Shashi Tharoor

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Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor WEF.png
Shashi Tharoor
Minister of State for Human Resource Development
Assumed office
28 October 2012
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Preceded by Daggubati Purandeswari
Member of Parliament - Lok Sabha
Assumed office
Preceded by Pannyan Raveendran
Constituency Thiruvananthapuram
Minister of State for External Affairs
In office
28 May 2009 – 18 April 2010
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Preceded by Anand Sharma
Succeeded by E. Ahamed
Personal details
Born (1956-03-09) 9 March 1956 (age 58)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality Indian
Political party Indian National Congress
Spouse(s) Tilottama Mukherji (divorced)
Christa Giles (divorced)
Sunanda Pushkar (2010 - 2014 (her death))[1]
Children Ishaan, Kanishk
Residence New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram
Alma mater St. Stephen's College, Delhi (B.A.)
Tufts University (M.A., M.A.L.D., Ph.D.)
Occupation Writer, Diplomat, Politician
Religion Hinduism

Shashi Tharoor (born 9 March 1956) is the Indian Minister of State for Human Resource Development (HRD), Member of Parliament (MP) from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, an author and a columnist.

Until 2008, he was a career official at the United Nations, rising to Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information,[2][3] but resigned after losing to Ban Ki-moon in the 2007 election for the Secretary-General. After his entry into politics in 2009, he served as Minister of State for the Ministry of External Affairs, but was forced to resign in less than a year after becoming embroiled in a political scandal. In January, 2014 he was appointed as the official spokesperson of the Indian National Congress.[4]

Childhood and education[edit]

Shashi Tharoor, who is member of the Tharoor Tharavadu of Kerala heritage, was born in London, to Lily and Chandran Tharoor.[5] After his parents returned to India, he began his schooling at Montfort School in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, and Campion School in Mumbai, and attended high school at St. Xavier's Collegiate School in Kolkata.[6] Tharoor subsequently obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from St. Stephen's College in Delhi.[7] and went on to pursue graduate studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, from where he obtained M.A in 1976, M.A.L.D in 1977 and a Ph.D. in 1979.[8]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Shashi Tharoor showing replica of the Cyrus Cylinder to filmmaker Cyrus Kar at the UN headquarters.


Shashi 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 to 1984 he headed the UNHCR office in Singapore during the boat people crisis. In 1989 he was appointed as the Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs, the unit that later became the Peacekeeping Operations in New York. Until 1996, he led the team responsible for peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia.[9]

Under-Secretary-General at the UN[edit]

In 1996 Tharoor was appointed Director of Communications and Special Projects and as Executive Assistant to the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In January 2001, he was appointed as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and as the head of Department of Public Information (UNDPI). In this capacity, he was responsible for the communication strategy, enhancing the image and effectiveness of the UN. In 2003, the Secretary-General appointed him to the additional responsibility of United Nations Coordinator for Multilingualism.[9] During his tenure at the UNDPI, Tharoor reformed his department and undertook a number of initiatives, ranging from organizing and conducting the first-ever UN seminar on anti-Semitism,[10] the first-ever UN seminar on Islamophobia,[11] and launching an annual list of "Ten Under-Reported Stories the World Ought to Know About" (last produced in 2008 by his successor).[12]

On 9 February 2007, Tharoor resigned from the post of UN Under-Secretary-General and left the UN effective 1 April 2007.[13]

Campaign for Secretary-General: 2007[edit]

2007 Secretary-General candidates[14]
Name Position
South Korea Ban Ki-moon South Korean foreign minister
India Shashi Tharoor Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
for public information; from India
Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga President of Latvia
Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani Chancellor of
Kabul University, Afghanistan
Thailand Surakiart Sathirathai Deputy prime minister
of Thailand
Jordan Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad Jordan's ambassador
to the United Nations
Sri Lanka Jayantha Dhanapala Former Under-Secretary-General
for disarmament; from Sri Lanka

In 2006, Tharoor was nominated by the Government of India for the post of UN Secretary General.[15][16][17] Tharoor came a close second (behind Ban Ki-moon) in each of the four straw polls conducted by the UN Security Council[18][19][20] and won the online poll conducted by the BBC News website.[21] After the fourth poll, Ban emerged as the only candidate with the support of all five permanent members, each of whom had the power to veto candidates. Of the seven contenders for the post, Tharoor remained the only other to enjoy a majority in the Security Council. One Permanent Member (later revealed to be the US under the Bush Administration) opposed and China abstained from voting. After the vote, Tharoor withdrew his candidacy expressing his confidence for Ban to win.[22]

