Shashi Tharoor (IPA: [ʃɐʃi t̪ɐɾuːr]; shuh-SHEE thǝ-ROOR; born 9 March 1956) is an Indian former international diplomat, politician, writer and public intellectual who has served as Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, since 2009. He was formerly Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and ran for the post of Secretary-General in 2006.
|Chairman of the Standing Committee on Information Technology|
|Assumed office |
13 September 2019
|Preceded by||Anurag Thakur|
|Minister of State for Human Resource Development|
28 October 2012 – 26 May 2014
|Prime Minister||Manmohan Singh|
M. M. Pallam Raju
|Preceded by||Daggubati Purandeswari|
|Succeeded by||Upendra Kushwaha|
|Minister of State for External Affairs|
28 May 2009 – 18 April 2010
|Prime Minister||Manmohan Singh|
|Minister||S. M. Krishna|
|Preceded by||Anand Sharma|
|Succeeded by||E. Ahamed|
|Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha|
|Assumed office |
31 May 2009
|Preceded by||Pannyan Raveendran|
|United Nations Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information|
1 June 2002 – 9 February 2007
|Secretary General||Kofi Annan|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Kiyotaka Akasaka|
|Chairman of the All India Professionals Congress|
|Assumed office |
1 August 2017
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Born||9 March 1956|
|Political party||Indian National Congress|
|Education||St. Xavier's Collegiate School|
|Alma mater||University of Delhi (BA)|
Tufts University (MA, MALD, PhD)
He also serves as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology and All India Professionals Congress. He formerly served as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs (2014 to 2019).
Born in London, UK, and raised in India, Tharoor worked across the world, graduating from St. Stephen's College, Delhi in 1975 and culminated his studies in 1978 with a doctorate in International Relations and Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. At the age of 22, he was the youngest person at the time to receive such an honour from the Fletcher School. From 1978 to 2007, Tharoor was a career official at the United Nations, rising to the rank of Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information in 2001. He announced his retirement after finishing second in the 2006 selection for U.N. Secretary-General to Ban Ki-moon.
In 2009, Tharoor began his political career by joining the Indian National Congress and successfully represented the party from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala by winning in the Lok Sabha elections and becoming a member of parliament. During the Congress-led UPA Government rule (2004–2014), Tharoor served as Minister of State for External Affairs (2009–2010) and Minister of Human Resource Development (2012–2014).
Tharoor has authored 23 works of fiction and non-fiction since 1981, which are centred on India and its history, culture, film, politics, society, foreign policy, and more related themes. In 2019, Shashi Tharoor received the Sahitya Academy Award for his book An Era of Darkness, about the British Raj, in a non-fiction category in English language. He is also the author of hundreds of columns and articles in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek, and The Times of India. He was a contributing editor for Newsweek International for two years. From 2010 to 2012, he wrote a column in The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle and, for most of 2012, until his appointment as Minister, a column in Mail Today; he also writes an internationally syndicated monthly column for Project Syndicate. He also wrote regular columns for The Indian Express (1991–93 and 1996–2001), The Hindu (2001–2008), and The Times of India (2007–2009).
Shashi Tharoor was born on 9 March 1956 in London, United Kingdom to Chandran Tharoor and Sulekha Menon, a Malayali couple from Palakkad, Kerala. Tharoor has two younger sisters, Shobha and Smitha. His father, originally from Kerala, worked in various positions in London, Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi, including a 25-year career (culminating as group advertising manager) for The Statesman. His paternal uncle was Parameshwaran Tharoor, the founder of Reader's Digest in India. Tharoor's parents returned to India when he was 2-years old, where he joined the Montfort School, Yercaud, in 1962, subsequently moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) and studying at the Campion School (1963–68). He spent his high school years at St. Xavier's Collegiate School in Kolkata (1969–71). Shashi's paternal grandfather was Chippukutty Nair.
In 1975, Tharoor graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from St Stephen's College, University of Delhi, where he had been president of the student union and also founded the St. Stephen's Quiz Club. Within the same year, Tharoor went to the United States to obtain an M.A. in International Relations at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Medford. After obtaining his M.A. in 1976, Tharoor further obtained his Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy in 1977 and his Ph.D. in International Relations and Affairs in 1978. While he was pursuing his doctorate, Tharoor was awarded the Robert B. Stewart Prize for best student and was also the first editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs. At the age of 22, he was the youngest person to receive a doctorate in the history of the Fletcher School.
