Shashi Tharoor (Pic: www.tharoor.in)
The resignation of India’s junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor amid allegations of impropriety over a cricket team franchise bid could adversely affect the country’s new diplomatic and economic push in Africa. For the record, Tharoor, a former United Nations under-secretary, has vigorously defended himself in India’s parliament and called for a thorough investigation of the charges because his “conscience is clear.”
I found this IANS story by friend and fellow journalist Manish Chand an interesting perspective on the larger consequence of the allegations, which the former minister himself described as “fanciful and malicious.”
By Manish Chand
New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) When Shashi Tharoor visited Liberia in September last year, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf broke protocol and attended a reception organised by the Liberian foreign minister in his honour. Next day, Johnson-Sirleaf invited Tharoor for a breakfast to her residence.
In barely ten months he served as India's junior foreign minister, Tharoor managed to forge personal equations with many African leaders and made a visible difference to India's diplomacy in Africa.
Tharoor's tryst with Africa goes back to his days as UN under secretary-general where he developed rapport with scores of African bureaucrats and ministers. Not surprisingly, he brought a personal touch to his dealings with Africans.
The Egyptian foreign minister, for example, is on twitter with him, recalls a close aide. Many foreign ministers from African countries send SMSes to him and speak to him frequently over the telephone.
To make his African guests feel welcome in India, Tharoor would not only hold the mandatory lunch at Hyderabad House for visiting dignitaries, but also add an event or two like an address at the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA) to give them a broader exposure to India.
Tharoor stepped inside South Block at a time when India was raising its diplomatic and economic profile in the resource-rich African continent after years of neglect. China, on the other hand, has scaled up its bilateral trade with Africa to $109 billion, compared to India-Africa trade of a mere $39 billion.
Against this backdrop, Tharoor imparted a fresh vigour to India's African diplomacy and travelled to Liberia within months of becoming junior foreign minister.
The French-speaking Tharoor also struck a chord with diplomats and ministers from Francophone countries of West Africa, a region whose importance India has woken up to only recently. At the CII-Exim Bank India-Africa business conclave held here in March, Tharoor floored African leaders, specially from Francophone countries, when he ended his speech with greetings in French.
Tharoor's success in Africa generated whisper campaign in some Chinese blogs where anonymous writers thought India was finally giving China tough competition in the continent.
But Tharoor wisely sensed the trap of getting into India-China rivalry in the African continent and defined India's distinctive agenda-free approach in his speech at the CII conclave, called "the Indian model of cooperation", which he said revolved around capacity building, trade and investments human resource development.
"We do not wish to go and demand certain rights or projects or impose our ideas in Africa. But we do want to contribute to the achievement of Africa's development objectives as they have been set by our African partners," Tharoor said. This approach has found enthusiastic response in Africa.
In barely ten months in office as minister of state for external affairs, in charge of Africa, Latin America and West Asia, Tharoor visited five African countries, including Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Mozambique and Ethiopia. He also visited Haiti, Dominican Republic, Peru and Colombia in Latin America, and Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia in West Asia.
Had he survived the controversy surrounding his alleged link with Kochi's IPL bid that cost him his job, he would be heading on a whirlwind tour to Tanzania, Mali and Mauritania next month. Next month, he was also scheduled to go to Kuwait, Bahrain, Mexico, Brazil and Panama in quick succession.