Had he been elected, the then 50 year old Shashi Tharoor would have been the second-youngest Secretary-General to be appointed to the post, the first being Dag Hammarskjöld who was appointed at the age of 46 years.[23][24]

Post-UN career[edit]

In February 2007, amidst rampant speculation about his post-UN future, it was presciently reported in the Indian press that Tharoor might be inducted into council of ministers of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Minister of State for External Affairs.[25] In the same month, it was reported in an American gossip blog that Tharoor was a finalist for the position of dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles, though he withdrew his name from consideration at the final stage.[26] Instead, Dr. Tharoor—in addition to a variety of other activities in his private life— became chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures, which established the Afras Academy for Business Communication (AABC) in Trivandrum, Kerala, India. He also spoke widely around the globe about India and Kerala, the state where he spent increasing amounts of time before moving for good in October 2008.[27] Since 2012 he is a member of the Advisory Council of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.[28]

Political career in India[edit]

Shashi Tharoor at a march parade with NSUI President Hibi Eden and other Congress workers in Ernakulam, Kerala.

In March 2009, Shashi Tharoor contested the Indian General Elections in 2009 as Congress Party candidate from Thiruvananthapuram (Lok Sabha constituency) in Kerala. His opponents included P. Ramachandran Nair of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Neelalohitadasan Nadar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), M.P. Gangadharan of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and P. K. Krishna Das of Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP).[29] Despite being criticized as an "elite outsider" he went on to win defeating his nearest CPI rival P. Ramachandran Nair by a margin of approximately 100,000 votes. Subsequently Shashi Tharoor was selected as Minister of State in the Council of Ministers of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On 28 May 2009 he was sworn in as the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs.

Tharoor become the first Indian celebrity to get 100,000 followers on Twitter.[30] However, some of his tweets (or Twitter posts) proved controversial and were quoted by the press and opposition parties to criticize his work. On 18 April 2010 Tharoor resigned from his post as Minister of State for External Affairs on instructions from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,[31] following allegations that he had misused his office to get shares in the IPL cricket franchise of Cochin. Tharoor denied the charges and in his resignation speech called for a full inquiry. On 2 May 2010, he was nominated to be a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for External Affairs by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.[32] Later he became Minister of State for Human Resource Development after a Cabinet reshuffle in 2012.


Twitter and other early controversies[edit]

  • In September 2009, Tharoor and S M Krishna were accused of staying in luxurious 5-star hotels.[33] Tharoor defended himself, saying that it was because of the delay in his official residence being ready and he only spent from his own pocket for the accommodation.[34] Later on Pranab Mukherjee's request[35] Tharoor and Krishna moved out of the hotels.[36]
  • A controversy erupted when Tharoor, responding to the question as to whether he would travel in "Cattle class", replied that he would do so. This remark on Twitter (@ShashiTharoor), equated the travelling public to cattle and also taunted his party, the Indian National Congress over their austerity drive.[37] It was also reported that Congress may take action against him.[38][39] However, this was subsequently resolved when Tharoor met his party leadership and offered them an apology/explanation.
  • Another controversy erupted on Gandhi Jayanti when he said people should be working rather than staying at home taking a holiday, thereby paying real homage to Mahatma Gandhi.[40]
  • Tharoor was in the news again for publicly criticizing the new visa guidelines adopted by the Indian Government in the wake of the gaps exposed by the arrest of 26/11 terror suspects, David Headley and Tahawwur Rana. For this he was criticized for breaking ranks with the official position of the Government. He later met External Affairs Minister, SM Krishna and explained his position on the issue. The rules were subsequently partly modified.[41]
  • In January 2010, Tharoor criticized Gandhi and Nehru for their vision on Indian foreign policy by the Indian media. This angered his party, the Indian National Congress. In the wake of this controversy, he held a press conference describing the report as "inaccurate" and "tendentious"."[42]
  • In February 2010 when accompanying[43] the Indian 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 their close ties with Islamabad, to help address the terror threat from Pakistan.[44] The remark about Saudi Arabia being a "valuable interlocutor" raised a strong reaction within the Indian political circle.[45] 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.[46] In response, Tharoor tweeted 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".[44]
  • In February 2010, a website called "Keralawatch" published an investigative report which alleged that Tharoor used incomplete records to enrol his name in the voter's list in Thiruvananthapuram constituency.[47]

