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Shashi Tharoor at the Mumbai Conference, June 2015
|Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha|
Assumed office |
16 May 2009
|Preceded by||Pannyan Raveendran|
|Minister of State for Human Resource Development|
28 October 2012 – 18 May 2014
|Prime Minister||Manmohan Singh|
|Preceded by||Daggubati Purandeswari|
|Succeeded by||Upendra Kushwaha|
|Minister of State for External Affairs|
28 May 2009 – 18 April 2010
|Preceded by||Anand Sharma|
|Succeeded by||E. Ahamed|
|Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Communications and Public Information|
1 June 2002 – 9 February 2007
|Succeeded by||Kiyotaka Akasaka|
9 March 1956|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Political party||Indian National Congress|
Tilottama Mukherji (divorced)|
Christa Giles (divorced)
Sunanda Pushkar (2010–2014; her death)
|Residence||New Delhi/ Thiruvananthapuram|
University of Delhi|
|Occupation||Writer, Diplomat, former UN official, Historian|
Shashi Tharoor (born 9 March 1956) is an Indian politician and a former career international diplomat who is currently serving as Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, since 2009. He also currently serves as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs and All India Professionals Congress of the Indian National Congress.
He was previously Minister of State in the Government of India for External Affairs (2009–2010) and Human Resource Development (2012–2014). He is a member of the Indian National Congress and served as an official spokesperson for the party from January to October 2014. Until 2007, he 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.
Shashi Tharoor is also an acclaimed writer, having authored 16 bestselling works of fiction and non-fiction since 1981, all of which are centred on India and its history, culture, film, politics, society, foreign policy, and more. 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).
Tharoor was born in London to a Malayali Nair family of Lily and Chandran Tharoor of Palakkad, Kerala. His father 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 Tharoor Parameshwaran, the founder of Readers Digest in India. After his parents returned to India, Tharoor boarded at 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 Calcutta (1969–71). He graduated with a bachelor of arts (honours) degree in history from St Stephen's College, Delhi.
In 1975, he moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he obtained his MA and MALD and was awarded the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student and completed his PhD at the age of 22. At Fletcher, he also helped found and was the first editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs.
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, for which he led the organisation's rescue efforts at sea and succeeded 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 he was appointed Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Head of the Department of Public Information (UNDPI). 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 anti Semitism, 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.
|Wikinews has related news: Shashi Tharoor starts his campaign for Secretary General of the UN|
|Wikinews has related news: Shashi Tharoor withdraws candidacy|
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'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 two 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 about 100,000. 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.
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.
However, some of his Twitter posts proved controversial and were highlighted negatively by the opposition and press. 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.
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 15th 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, Calcutta'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 atrocities by the United Kingdom during its rule in India. He wrote in an Al Jazeera column that British Empire "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 policy."
Tharoor is notable for his eloquence while speaking, as demonstrated by the popularity of his speeches on online platforms such as YouTube. For instance, his speech decrying British Colonialism, delivered at the Oxford Union in 2015, has amassed over 3.9 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 humor, and intelligence that make him accessible and held in high esteem, both in India and abroad.
In February 2010 when accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, he said "We feel that Saudi Arabia has a long and close relationship with Pakistan, that makes Saudi Arabia even more a valuable interlocutor for us. When we tell them about our experience, Saudi Arabia listens as somebody who is not in any way an enemy of Pakistan, but a friend of Pakistan and, therefore, will listen with sympathy and concern to a matter of this nature". He was asked whether India expected Saudi Arabia, given its close ties with Islamabad, to help address the terror threat from Pakistan. The remark about Saudi Arabia being a "valuable interlocutor" raised a strong reaction within the Indian political circle. The Pakistani press even went on to report that he had proposed that Saudi Arabia play a mediator's role in improving India's relationship with Pakistan. In response, Tharoor denied that 'interlocutor' meant 'mediator', and tweeted an explanation, saying, "An interlocutor is someone you speak to. If I speak to you, you are my interlocutor. I mentioned the Saudis as our interlocutors, i.e. the people we are here to speak to".
Tharoor has written numerous books in English.
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.
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, inspired by the Biggles books, was serialised in the Junior Statesman starting a week before his 11th birthday. Each of his books has been a bestseller in India. The Great Indian Novel is in its 42nd edition, and a Silver Jubilee special edition was issued on the book's 25th anniversary, September 2014, from Viking Pengun India.The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone has undergone seven hardback re-printings there.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 in the UK as Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, arising out of a speech he delivered at the Oxford Union, was published in 2016. It sold over 50,000 copies in eight hardback reprints within six months of publication. The UK edition rose to Number 1 in the London Evening Standard bestseller lists.
