It took no brilliance for anyone, including this writer, to foreshadow the distinct likelihood that former senior U.N. official Shashi Tharoor, who narrowly missed being its secretary-general, will be inducted as a junior foreign minister of India. Of course, in India’s permanently quirky politics it is always hazardous to predict anything, particularly that which seems obvious.
Tharoor, who won handsomely in the country’s just concluded parliamentary elections from the Thiruvananthapuram, is expected to bring his real world experience as an international diplomat to his new assignment. It is quite possible that given his familiarity with the U.N. system and the West, his talents would be utilized by his boss, Foreign Minister S M Krishna in those areas.
India would be well served if it employs Tharoor’s wide network of contacts on the world stage to keep up behind the scene diplomacy at a time when China is embarked on a long-term strategy to not just remain a decisive player but consolidate its position as a geostrategic counter to the United States.
In an interview with Manish Chand of the IANS before he was appointed junior foreign minister, Tharoor had said, "We need a realistic calculation of our national interests. Well, people say it's pro-US, pro-West or pro-Israel, but they are all meaningless labels. The only pro any of us can be is to be pro India." That has been the guiding principle of India’s foreign policy since the country’s independence, including the period during which it cast its weight behind the Soviet Union between the 1950s and the 1970s. Notwithstanding the ridicule of being a Soviet satellite India’s foreign policy wonks saw self-interest in following that path. From the mid 1980s onward the country began decidedly shifting towards the West as it began opening up its economy under then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and recognized the importance of economic-cum-diplomatic engagement with the West.
In the past two decades or so New Delhi has continued to pursue what it perceives as foreign policy that revolves around the country’s interests rather than any doctrinaire or ideological thinking. Tharoor ought to be excited to have been inducted during the times so fraught with transformative challenges.