IPL Controversy[edit]

Lalit Modi published the shareholders-details of Kochi-IPL team's franchise owners, Rendezvous Sports World (RSW) group in his Twitter account[48] and also mentioned that he was asked by an influential Union Minister not to get into details of Sunanda Pushkar, who was given a sweat equity of approximately 4.5 per cent of total equity (estimated by the media to be worth Rs 70 crore) in Kochi IPL team.[49][50] In an official statement,[51] Tharoor denied having made any financial gains from the sale or having pressured Modi in any way. He further accused Modi of trying to delay and discredit the new owners so that the franchise can be re-awarded elsewhere. RSW protested Modi's breach of confidentiality agreement. Sunanda Pushkar also issued a statement denying being a proxy for Tharoor.[52] Later amidst demands for his resignation from the Union Cabinet by the opposition parties,[53][54] Sunanda Pushkar gave up the sweat equity offered to her by RSW.[55] But Income Tax department stated that she will have to pay income tax on her sweat equity in Rendezvous Sports World even after having given it up and non payment will lead to her arrest.[56] Allegations that it was a pay back for denying a visa request for a South African model close to Lalit Modi have surfaced.[57] Under severe push from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee combine, the Congress core committee decided to ask for Tharoor's resignation.[58] On 18 April 2010 Shashi Tharoor resigned from the post of Minister of State in MEA after calling for a full inquiry into the matter.

Controversy over the Death of Sunanda Pushkar[edit]

On 15 January 2014,[59] Shashi Tharoor's wife, Sunanda Pushkar, published from Tharoor's Twitter account, messages allegedly sent by a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar, to Tharoor, proclaiming Tarar's love for Tharoor. Pushkar's tweets addressing Tarar as an ISI agent stalking Tharoor snowballed into a controversy. Tharoor tried to downplay the incident by stating that his account had been hacked, which Pushkar denied saying that she had only tweeted from Tharoor's Twitter account. On 17 January 2014, Pushkar was found dead at The Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. An inquiry into her death was ordered by a Delhi magistrate, based on the autopsy that said the 52-year-old died of poisoning and an investigation is currently underway.[60]

Literary career[edit]

Shashi Tharoor delivering a lecture at Université d'été du MEDEF, 2007

Tharoor has written numerous books in English.[61]

Tharoor has been a columnist in each of India's three best-known English-language newspapers,[62] most recently for The Hindu newspaper (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[63] 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,[64] the New York Times[citation needed] and the Los Angeles Times,[65] amongst other papers.[citation needed] His monthly column, "India Reawakening", distributed by Project Syndicate, appears in some 80 newspapers around the world.[citation needed]

Tharoor began writing at the age of six[citation needed] and his first published story appeared in the “Bharat Jyoti”, the Sunday edition of "The Free Press Journal", in Mumbai at age 10.[citation needed] His World War II adventure novel Operation Bellows, inspired by the Biggles books, was serialized in the Junior Statesman starting a week before his 11th birthday.[citation needed] Each of his books has been a best-seller in India.[citation needed] The Great Indian Novel is in its 28th edition in India and his newest volume.[when?] The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone has undergone seven hardback re-printings there.[citation needed]

Tharoor has lectured widely on India,[66] and is often quoted for his observations,[citation needed] 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."[67] He has also coined a memorable 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.".[68] (Other quotes in Wikiquote.)

Personal life[edit]

Tharoor's first wife was Tilottama Mukherji, a granddaughter of Kailashnath Katju, an academic from Kolkata,[69] who is now a humanities professor at New York University.[70] They have two sons, Kanishk and Ishan.[71] Ishaan is a senior editor with the Time magazine,[72] Kanishk is associate editor at[73] Later he married Christa Giles, a Canadian diplomat working at the United Nations.[74] After their divorce, Tharoor married Sunanda Pushkar in his ancestral home in Elavanchery village in Kerala's Palakkad district on August 2010. On 17 Jan 2014 Sunanda aged 52, was found dead at The Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi.[75]

A theatre buff in his school days, he played Antony to Mira Nair’s Cleopatra in a 1974 production of Antony and Cleopatra.[76] At St. Stephen’s in the early 1970s he founded the Quiz Club, which is still in existence; he also revived the Wodehouse Society, which is no longer in existence. Upon election as President of the College Union[citation needed] he relinquished the Secretaryship of the History Society as well as the editorship of the campus humour magazine “Kooler Talk.” He was invited by St. Stephen’s College to deliver the college’s 125th Anniversary Jubilee Lecture in 2005.[77]

He has been an elected Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities during 1995-96[78] and a member of the Advisory Board of the Indo-American Arts Council and also served on the Board of Directors of Breakthrough,[79] an international human rights organization, the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute, and as an International Adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He also supported various educational causes, including as Patron of GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai.

