UNIQUE TIMESMay - June 2020

As a Member of Parliament, Tharoor has converted his unorthodox entry into politics and diplomatic skills inherited from his UN days, into a potent asset. In a country notorious for long-winded bureaucratic bottlenecks and red tape-ism that often reduces development projects to crawl, Tharoor has displayed an irreverential approach to the system and the rules of conformity it demands.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s bio on his ever-buzzing Twitter page reads ‘MP for Thiruvananthapuram, Author of 20 books, Former Minister of State, Goverment of India, Former Under-Secretary General, United Nations’. The order is questionable. While his credentials as a bestselling author or a prolific career in the international body are well established, his modern-day political hat offers an interesting quandary worth unpacking.

Even to seasoned pundits, Tharoor’s journey since the commencement of his political career in 2007, could not be more different from the diary of a textbook politician. And often (or perhaps consequently) there has been a rush to categorise Tharoor as a fish out of water in Indian politics.

Not just because of certain personality traits of the three-term Member of Parliament, universally regarded as a suave, articulate and astute leader, are perhaps qualities less than commonly associated with our perception of the political class. Or because despite his verified credentials and potential he frequently appears to be underutilised by his own party, even as it faces an existential crisis. Or because unlike many he bumps into at Parliament’s Central Hall, Tharoor’s ascension to the very top is neither the product of a helpful lineage in this line of work nor by cutting his teeth in the swirl of party-affiliated student politics. Indeed the question of what an individual like Tharoor is doing investing his time, energy and legacy in Indian politics is one that has puzzled many.

His upbringing and career offer little clues. Born in London, Tharoor’s early years were spent between the teeming metropolises of Kolkata, Mumbai and then New Delhi where he read History at the premier Anglican establishment of St. Stephens College. Though he made a name for himself as a champion debator, a talented thespian and perhaps even displayed inklings of a future diplomat thanks to the various favourable exemptions he secured from the administration during his tenure as President of the college union, the ingredients of a conventional politician in the making were conspicuously absent during his formative years.

Following his years in Delhi University, despite securing admissions to two premier IIMs and the option of vaulting into the bureaucracy through the prestigious civil services examinations, Tharoor, then 19, chose to travel overseas to Tufts University's Fletcher School of Diplomacy where the anxiety of burning through his scholarship (and an academic record that would be every Indian parent’s dream) saw him secure an MA, MALD and a PhD (courtesy a 650-page tome on Indian foreign policy that would be subsequently converted into his first book ‘Reasons of State) by the age of 22, a tearing pace that since has not been emulated.


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May - June 2020