Victor Mallet in the Financial Times said Tharoor "wants us to understand the origins of the difficulties that confronted India after 1947", attributing most of that to colonialism. New Statesman said it was especially important to read as sardonic talk of "Empire 2.0" came up post-Brexit. Tharoor has called for Britain to pay reparations to India for the lasting toll that colonial rule exacted on the country.
Tharoor's first wife was Tilottama Mukherji, a granddaughter of Kailashnath Katju and thus a first cousin of Markandey Katju. She is now a professor of humanities at New York University. They have two sons, Kanishk and Ishaan. 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 and he is working on a novel in New York. Kanishk also served as associate editor at openDemocracy.net 2006-09.
Later Tharoor married Christa Giles, a Canadian diplomat working at the United Nations.
After their divorce, Tharoor married Sunanda Pushkar in his ancestral home in Elavanchery village in Kerala's Palakkad district in August 2010. On 17 January 2014, Sunanda, aged 50, died at The Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi.
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.
On 15 January 2014, a series of intimate messages, supposedly sent by the Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar to Tharoor, were posted on the latter's Twitter account. The messages proclaimed Tarar's love for Tharoor. Tarar tried to downplay the incident by stating that her account had been hacked. However, Sunanda later stated that the account had not been hacked and that she had posted the messages to expose what she believed to be Tarar's stalking of her husband. She accused Mehr of being an ISI agent. Later, she stated that she did not want to go public about the matter, especially in an election year. The next day, a note titled as "Joint statement by Sunanda and Shashi Tharoor" was published on Shashi Tharoor's Facebook page. The note stated that the couple was happily married, and that some personal comments not intended for publication had been misrepresented after being posted to Twitter. The note also stated that Sunanda had been hospitalised after being ill, and was seeking rest. She was being treated for Lupus erythematosus, a deadly immune disorder which damages healthy tissues.
On 17 January 2014, a day after the Twitter controversy, Sunanda was found dead in room number 345 of the Leela Palace hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, where the couple had shifted to, as their house was being renovated and painted. Shashi Tharoor discovered her body, when she did not wake up from her sleep in the evening. He informed the Delhi Police, who recovered the body from the hotel and sent it for postmortem. According to initial reports, Sunanda was suspected to have committed suicide. Later reports stated that the cause of death was unnatural; the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences gave a preliminary autopsy report that revealed injury marks on her body. They said that these injuries may not be the cause of death. The autopsy indicated that she died of drug overdose, most likely a combination of sedatives, other strong medicines and probably alcohol. An investigation has been ordered by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to examine the cause of poisoning and to ascertain if it was murder or suicide. Her body was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium in South Delhi.
Doctors at KIMS Hospital Trivandrum, where she had been hospitalized for three days a few days earlier said that Sunanda did not have serious health problems. However, Sunanda had hinted about her death, hours before her body was recovered from the hotel.
On 1 July 2014, controversy over her death deepened when AIIMS doctor Sudhir Gupta claimed that he was pressured to give a false report in the case. On 10 October, the medical team probing her death concluded that she died of poisoning. On 6 January 2015, the Delhi Police reported that Sunanda was murdered and filed FIR in the regard.
Subramanian Swamy, a politician of the BJP, has tried to fight this case against Tharoor in January 2015. On 20 May 2015 a trial court allowed the Delhi Police to conduct lie detector test on three suspects related to her death. The case became a talking point again in 2017 after the release of a series of secret video tapes by Republic TV in connection to Sunanda's death.. Key alleged claims included: (a) Sunanda's body was moved from room No. 307 to 345 of Leela indicating that the murder scene and body was tampered with before the investigation began. (b) Shashi Tharoor had re-visited the hotel after leaving it at 6.30 am, and had hid this piece of information when investigated. (c) Taped evidence emerged of the Shashi and Sunanda having "fought all night" on the day of her murder  (d) On 10 October 2014, Tharoor tried to influence the 'HM' through Rajan Rao, a Delhi-based operative. Rajan Rao is the same individual who had previously claimed that he was Shashi Tharoor's "friend" and had also claimed that Shashi Tharoor's ex-OSD had called him on the day Sunanda was found dead.  Tharoor denied all these allegations and sued Republic TV and its anchor Arnab Goswami for defamation.
In May 2018, Tharoor was charged with abetment to suicide of his wife and marital cruelty under sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. If convicted, Tharoor could serve up to 10 years in jail.
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| Member of Parliament
| Under Secretary General of the United Nations for Communications and Public Information