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An interview with Shashi Tharoor

Last updated on: October 17, 2009 13:02 IST

'Politics is no place for humour'


Next's George Joseph meets Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor in New York and finds out why he enjoys being part of government. Photographs: Jay Mandal/On Assignment.

Indians have their own piquant sense of humour, but politics is no place for humour, says Shashi Tharoor.

The former United Nations diplomat found this out the hard way when he posted on that, in deference to the United Progressive Alliance government's austerity drive that called for ministers to fly economy class, he would travel 'in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows.'

Dr Tharoor says he had not allowed for how casual humour would be viewed in the political arena.

"I wrote satirical novels. But in politics there are certain sensibilities," he says.

Image: Shashi Tharoor at the JFK airport in New York


Tharoor revels in the joy of working in government

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The former diplomat is a cautious man now. While speaking to after a community reception in Long Island, New York -- his first public event, after becoming a minister, in the city where he lived for many years -- he insisted that the conversation be taped so that he would not be misquoted.

Dr Tharoor was equally cautious when the national anthems of both India and the United States were sung at the reception. He stood to attention, but didn't place his hand on his chest as Americans do.

A case was filed against him in Kerala when he placed his right hand on his chest when the Indian national anthem was sung; the petitioner alleged he was disrespecting the tricolour.

Asked about his next book, Dr Tharoor said he would write it after his political career is over.

For now, he says he revels in the joy of working in government.

Image: Tharoor speaks at a reception organised by the Malayalee community of the Greater New York area

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'I am enjoying life as minister very much'

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"I am enjoying life as minister very much. The process of government in its own right is very interesting. Particularly, this ministry is all the more interesting because of my life-long work. I lived and worked outside, dealing with India with an outside perspective. Now I have the opportunity to represent India," Dr Tharoor explains.

But he admits he misses New York.

"I miss my wife and many of my friends working at the UN. But at the end of the day, the place is less important (than) work. During my UN days, I was often too busy to enjoy the opportunities in New York. In Delhi, my focus is global, and what is going on in New York is also as important to me," he says.

Relocating to India was not a problem, he adds, as he had intimate ties with the country which he visited frequently, read and written about.

"I was always looking at the larger perspective from outside. I did not know the texture of daily life. Now that I am living that daily life, I absolutely enjoy it. I have no complaints. Of course, there are small difficulties to deal with."

Image: Tharoor outside the United Nations building in New York
Photographs: Jay Mandal on Assignment
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'Obsessive focus on irritants is not good'

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Asked if diplomats in his ministry were envious of him given his high-profile career, he clarifies, "That is not my impression. They know well the difference between bureaucrats and an elected minister. After all, I was elected to Parliament by the people. I treat them with a lot of respect. I don't give the impression that I know all the answers. I have a lot to learn from them."

Speaking on India's border dispute with China, including reports of incursions, he says the issue has been unnecessarily dramatised.

It is a small element of a larger problem, he says, pointing out that China is one of India's top trading partners and Chinese companies are working on several projects in India.

"Tourists are going back and forth and employment visas are issued to many. An obsessive focus on irritants is not a good idea.".

Image: Tharoor with UN Under Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari at the UN

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