, the UN diplomat-turned-Congress politician, hasn’t lost very many
things in life. A bright student, Tharoor went on to become the youngest person
to receive a PhD from the Fletcher School at the age of 22. After he joined the
United Nations, he quickly rose through the ranks, cementing himself in roles
centred around communication. But then came 2006, when Tharoor, very
ambitiously contested the elections for the UN Secretary-General. He lost.

the loss, he quit the UN.

Wednesday, October 19, Shashi Tharoor lost the Congress presidential election.
Since joining the Indian National Congress, the party of India’s freedom
movement, Tharoor has largely tasted success. He was elected member of
Parliament thrice from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram. But the Congress
presidential election was not his cup of tea.

Even when
Tharoor nominated himself for the role, it was an ambitious move, perhaps more
ambitious than contesting the UN Secretary-General elections. This, because
Tharoor has never been seen as someone close to the Gandhi family – Sonia,
Rahul and Priyanka, who constitute what critics call the Congress high-command.

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In fact,
Tharoor went some distance to project himself as a candidate who would bring the
Congress out of the Gandhi family’s shadow. The politician who was the first to
really comprehend the impact of social media in Indian politics, Tharoor could
not really figure out how to manoeuvre his politics to make him dear to the
high command. Or perhaps, he chose not to.

Congress presidential elections were not particularly kind to Tharoor. He ended
with 1,072 votes, roughly 10% of the total votes polled. Even the 1,000 votes for
a candidate going against the candidate of choice of the Gandhi family means
something in a party that waxes eloquent about inner-party democracy but also
faces critical questions about the difference in what they preach and what they

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Tharoor, conceding defeat, put out a statement, saying: “It is a great honour
& a huge responsibility to be President of @INCIndia & I wish @Kharge
ji all success in that task. It was a privilege to have received the support of
over a thousand colleagues & to carry the hopes and aspirations of so many
well-wishers of Congress across India.”

In 2006,
Shashi Tharoor was contesting the elections for the UN Secretary-General post.
This was a year when the UN was veered towards electing an Asian to the UN top
job. Ban Ki Moon, a South Korean politician, was leading from the very beginning,
but Tharoor still stood a chance. Ban was the only candidate who did not
receive a veto, a power reserved for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Shashi
Tharoor’s candidature was vetoed by the United States. Subsequently, Tharoor
withdrew his candidature.

Tharoor, writing for OPEN, stated of the UN Secretary-General elections: “We
know the rest of the story from American sources, notably Surrender Is Not An
Option, the no holes-barred memoir published by the then US Ambassador to the
UN, John Bolton, who disloyally reveals that his instructions from Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice were: ‘We don’t wasn’t a strong Secretary-General’”.

The UN elections
have a strange parallel to the Congress presidential polls. Tharoor has never
been a man who sticks to the party line. While there has been criticism of
Tharoor as an elite, English-speaking intellectual with perhaps little idea of the
political dynamics in India’s grassroots to hold the position of Congress
president, it is also true that he has never paid obeisance to the Gandhi
family. Tharoor’s defeat has sparked speculation among political observers
about his next move and whether he will remain with the Congress after. “I look
forward to working with Congress colleagues to face the challenges ahead. I
believe the revival of our party has truly begun today,” is all Tharoor is saying
right now.