Born in London but an Indian by choice and conviction, Dr. Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s love for travel, engagements and connecting with people so effortlessly, has its roots in his childhood. Born in London, to Chandran and Lily Tharoor, Shashi Tharoor moved to India when his parents decided to shift to India permanently.
A young Shashi Tharoor with his parents in London
Tharoor's parents returned to India when he was 2 years old, where he joined the Montfort School, Yercaud, in 1962, which in his own words was an unhappy one owing to his fluctuating health at the boarding school. He subsequently moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) and studied at the Campion School (1963–68). He spent his high school years at St. Xavier's Collegiate School in Kolkata (1969–71). He subsequently enrolled in India’s renowned St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi.
At the age of 19, Shashi Tharoor left India on a scholarship to join the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His degree certificate bore the emblem of both Tufts and Harvard. He completed his MA and M.A.L.D., a masters in law and diplomacy, soon creating his first unbroken record of completing his PhD in Indian Foreign Policy at the tender age of 22. While there, he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student and also helped found and served as the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs.
Shashi Tharoor’s Ph.D. thesis was on Indian foreign policy under Mrs. Indira Gandhi's first administration, 1966 - 1977. He completed his field research just after the government fell, giving everybody from the former prime minister, Mrs. Gandhi, to her Ministers the time and attention enough to indulge a young student with an exceptionally clear understanding of their work. Shashi Tharoor’s first published book was his thesis that was entitled, Reasons of State. [currently out of print].
Soon, Shashi Tharoor found himself in talks for a coveted position at the United Nations, after his chance encounter with Virender Dayal on the sidelines of a play that Tharoor was a part of. This was to mark the start of a rollercoaster ride at the United Nations.
Tharoor started his career in 1978 as a staff member for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He was appointed to the UNHCR Office at Singapore from 1981 to 1984 where he found himself embroiled in the Vietnamese ‘boat people crisis.’
In 1989, Tharoor was appointed as the Special Assistant to the UN Under-Secretary General for Special Political Affairs in New York. When that office was converted to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 1992, Tharoor continued as Special Assistant and was entrusted with leading the team dealing with peace-keeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. In 1997, Tharoor was appointed as the Director of Communications and Special Projects and executive assistant to the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Tharoor found himself mentored by the best in the business, rising to head the Department of Public Information from 2000-2007, and being appointed to the rank of Under Secretary General in 2001.
1989 was also important to Tharoor’s literary career as his first celebrated fiction, a satire on Indian politics, ‘The Great Indian Novel' hit the stands. Interestingly, nearly three decades later, the Independent listed the book as one of the Top 12 Indian Novels that one must read.
In 2006, the Government of India, nominated Shashi Tharoor for the post of Secretary General. He finished a close second, after the Americans voted in favour of Ban ki Moon. That marked the culmination of a 29 year long fruitful, international service-oriented career. His work as a peacekeeper, refugee worker and international civil servant was to usher in another fulfilling career in the Indian Government.
Dr. Tharoor was also awarded an honorary D.Litt by the University of Puget Sound and a Doctorate Honoris Causa in History by the University of Bucharest. In 1998 the World Economic Forum in Davos named him a Global Leader of Tomorrow. He is also a recipient of several awards that include a Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, India's highest honour for overseas nationals. In 2012 the King of Spain awarded him the Encomienda de la Real Order Espanola de Carlos III. Among numerous other awards are one for "New Age Politician of the Year" from NDTV, the Hakim Khan Sur Award for National Integration, and the Priyadarshini Award for Excellence in Diplomacy. In 2019, Dr. Shashi Tharoor won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Non-fiction and the Crossword Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In 2009 Dr. Tharoor was invited to be a part of the Indian polity by the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh and the President of the Indian National Congress, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. A Nehruvian by conviction, it did not take Tharoor too long to win the hearts of his constituents in the capital Thiruvananthapuram, a strong bastion of the Communists till his arrival. What started off as a story of a highly educated outsider with an unfamiliar accent, soon turned into the story of an empathetic returnee with the understanding and humility to connect with the masses.
Following his long career at the United Nations, which included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and serving as senior adviser to the Secretary-General, in addition to his role as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Dr. Tharoor returned to India and was elected to Parliament in 2009. During the UPA government (2009-14), he served as Minister of State for Human Resource Development and Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India. Between his stints as a government minister, he also served as Member-Convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on Disaster Management, and as a member of the Standing Committee on External Affairs; the Consultative Committee on Defence, the Public Accounts Committee; and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Telecoms. He has participated prominently in many of the most important debates of the 14th, 15th and 16th Lok Sabha in India, and in his current third term sits in the Opposition benches. He served as the Chairman of the Standing Committee on External Affairs and a member of the Standing Committee on Rules. He is currently serving as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Information Technology.
