Where is India headed?
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.
Question: Where is India headed?
Shashi Tharoor: Well I think that in terms of political forces, India seems to be destined for a long year of coalition governance. The last two governments each were made up of coalitions of 20-odd parties. And that seems to be the direction of Indian politics. There are a couple of big, national parties there – the Congress party and the . . . the . . . the more Hindu-inclined BGP party. They’ve each got about a third of the seats and . . . and . . . and slightly less than a third of the vote. And then the remaining third is split up amongst as many as almost 40 parties in the Parliament – some of which have one or two members, but which therefore exercise a great influence when coalition building takes place. I think that’s likely to be the direction of Indian politics. I’m not thrilled about it. One could argue that it promotes conciliation and cooperation. But on the negative side, it also means that governments are . . . are vulnerable to the rise and fall of political temperatures; and that an executive, unlike the U.S., can’t just be elected to execute and go out and change things for the better. It’s constantly going to have to look over its political shoulder at the . . . at the . . . the tastes, and wishes, and demands of each of its many coalition members. And that, I think, is a pity. Having said that, the future economic progress of India looks very promising. Today as I speak to you in 2007, we’re talking about 9.5 percent economic growth for GDP. And if that continues, we’re looking at not only pulling more people out of poverty than any country in the world, barring China, has ever done in human history. But we’re also talking about creating a society that’s full of people . . . the most amazing talent, creative energy, and youthfulness. Fifty four percent of the Indian population is under 25. That’s 550 million people. And these people are going to be growing up and . . . and . . . and being their productive best when many parts of the world – particularly Europe and China – will be aging. So India could have an extremely important part to play in the 21st century.
Recorded on: 9/18/07
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