Tharoor does a class act, connects with ‘aam admi’ (Interview)

March 29th, 2009 - 3:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Manish Chand
New Delhi/Thiruvanathapuram, March 29 (IANS) Fish-sellers, slum-dwellers, rickshaw-pullers, taxi-drivers: These are not characters in his new novel or the kind of people Shashi Tharoor would have rubbed shoulders with in his high-flying job as a UN bureaucrat. But the Congress candidate from this high-profile aware Kerala constituency is determined to impress this motley crowd of voters that he is their best hope in the general elections.

And, going by his radiant and boyish smile, it appears he is having a great time communicating with this new cast of characters.

“Walking on the hot streets of Trivandrum (as many still refer to the Kerala capital) is a lot more exciting than sitting in an air-conditioned room,” Tharoor tells IANS by telephone as he goes around campaigning, picking a conversation with a tea-stall owner and casually chatting up villagers in a constituency that has a healthy blend of rural and urban voters.

“I speak a simple Malayalam, not the high-flautin literary variety. And I connect with people particularly well,” said the 53-year-old Tharoor who has authored nine books, including “The Great Indian Novel” and the bestselling “From Midnight to the Millennium”.

“It’s a different kind of joy, embracing ordinary people and listening to what they have to say. I hope to build on this momentum,” he maintained.

And wherever he goes, his pet message is development and his vision of converting Thiruvananthapuram, a city of million, into a truly global city, a knowledge city and a hub of cutting-edge research in bio-technology.

“I have been welcomed by the people of Trivandrum. The development of Trivandrum is my main theme,” explained Tharoor, who lost narrowly to current incumbent Ban Ki-Moon for the UN secretary general’s job.

Ever since he took the plunge into the famously chaotic world of Indian politics early this month, Tharoor has quietly reinvented himself as a “desi neta (native politician)”. Business suits are out, home-spun khadi is in.

Strenuously fighting off the “outsider” tag - a favourite attack theme of his political opponents - Tharoor, sporting a white khadi mundu and shirt with the party-coloured shawl draped around his shoulders, looks confident about his new vocation and his place in it.

Standing up for a new kind of development-centric politics, Tharoor said that the “Great Indian Middle Class”, estimated to number around 300 million people, can’t go on pretending that politics was not for people like them.

“I do represent the educated Indian middle class which has tended to abstain from politics. I have often argued in my writings that it’s a mistake for the middle class to abdicate this political space to others,” he maintained.

“In other countries, the middle class is the engine of politics. Here, they don’t even bother to vote,” said the man who has juggled with panache the world of high diplomacy as UN under secretary general and his parallel career as a writer and essayist.

“The possibilities are endless. It’s necessary that the entire cross-section of Indian society is heard,” said Tharoor.

“I certainly come from a non-political background. In a parliamentary system, you can’t do an Obama so one has to find a party that embodies one’s ideals and beliefs. The Congress fitted the billing,” he explained.

“One section has been underrepresented: the educated middle class. I represent their beliefs, values, expectations and aspirations,” said Tharoor, who has assembled a tech-savvy team and launched a campaign website to flag off his vision for the city and the country at large.

Tharoor may have larger ambitions - his name was doing the rounds when the Manmohan Singh government was looking for a successor to then external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh - but for now he is focusing all its energies on winning the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat.

“My only aspiration right now is that my party should form the government at the centre,” Tharoor replied when asked whether he had ambitions to play a larger role on the national stage.

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