Tharoor's career in the United Nations began in 1978 as a staff member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. From 1981 until 1984 he was head of the UNHCR office in Singapore, during the boat people crisis, leading the organisation's rescue efforts at sea and succeeding in resettling a backlog of Vietnamese refugees. He also processed Polish and Acehnese refugee cases. After a further stint at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, during which he became the first chairman of the staff elected by UNHCR personnel worldwide, Tharoor left UNHCR. In 1989 he was appointed special assistant to the Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs, the unit that later became the Peacekeeping Operations Department in New York. Until 1996, he led the team responsible for peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia, spending considerable time on the ground during the civil war there.
In 1996, Tharoor was appointed Director of Communications and Special Projects and Executive Assistant to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In January 2001, Tharoor was appointed as Interim Head of the Department of Public Information (DPI) at the Assistant-Secretary-General level. He was subsequently confirmed as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information (UNDPI) with effect from 1 June 2002. In this capacity, he was responsible for the United Nations' communications strategy, enhancing the image and effectiveness of the organisation. In 2003 the Secretary-General gave him the additional responsibility of United Nations Coordinator for Multilingualism. During his tenure at the UNDPI, Tharoor reformed the department and undertook a number of initiatives, ranging from organizing and conducting the first-ever UN seminar on Antisemitism, the first-ever UN seminar on Islamophobia after the 11 September attacks, and launching an annual list of "Ten Under-Reported Stories the World Ought to Know about", which was last produced in 2008 by his successor.
In 2006, the government of India nominated Tharoor for the post of UN Secretary-General. Had he won, the 50-year-old Shashi Tharoor would have become the second-youngest Secretary-General, after the 46-year-old Dag Hammarskjöld. Although all previous Secretaries-General had come from small countries, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan felt that Tharoor's candidacy would demonstrate India's willingness to play a larger role at the United Nations.
Tharoor finished second, behind Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, in each of the four straw polls conducted by the UN Security Council. In the final round, Ban emerged as the only candidate not to be vetoed by one of the permanent members, while Tharoor received one veto from the United States. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton later revealed his instructions from Condoleezza Rice: "We don't want a strong Secretary-General." Tharoor was a protégé of the independently minded Kofi Annan, and a senior American official told Tharoor that the US was determined to have "No more Kofis." After the vote, Tharoor withdrew his candidacy and declined Ban Ki-moon's invitation to remain in service beyond the expiry of his term as Under-Secretary-General.
|"Why nations should pursue soft power", TED talk, November 2009|
In February 2007, amidst speculation about his post-UN future, the Indian press reported that Tharoor might be inducted into Council of Ministers of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Minister of State for External Affairs. In the same month, an American gossip blog reported that Tharoor was a finalist for the position of dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles, but he withdrew his name from consideration at the final stage. Instead, Tharoor became chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures, which established the Afras Academy for Business Communication (AABC) in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, the city in which he would go on to win a record three parliamentary elections. He also spoke around the world about India and Kerala, where he spent increasing amounts of time before moving for good to India in October 2008.
Prior to embarking on his political career, Tharoor also served on the board of overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute, and the advisory boards of the Indo-American Arts Council, the American India Foundation, the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation, and the human rights organisation Breakthrough. At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1976, he founded and was the first chair of the editorial board of The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, a journal examining issues in international relations. Tharoor was an international adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva from 2008 to 2011. He served on the advisory council of the Hague Institute for International Justice and was elected Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities during 1995–96. He also supported various educational causes, including as Patron of GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai.
Tharoor once said that when he began his political career he was approached by the Congress, the Communists, and the BJP. He chose Congress because he felt ideologically comfortable with it. In March 2009, Tharoor contested the Indian General elections as a candidate for the Congress Party in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. His opponents included P. Ramachandran Nair of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Neelalohitadasan Nadar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), MP Gangadharan of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and PK Krishna Das of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Despite criticism that he was an "elite outsider", Tharoor won the elections by a margin of 99,989. He was then selected as a Minister of State in the Council of Ministers of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On 28 May 2009, he was sworn in as Minister of State for External Affairs, in charge of Africa, Latin America, and the Gulf, including the Haj pilgrimage, and the Consular, Passports, and Visas services of the Ministry. As Minister of State for External Affairs, he re-established long-dormant diplomatic relationships with African nations, where his fluency in French made him popular with Francophone countries and their heads of state.
Tharoor was a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. He was India's most-followed politician on Twitter until 2013, when he was overtaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some of his Twitter posts have proved controversial in the past and were highlighted negatively by the opposition and press.
