In conversation with: Shashi Tharoor

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DU Beat talked to Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an eminent Indian politician, at the Shri Ram Leadership Summit organised by Club for Leadership, Innovation and Finance (CLIF). Here is what he had to say about making the most of college life, participating in the rat race and developing entrepreneurial skills:


Q. You are a great personality known all over the world. How do you think your life experiences can help the students of Delhi University become someone like Shashi Tharoor?

A. I personally feel that nobody can teach someone to lead a particular life. You can look at a person’s life for examples to an extent but ultimately most of the motivation comes from within. Moreover, circumstances change from time to time. There may have been some opportunities then that do not exist now and some constraints then that people do not face now. Every person has to deal with their own problems and advantages but one can certainly learn from other people how they have dealt with adversities, taken risks and how they have overcome setbacks.

I was very active in college, participated in various extra-curricular activities and that ultimately has shaped the kind of a person I am today. College is a place where you don’t only learn in the classroom, in fact I would argue, you learn the least inside the classroom. Those who just come to class and go back, miss out on the real experience.


Q. Now-a-days it has become a rat race for students not involved in professional courses like CA to pursue an MBA. However, in a country of 1.2 billion people, not everybody can be a leader although almost everybody wants to be one. So how, in your opinion can we satisfy the needs of all such aspirants?

A. The rat race is a relevant reality. In India the number of opportunities is much fewer than the number of people chasing those opportunities. As a result, the rat race becomes much more intense. In my time, the politics of scarcity was a major factor. There were fewer of us but we were chasing even fewer possibilities. The emphasis on marks alone and the so called “cut-offs” is a pity as it has spoiled the educational environment and relying purely on percentages misses the fact that university is a place of all activities.  There were so many students that I would have loved to see in my college but could not make it due to lack of percentage, so, I went to the principal regarding the matter and he told me that it is the Supreme Court’s guideline if he interviewed a 90 percent student when the cut off is 95, he will be obliged to interview everyone between 90-95%- which would become an impossible task. This is probably why most students run blindly for percentages. I remember a friend who was a theatre person and went on to become one of the first anchors of Doordarshan. He did not do well in school but St.Stephen’s still took him for his extra-curricular work. He was a great addition to the college.

When we talk about rat race for management, managers are not necessarily leaders. A manager may not be an effective leader and an inspirational leader may not know how to manage the nut and bolts of an organisation.  So you should not mix the two terms. As far as management education is concerned, in the whole world there were no management institutes till the early 20th century. In my time, there were only two IIMs- at Calcutta and Ahmedabad. It has all gradually changed in recent times, now it has become more popular course of study and people think an MBA will make their resume more attractive to companies.  It is true of some MBAs, some institutes and companies but I also know companies who would rather have a person with a substantial degree whom they can mould accordingly for their company than having an MBA from a wrong institute.

Q. In Delhi University, a large number of students aspire to be entrepreneurs and some begin their start-ups in college days itself. In your opinion, should they try to earn through their learning or learn while earning?

A. Students should certainly learn because without learning they won’t have the capacity to earn anything worthwhile. Having said that, entrepreneurship does require gut feeling, the ability to spot opportunities and take risks, and that can come to you at any age, sometimes with your education having nothing to do with it. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs, let’s face it, have been college drop outs. So entrepreneurship, in a sense, probably cannot be learned. The state and the university can help incubate. One way is by providing a safety net to students who have a very good idea in mind but cannot afford to take risks. One of the things we will be pushing in my constituency is an incubation program. I welcome this development as I believe this is a defect in our society. In my generation, people mostly opted for government jobs and stayed in the same job throughout their lives. All this has changed in recent times as youngsters have realised the potential of entrepreneurship in the world.

It is also not possible for the formal economy to create jobs for everyone. If more and more people become successful entrepreneurs, they can generate employment for even more people. Everything cannot happen top down. If we take IT for instance, I believe we have generated only about 5 million jobs last year whereas there are 12 million young people entering the market every year. Hence, self employment should be the pattern of the society, even if not exactly entrepreneurship, people who are skilled in writing or other creative talent can be hired for such services and earn probably more than what mediocre government jobs can offer. These initiatives will certainly solve the problem.

Ishani Rajkhowa with inputs from Arjun Talwar

Image Credits: Chirag Sharma for DU Beat

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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