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.[80]

Honors, awards and international recognition[edit]

  • 2004 – Awarded the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, India’s highest honour for non-resident Indians. But did not accept it at the time owing to UN rules prohibiting acceptance of governmental honours.[citation needed]
  • 2007 – Went on to accept the award after having resigned from the position of Under Secretary General at the UN.[82]
  • 2008 – Conferred a Doctorate Honoris Causa by the University of Bucharest, Romania.[citation needed]
  • 2009 – Awarded the Zakir Hussain Memorial "Pride of India" Award.[citation needed]
  • 2009 – Awarded GQ's Inspiration of the Year Award at its Man of the Year Awards.[citation needed]
  • 2009 – Presented with the Hakim Khan Sur Award for National Integration by the Maharana of Udaipur.[citation needed]
  • 2010 – Awarded the Sarva Deshiya Prathibha award by the Pazhassiraja Charitable Trust, Kozhikode.[83]
  • March 2010 – Awarded "New Age Politician of the Year" Award by NDTV at its Indian of the Year awards.[citation needed]
  • 2010 – Awarded the Fifth IILM Distinguished Global Thinker Award in New Delhi[84]
  • 2010 – Awarded Digital person of the year at the first ever Indian Digital Media Awards (IDMA) for popularising the digital medium in India[85]
  • 2013 - Awarded First Sree Narayan Guru Global Secular and Peace Award at Thiruvananthapuram.
  • 2013 - PETA's "Person of the Year"[86]




  • Reasons of State (1985)[91]
  • India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997)[92]
  • Nehru: The Invention of India (2003)[93]
  • Bookless in Baghdad (2005)[94]
  • The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - The Emerging 21st-Century Power (2007)[95]
  • Shadows Across the Playing Field: Sixty Years of India-Pakistan Cricket (2009)(along with Shaharyar Khan)[96]
  • Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (2012) [97]

Illustrated books[edit]

  • Kerala: God’s own country (2002) (along with artist M.F. Husain)[98]
  • Inde (in French) or India (in English) (2008) along with photographer Ferrante Ferranti


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  72. ^ Ishaan Tharoor
  73. ^ Kanishka Tharoor
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  77. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  88. ^ Shashi Tharoor. The Five Dollar Smile and Other Stories. Arcade Pub. p. 175. ISBN 1-55970-225-7. 
  89. ^ Shashi Tharoor. Show Business. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. p. 320. ISBN 1-61145-407-7. 
  90. ^ Shashi Tharoor (2001). Riot. Arcade Publishing. p. 272. ISBN 1-55970-605-8. 
  91. ^ Shashi Tharoor (1982). Reasons of state: political development and India's foreign policy under Indira Gandhi. Vikas Pub. House. p. 438. ISBN 0-7069-1275-6. 
  92. ^ Shashi Tharoor. India: From Midnight To The Millennium and Beyond. Arcade Publishing. p. 420. ISBN 1-55970-803-4. 
  93. ^ Shashi Tharoor. Nehru: The Invention Of India. Arcade Publishing. p. 282. ISBN 1-55970-697-X. 
  94. ^ Shashi Tharoor. Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. p. 288. ISBN 1-61145-408-5. 
  95. ^ Shashi Tharoor. The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - The Emerging 21st-Century Power. W W Norton & Company Incorporated. p. 512. ISBN 1-61145-393-3. 
  96. ^ Shashi Tharoor, Shaharyar Mohammed Khan (2009). Shadows Across the Playing Field: 60 Years of India-Pakistan Cricket. Roli Books. p. 189. ISBN 81-7436-718-7. 
  97. ^ Shashi Tharoor (2012). Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century. Penguin Books India. p. 456. ISBN 9780670085743. 
  98. ^ Shashi Tharoor, Maqbul Fida Husain. Kerala, God's own country. Books Today. p. 57. ISBN 81-87478-43-8. 

External links[edit]

Lok Sabha
Preceded by
Pannyan Raveendran
Member of Parliament
for Thiruvananthapuram