He was also the first Indian minister to visit Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. He reformed the arrangements relating to the conduct of the Haj pilgrimage. He initiated new policy-planning activities on the Indian Ocean and represented India at various global events during his 11-month tenure as minister. In April 2010, he resigned from the position, following allegations that he had misused his office to get shares in the IPL cricket franchise. Tharoor denied the charges and, during his resignation speech in Parliament, called for a full inquiry. In a 2014 rejoinder he defended his position: "I was never involved in a scam of any sort in the IPL- I was brought down because...[I had] antagonised some powerful political cricketing interests" and added that he had "cooperated extensively with the detailed investigation conducted by the Enforcement Directorate into the entire issue", and no wrongdoing had been found.
Between 2010 and 2012 Tharoor remained active in Parliament and was member-convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on Disaster Management, a member of the Standing Committee on External Affairs, of the Consultative Committee of Defence, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Telecoms. He participated in several important debates of the 15th Lok Sabha, including on the Lokpal Bill, the demand for grants of the Ministry of External Affairs and of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the black money debate, and so on. In the special debate on the 60th anniversary of the Indian Parliament, Tharoor was one of four members of the Congress Party, including party President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, to be invited to address the Lok Sabha.
In 2012 Tharoor was re-inducted into the Union Council of Ministers by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the portfolio of minister of state for HRD. In this role he took special interest in the problems and challenges of adult education, distance education and enhancing high-quality research by academic institutions. He was responsible for the ministry's written answers to Parliament's questions and responded to oral questions on education during the Lok Sabha's Question Hour. He addressed forums and conferences on education, explained a vision of India's educational challenges in the context of the country's demographic opportunities, and stressed that education was not only a socioeconomic issue, but also a national security issue.
As Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor became the first elected representative in India to issue annual reports on his work as MP, including furnishing accounts of his MPLADS expenditure. In 2012 he published a half-term report followed in 2014 by a full-term report.
In May 2014 Tharoor won his re-election from Thiruvananthapuram, defeating O. Rajagopal of the Bharatiya Janata Party by a margin of around 15,700 votes, and became a member of the 16th Lok Sabha, sitting in Opposition. He was named Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. Shashi Tharoor was dropped from the post of Congress spokesperson on 13 October 2014 after he praised statements of his party's opponent, Prime Minister Modi.
In regards to Tharoor's removal from the post of congress spokesperson, Kolkata's The Telegraph opined, "For an Opposition MP to have and to exercise the freedom to appreciate a good thing done by the government and for a ruling party MP to speak and vote against the party line is not just legitimate parliamentary practice, it is the very essence of parliamentary democracy. Shashi Tharoor, from the ranks of the Congress has tried to do that; there is not one BJP MP who has matched him. Blind conformism is not loyalty, nor independent thinking, dissent."
After the BJP victory of 2014, Tharoor was asked to help the treasury benches draft a statement condemning Pakistan for freeing Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, who masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. In January 2015, Tharoor asked not to debunk genuine accomplishments of Ancient Indian Science due to exaggerations of the Hindutva brigade, amid 2015 Indian Science Congress ancient aircraft controversy.
In March 2017, Tharoor called for the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata to be converted into a museum on the effects of British colonial rule in India. Tharoor wrote in an Al Jazeera article that the British "conquered one of the richest countries in the world (27 per cent of global gross domestic product in 1700) and reduced it to, after over two centuries of looting and exploitation, one of the poorest, most diseased and most illiterate countries on Earth by the time they left in 1947. ...Nor is there any memorial to the massacres of the Raj, from Delhi in 1857 to Amritsar in 1919, the deaths of 35 million Indians in totally unnecessary famines caused by British [policies]".
Although there was significant support for Tharoor to contest as the Prime Minister candidate in 2019 General Elections, he has disowned, downplayed, and distanced himself from any such online campaigns run by his large number of followers.
Tharoor has also attempted to introduce a number of Private Members Bills in the Parliament. Notably, his efforts to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code were voted out by the majority of parliamentarians on two occasions. The Apex court of India later ruled in favor of amending the controversial article in 2018, thereby vindicating the position advocated by Tharoor.
Tharoor is notable for his eloquence while speaking, as demonstrated by the popularity of his speeches on online platforms such as YouTube. For instance, Shashi Tharoor's Oxford Union speech, delivered at the Oxford Union in 2015, has amassed over 8.1 million views on one site alone, while simultaneously being praised as ground-breaking in various educational institutions in India. Further speeches such as those explaining the importance of "soft power" and analyzing the impacts of education in India have garnered over one million and two million views respectively.
Additionally, Tharoor is known for his views on a number of topics including economics, history, governance, and geopolitics due to both his well-regarded educational attainment and his broad experience while at the United Nations. He is an outspoken supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations, arguing that "United Nations needs to open its doors to elected representatives" Many note that it is his combination of wit, charm, wry humour, and intelligence that make him accessible and held in high esteem, both in India and abroad.
