoor?

Over the months gone by, the Indian Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Dr. Shashi Tharoor has been repeatedly in the public eye, but hardly ever about his accomplishments and undertakings or his unrelenting efforts at building relations with foreign countries. If I defend him, it will appear partial and if I cringe at the horrendous allegations against him, it will be alleged that my judgement is clouded. Therefore, allow me to take you on a short journey as we delve into the life of Shashi Tharoor. It will allow you to decide who he really is.


When Shashi Tharoor graduated with the Robert B. Stewart prize for best student from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (a joint campus between the prestigious Harvard and Tufts Universities) , he walked out with PhD laurels resting on his 22 year old shoulders.

To have earned a bachelors degree from St. Stephens College, Delhi (where he was also President of the College Union), two masters degrees and a PhD by the tender age of 22, were the stepping stones in the making of a man who would go on to be the best-selling prize-winning author of 10 fiction and non-fiction books.


Imagine this: you work in one place for 30 years of your life. That was your first place of work and has remained your only identity for the entirety of your adult life. Suddenly, you transition into new surroundings, encounter new colleagues (some with contrasting approaches and opinions) and a distinctly different working culture. It would take a few months to adjust to the new environment, a short while to get your bearings, right?

Shashi Tharoor worked for the United Nations for 29 years. It was his first place of work and until now, his only. Shouldn’t we have afforded him some time to settle into the system and understand the environment he now finds himself in?

His relationship with the media has been contrary to what I expected. At the United Nations, I recall with fondness how the press and media adored him. He was elevated to the second-highest rank in the UN system by Kofi Annan because of his mastery of the external communications of the organisation. Contrast that to the present day where you know a new month has started because Shashi Tharoor is in the news.

The Person

Jacob Joseph forfeited a lucrative career in the United Arab Emirates and stepped in to be a driving force as we geared up the 2009 campaign to Parliament. When Shashi Tharoor became an MP and the MP became a Minister, he understandably offered Jacob the position of Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in New Delhi. That Jacob accepted the offer, relocated his family and home and rolled up his sleeves to face the Indian bureaucratic system speaks volumes about the belief and faith those around him have in Shashi Tharoor.

But for arguments sake, let’s be disparaging here. Jacob is from the Minister’s home state of Kerala, so he could be excused for looking up to his MP and now Minister of State for External Affairs. The same though cannot be said for Sandeep Chakravorty.

Sandeep – a career officer – requested a special transfer to be able to work with the dynamic and charismatic Shashi Tharoor as his Private Secretary. Sandeep certainly isn’t from Kerala.  I have spent quality time with both of them and am privileged to call them both friends. But outside of our friendship, I have seen the passion and drive that they have for what they do and the man they work with, a warmth and affection I have seen equally reciprocated by the Minister himself. Shouldn’t this be the winning solution we celebrate as ideal and try to replicate across the Ministries of the Government of India?

As for the Minister himself, Shashi Tharoor doesn’t just wear the Indian flag pinned to his heart on his bandhgala. He is a true and proud Indian who sacrificed a sizeable salary and all the luxuries in the world to make a difference to India. The same man who never accepted British citizenship, despite the fact that he was born there.

What does Shashi Tharoor mean to India?

For starters, he has spent 29 years building relationships with foreign leaders. These leaders are now instantly nearer and dearer friends of India. Not only does he share personal friendships with them, he converses with them in diction and an oratory prowess far superior to any Indian politician I have encountered in my short life.  And if you thought his English parlance is refined, the man speaks impeccable French (I am apparently fluent and cannot keep up with him). So his conversations with francophone leaders are of a more warm and personal nature.

India has spent years courting a relationship with the United States, but Shashi Tharoor and his counterpart Hilary Clinton go back to the days of her husband’s presidency when she was First Lady and he was Under-Secretary- General of the United Nations.

If nothing else, we finally have a Minister we can be proud to present to the world. A man of great sophistication, elegance & poise and yet enough embedded in his ‘Great Indian Mind’ to converse intellectually for hours on any topic whatsoever.

I remember the first time I was to travel with him, we met for a briefing in his New York office at United Nations Headquarters. Alan Jarus, his then Personal Assistant made it clear to me that, “this is a man who believes in packing 80 seconds into every minute”. So many years later, whether it was hustling around his South Block office, frantically catching up on mail, messages and tweets from the car or hurriedly packing at home for an official travel engagement, I saw the same Shashi Tharoor packing 80 seconds into every minute. I think you would be hard pressed to find a Minister quite like that in India today.

Shashi Tharoor’s return to India after a distinguished and celebrated career – which culminated at the helm of the United Nations – should have served as a motivator for Indians around the world to repatriate their dexterity to build an India for the future. Instead, the message we continue to send out is that India remains a club with great exclusivity and closed doors.

Who is Shashi Tharoor? To me; friend, mentor and one of the greatest leaders and thinkers India has ever produced. A man we should encourage, support and send out to the world to represent us. For a man who believes that “India has always mattered”, to him and who would now, “like to matter to India”, his passion, devotion and commitment should be made the example, not the exception.

The author is Chief Executive of Iktara World and Executive Chairman of the Young Leaders Organisation. Shiraz Gidwani is a citizen of India residing in Dubai. He is also the author of ‘Apna Indian Awakening’, and frequent op-eds and columns.


10 thoughts on “Shashi Tharoor – the background

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have always admired this man and very unfortunate at the turn of events in the last month!
    Would like to share this further with more people.

  2. I am in so much awe of this man… his achievements. We have ministers who have murder and rape in their list, and I guess every country does, but why not also have a iconic man amongst all of them!

    It was sad to see that he had to resign, but I hope he shall come back!

  3. shashi behaved just like any other corrupt indian politician with gizmos in his hand and sauve hair cut and great style.

    how can indians write with confidence about their great minister when it is hardly a few years and a lot of PR

    may be to know shashi, we will have to know what his colleagues at uNDp say – may be indians should start reading more of media other than indian media to know more – what say?

  4. Why have we stooped so low as to declare that bad is better than worse? Shouldn’t Caesar’s wife be above all suspicion? When you are in active politics, you have to distinguish and stay away from ‘Kajal ki kothri’. Daag to lagega. And I never heard Tharoor say anything against the IPL franchise system or Lalit Modi before the whole matter became public. Just because he does not have rape, murder or other such things on his record, should we let him get away with corruption?

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