Author, peace-keeper, refugee worker, human rights activist and now political candidate for the Indian Parliament, Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.
Born in London in 1956, Dr. Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. At Fletcher, Shashi Tharoor helped found and was the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 31st year. A compelling and effective speaker, he is fluent in English and French.
In January 1998, Dr. Tharoor was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is the recipient of several awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was named to India’s highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004. He serves on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute India, and the Advisory Boards of the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Shahsi Tharoor: Impact me every day I wouldn’t say. I mean I’ve come across a lot of bright and talented people – some really sharp and articulate leaders. I mean Tony Blair is a great example of that. Some very statesmen-like figures. Some are like Jacques Chirac, Francois Mitterand, Indira Gandhi; but each with their own not so attractive features as well. I would say that the person I met who came closest to being almost a sort of sage-like, saint-like creature would probably be Nelson Mandela, who is an amazingly inspiring person. Because like Gandhi, whom of course died eight years before I was born, Mandela seems to be somebody who can look beyond the petty resentments and anger of which we are all capable to forgive those who tormented and persecuted him, and took away 27 years of his life and still work for reconciliation and peace and justice in the world; somebody who is not afraid to speak his mind. Even when he’s wrong, as he sometimes is, he tends to do so with a great deal of humanity, and conviction, and compassion. Kofi Annan comes close. I saw him too up close to . . . to say that . . . that I . . . I . . . I could see him completely uncritically. But I thought he had a tremendous, tremendous humanity – a man who is deeply anchored in a very profound sense of himself, and at the same time of the world around him; and who did very, very good work heading the United Nations. But after Mandela and Annan, when I look around I see smart human beings, but not particularly people who are that much more exceptional than people who I might meet in my daily life who are not famous or don’t have leadership positions in the world of politics. So I think by and large we are probably wrong to invest larger than life figures with qualities of heroism. . . of grandeur that often have more to do with the trappings of the positions they hold than with their real human worth. And I’ve certainly met a lot of political leaders and heads of state who are actually less smart and less humane, less intelligent than many of the people I deal with in my daily life.
Recorded on: 9/18/07