Tharoor has been a columnist in each of India's three best-known English-language newspapers, most recently for The Hindu (2001–2008) and in a weekly column, "Shashi on Sunday," in the Times of India (January 2007 – December 2008). Following his resignation as Minister of State for External Affairs, he began a fortnightly column on foreign policy issues in the Deccan Chronicle. 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. His monthly column, "India Reawakening", distributed by Project Syndicate, appears in 80 newspapers around the world. As of 2021, Tharoor has written twenty-three books in English.
Tharoor began writing at the age of 6, and his first published story appeared in the Sunday edition of The Free Press Journal, in Mumbai at age 10. His World War II adventure novel Operation Bellows about a RAF pilot Reginald Bellows, inspired by the Biggles books, was serialised in the Junior Statesman starting a week before his 11th birthday. The Great Indian Novel had had 43 reprints as of October 2014, and a Silver Jubilee special edition was issued on the book's 25th anniversary in October 2014, by Viking Penguin India.The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone has also undergone several hardback re-prints. President Bill Clinton cited Shashi Tharoor's book India From Midnight to the Millennium in his speech to the Indian parliament in 2000.
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 also coined a 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".
Shashi Tharoor's non-fiction work An Era of Darkness, published later in the United Kingdom as Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, arose out of a speech he made at the Oxford Union, was published in 2016. It has sold over 100,000 copies in hardback reprints and continues to be a bestseller in the country. The British edition rose to Number 1 in the London Evening Standard bestseller lists. Since then, he has published two other non-fiction books: Why I Am A Hindu (2018) and The Paradoxical Prime Minister (2018), both of which have been published in the Indian subcontinent by the Aleph Book Company. The two books, both mega-bestsellers in India, raised very important questions. Why I Am a Hindu makes the point that it is precisely because Hindus form the majority that India has survived as a plural, secular democracy, a status that come under threat in the present world. The Paradoxical Prime Minister was a critical study of the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the effect he has had on India, along with other questions about a leader who is reviled and worshipped in equal measure.
Victor Mallet in the Financial Times said Tharoor "wants us to understand the origins of the difficulties that confronted India" after Indian independence. An article by the New Statesman said it was especially important for readers in Britain in the light of post-Brexit discussions. Tharoor has called for the British government to pay "colonial reparations" to India.
In September 2019, he published a new book, The Hindu Way: An Introduction, in line with his research into Hindu culture and ways of life of late. In 2020 he published The New World Disorder And the Indian Imperative, co-authored with Samir Saran, President of Observer Research Foundation (ORF), one of Asia's most influential think tanks. The book is a crucial study on the current state of chaos in international politics and identifies India's imminent role, as a non-hegemonic global power, in scripting an equitable ethic for a new international order.
Tharoor's first wife was Tilottama Mukherji, a half-Bengali and half-Kashmiri academic, and the granddaughter of politician Kailash Nath Katju. Tharoor and Mukherji had been college sweethearts and were married in 1981. After their marriage, Tilottama took her husband's last name and began teaching English at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic university and also worked as a freelance writer. Their twin sons, Kanishk and Ishaan, were born prematurely in 1984 at the KK Hospital in Singapore. Ishaan is a former senior editor at Time magazine, and now writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Kanishk is a former editor at Open Democracy and is the author of the highly praised short story collection Swimmer Among The Stars. Tilottama is currently a professor of humanities at New York University.
Following his split with Tilottama, Tharoor married Christa Giles, a Canadian diplomat working at the United Nations in 2007. After their subsequent divorce soon after his return to India, Tharoor married businesswoman Sunanda Pushkar in his ancestral home in Elavanchery village in Kerala's Palakkad district on 22 August 2010. On 17 January 2014, Pushkar (aged 51) died at The Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, under mysterious circumstances. In May 2018, Tharoor was charged with abetting the suicide of his wife and marital cruelty under sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. On 18 August 2021, a court in Delhi discharged Tharoor from all the charges.
Tharoor is a vegetarian and he "abhors the idea of consuming the corpses of animals," although he claimed that he does not have a problem with those who do. He has stated that he is "very proud of being a Hindu" and that he's a "worshipping" and "believing Hindu". Tharoor also claims to have read a "fair amount" of the Upanishads.
Shashi Tharoor was one of the first nine celebrities nominated in 2014 by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spread awareness regarding cleanliness, hygiene and good sanitation and make Swachh Bharat Mission a people's movement. He responded by cleaning the Vizhinjam port on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.
Currently, he is also on the Board of Advisors of India's International Movement to Unite Nations (I.I.M.U.N.).
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