Sunday, July 29, 2012

The insider story

The insider story:

The insider story

Pic by Jagan Negi
It’s been a busy year for Shashi Tharoor. He’s been juggling politics with Parliament, jetting between Delhi and his constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, and burning the midnight oil to complete his newest book,Pax IndicaIndia and the World of the 21st Century.
Pax Indica’s power launch in Delhi was followed by another high-profile launch in Kerala. “Being a good MP, I launched it in Thiruvananthapuram,” he says, as he settles down for a chat in his sprawling MP’s bungalow in Delhi’s Lodhi Estate. The pace will only get hotter over the next few weeks as he takes the book — a clear-eyed view on India’s foreign policy and his 13th book — to Calcutta, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
The former United Nations diplomat isn’t a government minister any longer but he’s still a highly visible figure and receives about 400 invitations in a year to speak at universities, colleges and at functions. “I have invitations from practically every place — from Guwahati to Kanyakumari,” he says. But he can squeeze in just four or five such events annually.
A self-confessed workaholic, the parliamentarian, 56, doesn’t allow himself much rest. “I’m probably not spending enough time with my friends, going out, watching movies or enjoying myself,” he says flatly.
(From left) Jaswant Singh, Salman Khurshid, Vice-President Mohd Hamid Ansari who released the book, and Karan Singh shared the stage with Shashi Tharoor at the launch of Pax Indica
But he tweets — from the car, in-between appointments or while driving from Parliament to home. He was the first celebrity in India to notch up one lakh followers on Twitter and the number has swelled to over 14 lakh today. “Bollywood stars have overtaken me and I’m no longer at the top in India,” he says.
Stealing time from his schedule to write Pax Indica (Penguin India, Allen Lane) was a grind. A birthday present for his wife, Sunanda, it was written between January and June this year. “In January, Sunanda told me that she wanted it for her birthday on June 27,” he says. He was rushed to meet his deadline as he wrote only in the early mornings and late at night — sometimes till 3am. Add the fact that he does his own research rather than employ a researcher. But fortunately he writes “reasonably rapidly,” he says.
Tharoor has written on foreign policy before. His first book — written much before The Great Indian Novel (1989) —was Reasons of State (1982). A rehash of his PhD thesis, it talked about Indian foreign policy-making under Indira Gandhi. So, after he resigned as minister of state for external affairs in 2010, he thought of returning to the subject.
Egging him on was the fact that no substantive book on the subject existed for the general reader. “This is not a scholarly book on foreign policy matters but targets educated newspaper readers in India and can animate living room conversations,” he says.
Tharoor points out that there was a major change in our foreign policy in the early ’90s. The Look East policy, the opening up of the US and recognition of Israel — all happened then. “But no Indian author had done a book on the subject,” he says.
In Pax Indica he has surveyed India’s major international relationships, has evoked our soft power options and urged us to go from non-alignment to multi-alignment. He explains his coinage of the term, multi-alignment: “We can belong both to the non-aligned movement and the community of democracies. We can belong to the G-77 which has 120 countries, and the G-20. We can pursue different objectives with different allies and partners.”
He says that it’s important for India to have a foreign policy that also serves the ends of our development objectives. “Our neighbourhood too is our challenge in itself,” he says.
Tharoor always had a keen interest in international relations — even as a history student at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He would have taken the IFS exams if it hadn’t been for the Emergency. “That completely disillusioned me,” he says.
He even wrote about it in his book IndiaFrom Midnight to the Millennium (1997). With the IFS ruled out, his says his next best option was to study at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the US from where he earned a PhD in 1978. His career at UN was a natural progression.
Tharoor may have spent a better part of his life abroad but he’s glad to be back. He doesn’t miss his UN days where he served for 29 years. He looks back at his tenure as under- secretary general with a pang of nostalgia but not in the sense of wanting to go back. “I prefer to go with the ‘been there, done that’ attitude,” he says.
After his career at the UN — he resigned after losing the 2007 election for Secretary-General — he returned to India for good the same year. Coming back he says has given him a satisfaction that he never got at UN — of speaking for his country. “One has a sense of relevance here, of being plugged into their own society,” he says.
As minister of state for external affairs in 2009, Tharoor was given supervision of relations with the Arab world, Latin America and Africa. He says that his prime contribution was transforming relationships with some African nations. And because he was a French-speaking minister, he was able to cultivate warm relations with Francophone countries (French-speaking countries). He also became the first Indian minister to set foot in Haiti.
Today, Tharoor divides his time equally between Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi. Occasionally, he accepts overseas invitations as he did recently for a function in New York because his twin sons are based there. “I accepted just to be able to see them,” he smiles. “One’s a journalist and the other a writer working on a novel,” he says with fatherly pride.
Tharoor’s first four books were fiction and last eight have been non- fiction and he hopes to redress that balance. “I’m going back to fiction in my next book,” he promises.
Ideas are bubbling away in his head but he has other priorities for now: he’s hands-on in Thiruvananthapuram attending functions, giving speeches and interacting with the public. He says firmly: “That’s my focus now and it has to be if I want to be re-elected — and I do.”

