There is an intersting parallel between Lakshmi NIvas Mittal, the steel tycoon, and Shashi Tharoor, who is being supported by India in his bid to get elected as the UN Secretary General. Both of them have been born after India got indepence. They are really the post-Midnight children. Mittal was botn in 1950, Tharoor in 1956.
Mittal got his degree in management from St. Xavier's College , Kolkata. Then he went away from India to take up a steel mill in Indoensia. Over the years he prospered and he has acquired a steel empire. The merger of Mittal Steel with Arcelor, Europe's mega steel company, is the crowning glory as it were of his international success.
Tharoor graduated from St. Stephen's College in New Delhi. He went off to the United States, got a doctorate in international relations -- his doctoral thesis was about India's foreign policy and development from 1966 to 1976, which coincided with Indira Gandhi's first term as prime minister of India. Then he joined the United Nations, and did not look back.Mittal and Tharoor did India proud.
But there has been a small catch in their fortunes in the last few months. As he faced unprecedented resistance to his attempted buy-over of Arcelor, Mittal turned to the Government of India. The Indian Government felt that it was duty-bound to support this successful Indian. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath spoke to French President Jaxques Chirac. Apparently, Chirac did not see eye to eye with the Indian leaders in this matter. He described Mittal as a raider from Britain.The Indian media too felt a sense of solidarity with Mittal, and described the reistance to Mittal's acquistion of Arcelor as resentment of the rise of the brown man in the Western capitalist world. There was a bit of truth in the dramatised version. Arcelor was no corporrate saint. It had its own record of unseemly corporate raids, especially in Latin America.But what is interesting is the fact that Mittal, who built himself all on his own, felt the need to turn to the Indian Government for moral support.
The Mittal issue became an issue of India's burgeoning national pride. There was something quite clumsy in the manner that Mittal sought India Government's help, and the ready manner in which the Indian leaders offered it.
A similar thing has happened in the case of Tharoor as well. He turned to the Government of India for help. Could he have avoided it? Perhaps he could have, and his credibility would have much greater than it is now. He would have been seen, in the absence of India's endorsement of his candidacy, as a truly international bureaucrat.
But the temptation to support Tharoor was irresistible as it were, both in the government and in the media.There was a sense of jubliation in the media, especially the English language print and electronic sections, when Tharoor got New Delhi's official nod. They felt that one of them was out there in the race for the post of the most coveted international bureaucrat.
Though critics, especially the international relations experts and analysts, expressed reservations about India's support for Tharoor's candidacy because they felt it did not serve India's so-called national interests, this did not dampen the spirit of celebration in India's English-educated class. There was reason for this identification with Tharoor.
The flamboyant UN Under Secretary General was indeed a poster boy of India's flaky liberalism. Tharoor believes in all the right things that his class believes in -- secularism, pluralism, India's ancient heritage and modern achievements, admiration for Nehru and Gandhi (not necessarily in that order), for the Mahabharata as well as for Salman Rushdie.Mittal, on the oher hand, symbolises the entrepreneurial success of the Indian middle class.
Though many in the English-speaking Indian middle class will not feel much at home in the company of Mittal as they would in the case of Tharoor, they would not shy away from admiring the raw sucess of the robust magnate.Mittal and Tharoor cold have savoured teir accomplishments much more if they had not succumbed to the temptation of knocking on the doors of the Government of India. Their sucess, which is truly their own, wil now be used by Indians at home and by politicians in power as though they had something to do with it, and when as a matter of fact they had nothing to do with it. Mittal and Tharoor survived and succeeded purely on the merit of their wits. nd they culd have sruvived in their moment of stress as well.
There were many other Indians in earlier generations who scaled heights of success in the world arena after moving away from India. They belong to the world of science. The first was Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhat, the great astrophysicist, who left India at the age 19 in the 1930s, clashed with the gaint of physics of his time, Sir Arthur Eddington, and then was forced to move to the University of Chicago, where he remained for the next 60 years. He won a Nobel prize for physics for his work on the life and eath of stars in the 1980s. The other was Hargobind Khurana, who won a Nobel for biology for his work in gentics. Being scientists, they never cared for for natioanlist acclaim, nor did they get it in those days dour socialism. Even today, they remain great, lonnely heroes. A notch above Mittal and Tharoor because they did not feel weak in their knees as these two did at a certain point of time.
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