Shashi Tharoor was a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. Till 2013 he was India's most-followed politician on Twitter, until being overtaken that year by the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He was the first Indian to reach 10,000 and 100,000 followers on the medium, and currently has over 8 million followers.
Dr. Tharoor is also a recognised authority on India, especially regarding its recent economic transformation and future prospects, globalisation, freedom of the press, human rights, literacy, culture, foreign affairs, cricket and more, and is a compelling and effective speaker, fluent in English, French as well as in Malayalam and Hindi. Shashi Tharoor’s earliest tryst with journalism culminated in his winning the Rajika Kripalani Young Journalist Award for Indian journalists under 30 in 1976. He is the author of hundreds of articles, op-eds, and book reviews in a wide range of publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Mathrubhumi English, Khaleej Times, TIME, Newsweek, and The Times of India.
He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Shashi Tharoor has authored regular columns for the Indian Express (1991-93 and 1996-2001), The Hindu (2001-2008), The Times of India (2007-2009), The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle (2010-2012), Mail Today (2012), ndtv.com (2014-17), the Week (2017-present), Khaleej Times (since 2021), Mathrubhumi (since 2021) and Manorama (since 2022). He also writes regularly on thePrint.com, Open magazine and The Quint, and publishes an internationally syndicated monthly column through Project Syndicate.
His first non-fiction book, Reasons of State (1981) is a study of Indian foreign-policy making, while his India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997) is an acclaimed analysis of contemporary India, cited by President Clinton in his address to the Indian Parliament. Kerala: God's Own Country (2002) was a collaboration with the artist MF Hussain, dedicated to his home state while Nehru: The Invention of India (2003) is a biography of Pandit Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, and an exposition on his intellectual outlook and vision. Bookless in Baghdad (2005) is a collection of literary essays while The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cellphone (2007) compiles essays about contemporary Indian politics, society, and culture. Co-authored with Shaharyar Khan, Shadows Across the Playing Field (2009) is a survey of India-Pakistan cricket, while Pax Indica (2012) is a study of India's foreign relations and global strategy. India: The Future is Now (2013) is a compilation of essays by young Parliamentarians in the country edited and with an introductory essay by Dr. Tharoor. India Shastra (2015) is a collection of his abounding essays on India published in January 2015. His next book, An Era of Darkness (2018) was a historical account of British depredations in India. This book was the outcome of a 15 minute speech delivered at the Oxford Union on whether Britain owes India Reparations. The speech that went viral worldwide then became a book at the behest of his publisher Aleph. In 2020, Shashi Tharoor co-authored a book with Samir Saran, The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative. During the pandemic, Tharoor used his time to write a seminal work on Indian Nationalism, entitled The Battle of Belonging. In 2021, Dr. Tharoor published a collection of his choice works over the span of four decades, Pride, Prejudice and Punditry. He is currently working on a biography on Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
His three novels are the classic The Great Indian Novel (1989), which is required reading in several courses on post-colonial literature and continues to hold the attention of a new generation of readers; Show Business (1992), which received a front-page accolade in the New York Times Book Review and has since been made into a motion picture, Bollywood; and Riot (2001) a searing fictional examination of Hindu-Muslim violence in contemporary India. He has also authored a collection of short stories, The Five Dollar Smile (1990) and the text of a coffee-table book with the artist M.F. Husain, Kerala: God’s Own Country (2001), and another with the photographer Ferrante Ferranti, India (2008). Dr. Tharoor's books have also been translated into French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, as well as Bengali, Malayalam and Marathi.
Prior to embarking on his political career, Shashi Tharoor also served on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute, and the Advisory Boards of the Indo-American Arts Council, the American India Foundation, the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organisation Breakthrough. A prominent human rights advocate, Dr. Tharoor was appointed an International Adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva for the period 2008-2011. He was also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities and the Patron of the Dubai Modern School, and serves on the Advisory Council of the Hague Institute for International Justice.
Dr. Tharoor is the father of twin sons, Ishaan and Kanishk, and of his late wife Sunanda's son, Shiv. He is also the proud grandfather to three beautiful grandchildren. Dr. Tharoor shuttles between Thiruvananthapuram and New Delhi, India. His sisters Shobha and Smita live abroad and are both accomplished professionals. Dr. Tharoor currently resides in Delhi with his octogenarian mother, Lily Tharoor.