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Oof! Rashtropoti Bhobon! - Hindustan Times

Oof! Rashtropoti Bhobon! - Hindustan Times:

Oof! Rashtropoti Bhobon!
Indrajit Hazra, Hindustan Times
July 23, 2012
First Published: 23:09 IST(23/7/2012)
Last Updated: 08:58 IST(24/7/2012)
No one’s really noticed, but the Oriyas are really upset. Again. There was a chance that one of their own would finally become the president of India this time round. But no one from Orissa even made the grade as any political party’s presidential candidate. To add insult to injury, the 13th 
President is a Bengali and the outbreak of celebrations in the state next door has been keeping neighbours in Orissa awake at night.

There had been some confusion in the past when Varahagiri Venkata Giri became the fourth president of India in the late 60s. Many Oriyas had reckoned that at last one of their own had entered Rashtrapati Bhavan. But it soon came to light that this Giri was from Berhampur in the old Madras presidency, and even though Berhampur is now part of Orissa, Giri was a member of a Telugu-speaking family. So to consider him as an ‘Oriya president’ would be as pointless for ethnic chest-thumping purposes as claiming Subhas Chandra Bose as ‘one of us’ just because he was born in Cuttack, Orissa (then within the Bengal presidency).
In the meantime, Pranab Mukherjee’s ascension to Raisina Hill — and not as a presidential horse as he once wished to be reincarnated as, but as the main resident of Rashtrapati Bhavan — has resulted in Bengalis busting a button or two of their punjabi (Bengali for ‘kurta’ and what in Punjabi should be called ‘bengali’) with unalloyed pride. The Bengali, whether in Kolkata or in the other industrial ghost towns like Detroit or anywhere else, sees Pranab-da’s presidency as not so much a vindication of Mukherjee’s political prowess and of him being the perfect commander-in-chief of India, but as ethnic justice finally being delivered.
The perception of being kept down in the national scheme of things for ages has finally ended for Bengalis. With Pranab-da becoming president, the ghosts of Subhas Bose’s expulsion from the Indian National Congress in 1939, Jyoti Basu’s ‘Himalayan blunder’ of being denied prime ministership in 1996, and Sourav Ganguly being dropped from the national cricket squad in 2006 have been exorcised. The transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, too, has finally been avenged — and Mamata Banerjee can put a lid on her ‘We demand respect from Delhi’ whine.
This isn’t the right time to remind fellow Bengalis what Mukherjee’s original destination was. (Clue: A Punjabi occupies that space now.) But as Bengalis will now ensure that everyone knows, being the president of India is a far greater honour than being a mere prime minister. The house is bigger, the entertainment allowance along with other perks more, and one doesn’t have to report to any non-Bengali party boss.
The 21st century has already seen long-pending ethnic-, religious- and gender-based biases being reversed. Barack Obama became the first African-American president of America. Pratibha Patil became the first table tennis player to become president of a cricket-loving nation. (A few people’s attempt to make her becoming president a matter of ‘Marathi pride’ fizzled out as soon as the Shiv Sena agreed to support her candidature.) Karan Johar became the first Indian to win a Best Director Oscar. OK, so that hasn’t happened yet because of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continuing to be an anti-India, racist institution.
But in the general spirit of our times being so pro-active in reversing old, fest-ering biases, Mukherjee will be sworn in tomorrow as India’s first ex-pipe-smoking, under-5 feet 6 inches, Durga-worshipping, non-Oriya Kulin Brahmin alumnus from Suri Vidyasagar College. Fellow Bengalis, at last our moment has come!

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.