The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tharoor’s India ready to take on the world

New York, June 17: India’s decision to seek the post of UN secretary-general is the reflection of a “cultural shift” in the way the country deals with the world, according to Shashi Tharoor, who was nominated by New Delhi on Thursday to succeed Kofi Annan as the “conscience-keeper of the international community”.

In an interview to The Telegraph shortly before leaving for New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders and finalise his strategy for securing the most prestigious diplomatic job in the world, Tharoor said India is now seen by the international community as a “can-do society”.

“India is no longer defensive about its policies, no longer protectionist in wanting to keep out foreign films or the media. We are ready to take on the world.”

Tharoor, who plans to meet leaders and decision-makers in governments in Europe, Southeast Asia and America between now and July 15, said his nomination for the secretary-general’s post was “emblematic of the profound changes in Indian society today”.

In a separate interview, India’s permanent representative to the UN here, Nirupam Sen, said India had shed its inhibitions about reclaiming its role and place in the UN.

He pointed out that the country had won elections both to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) and the newly-created UN Human Rights Council with impressively huge margins.

Sen predicted an Indian campaign for the secretary-general’s job, which is “razor-sharp and targeted” as the one which brought unprecedented victories for the country at Ecosoc and the human rights council.

Other diplomats at the UN agreed that this was a major change for New Delhi from the disastrous years, which culminated in India’s disgraceful rout at the hands of Japan in 1996 for election to the Security Council.

Outlining his vision of the UN if he became its chief executive, Tharoor said he would like to help in refashioning the world body into a “more nimble, more agile, more flexible, better co-ordinated and more effective organisation in facing the problems of the 21st century”.

The UN, he pointed out, was not the World Trade Organisation. Nor was it a Bretton Woods institution, which runs the system of international monetary management. Yet it remains the primary political body for global economic and social development and had a fundamental duty to “wipe the tears from the poorest girl in the most neglected parts of the earth”.

The UN must also move urgently towards resolving what he called “problems without passports”, global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, drug trafficking and the movement of refugees. These are problems from which nation states cannot become immune merely by closing their borders or adopting a national policy.

“I do not want the East-West divide during the Cold War to be replicated by a North-South divide” between the world’s rich and poor countries in the UN.

“As a son of the South, I hope I can speak to the Group of 77 (G 77) developing countries, but I can also speak to the developed countries with the experience and insights of a UN manager.”

A celebrated writer and author of eight books, Tharoor betrayed a tinge of regret when he said “there will be a very long suspension of any writing for publication” if he is chosen to head the UN.

“As it is, I began a novel three Christmases ago which I have not been able to touch. For fiction, you need not just time, but space inside your head to create an alternate universe, one populated with characters and issues and situations that are as real to you as the ones you encounter in real life. For me, that space isn’t there in my mind right now.”

As a writer, he is looking forward to the secretary-general’s election as the final catharsis. “If I win, I will have to put all thoughts of personal writing away during my tenure and if I lose, I will have all the time in the world to write.”

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