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Will this man be the UN Secretary General?

An exclusive interview!

United Nations Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor has been named as India's candidate for the post of secretary general when the term of current incumbent Kofi Annan expires in December.

Since January 2001, Dr Tharoor has been in charge of the department of communications and public information, one of the largest departments at the UN secretariat, with some 750 staff and field offices in 63 countries.

Dr Tharoor accepted what was initially a temporary assignment as interim head of the much-criticised department, then stayed on to oversee a reform process that sought to streamline and professionalise what was seen as an ineffective and bureaucratic department.

In fact, his biggest victory in the post he currently occupies is that he became the first and thus far, only, secretariat leader to succeed in closing down UN offices in pursuit of the goal of streamlining its functioning. He accomplished this by shutting down eight UN information centres in Western Europe in the face of considerable political and bureaucratic opposition.

Prior to this assignment, he served as director of communications and special projects in the office of the secretary general (1997-2001), and as a senior advisor to the secretary general.

Before that, he was special assistant to the under secretary general for peacekeeping operations (1989-1996), an assignment that saw him lead the team in the department of peacekeeping operations responsible for UN peacekeeping operations in what was then Yugoslavia; and working with two successive heads of United Nations peacekeeping operations in managing peacekeeping activities at the end of the Cold War.

While all these assignments based him at the New York headquarters of the United Nations, his career with the world body began in 1978, on the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. He was head of the UNHCR office in Singapore (1981-1984) during the peak of the Vietnamese 'boat people' crisis.

Somewhere along the way, he also found time to write nine books, including the acclaimed India: From Midnight to the Millennium and a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as articles in a wide range of publications including the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune and Newsweek.

The holder of a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, USA, where he received the Robert B Stewart Prize for Best Student, he was named 'Global Leader of Tomorrow' in January 1998 by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Awards include a Commonwealth Writers' Prize; he was named to India's highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004.

Dr Tharoor spoke to Managing Editor Prem Panicker in New York almost immediately after India's announcement of his candidature for the top post.

Click here for the interview

Also Read: 'People who wield power in India today could not have dreamt of such power thirty years ago'


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