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Tharoor all set to turn entrepreneur

By Suman Guha Mozumder in New York
April 07, 2007 12:06 IST
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Shashi Tharoor, who stepped down as United Nations under-secretary-general for communications and public information last month, is going to don a new role, most likely, by the end of the month.

"I am going to be associating myself with being chairman of a company that is not yet incorporated, but that will be (decided) in the next week or ten days. It will invest in India, and particularly in Kerala, from where I come from," Tharoor said after delivering the concluding keynote at the 3rd annual India Business Conference organised by the South Asia Business Association of Columbia University in New York on Friday.

"I will also be advising a private equity firm. I have not signed the contact as yet, but it is being set up in New York that will again focus on India." Tharoor said.

"I will be doing a number of different things -- the thali approach rather than a main course approach," Tharoor said, alluding that he will be doing a number of different things in his post-diplomatic career at the world body.

For one, Tharoor said, he will be writing as much as his time permits and will speak as often as he can about the issues that he cares about.

"So, I will be dividing myself, living out of the suitcase, and on plane a lot of the time, but the focus of my attention will largely be the 'Unleashed India' that you have been here today to celebrate," he said.

The day-long conference christened 'India Unleashed' was addressed by Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, Former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner, USIBC president Ron Somers, CII chief mentor Tarun Das, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a university professor at Columbia, and former minister Arun Shourie, among others.

Tharoor said that since he stepped down he has got a lot of unsolicited approaches about what he can possibly do following his stepping down from the United Nations where he has spend for nearly 30 years.

"I nearly sleepwalked into other professions that on balance I felt I should not," Tharoor said in a lighter vein.

On how he felt about heading an investment company, he said: "On the contrary, I feel ready for the challenge of undertaking something I have never done before. This will be a stretch for me, and I have no idea whether I will have either the talent or the taste for it. That should keep me on my toes!"

"As to personal freedom, private sector work would indeed be a way of ensuring precisely that -- by giving me a chance to acquire the financial independence that helps under-pin one's personal and professional independence," Tharoor told

Despite his resignation from the United Nations, Tharoor, the quintessential orator, got a standing ovation after he ended his half-an-hour speech that basically focused on India's past, present and future, its history and culture and its potential to become a leader in the comity of nations thanks to what he called India's 'soft power' and civilisational appeal.

In response to a question as to whether he believed there was a downside to the American investors' desire to invest in India and to make the country a capitalist society, he said that obviously, the magic of the market will not appeal to those who cannot afford to enter the market place. 

"You absolutely cannot make this liberalisation work if you cannot bring more and more people into the net. It is happening. The percentage of Indians living below the poverty line has gone down by one percentage point a year," Tharoor said.

He said politicians would have to determine whether that is good enough or fast enough and where there are any alternatives that are faster or better.

"We tried variants of socialism before and we ended up regulating stagnation and distributing poverty. This way, it may have imperfections, but it is pulling more and more people out of poverty year after year. The question is how to manage it," Tharoor said.

To another question about the potential threat of growing Americanization of Indians thanks to increasing export of American goods and services to the country, Tharoor said quoting Mahatma Gandhi that he was not worried in the least about that because in India one can 'afford to be in a house with doors and windows open and let the winds of the world blow in to your house because you are strong enough on your feet not be blown over.'

"I mean McDonald can open as many outlets as they want in India but they will never outsell Masala Dosas or Chole boture. This is simply not possible," Tharoor said. 

"Hollywood can come in (and) there should be no restrictions on how many movies should be coming, but Bollywood is making at the moment five times as many movies a year as Hollywood," he said amid thunderous applause from the 200-odd audience.

"The products of India has as much of a chance of benefiting from globalisation in the opposite direction as we have of needing to fear about Americanization. For, the Bharatanatyam and Bhelpuri are going to be supplanted by Baywatch and Burgers is frankly not something that I am excessively worried about just yet," he observed.

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York