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Shashi Tharoor's Top Ten Indian Hits

May 2008
Shashi Tharoor's Top Ten Indian Hits

To compile a Brand India Top 10 list, there are few better guides than Shashi Tharoor. He’s, after all, an informed author on India and a former UN diplomat with broad experience in public relations. In his witty Sheth lecture at Emory last month, Tharoor spoke at length, and with infectious enthusiasm, about India’s ongoing transformation in the 21st century. The audience couldn’t ask questions because, as Tharoor joked, “we’re all like mummies, strapped for time.” Given that India’s soft power—defined simply as its culture, political values and foreign policies—was a leading motif of his talk, one appropriate query could have been: What are Tharoor’s top 10 Indian brands for promoting this soft power around the world?

Tharoor did touch on these core strengths in his lecture, pointing out that India’s “civilizational ethos” was its greatest asset. But as he also states in The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone, “the more attributes you try to get in, the clunkier the phrase and the less memorable it becomes.” To keep the brands easy and recognizable, one can turn to his book’s last section, which he calls the ‘A to Z of Being Indian.’ Here’s a possible top 10 list drawn from that glossary: Bollywood, Elections, Gandhi, IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Information Age, Vegetarianism, Indian English, Minorities, Taj Mahal, Religion. These words, despite being easily understandable, are more than what they mean. They also stand for other, often similar, attributes associated with India. ‘Minorities’ would represent ‘pluralism’and ‘tolerance,’ for instance, just as ‘elections’ would imply ‘democracy.’ ‘Religion’ would include India’s many spiritual traditions, and ‘vegetarianism’—though important in itself—would symbolize the diversity and richness of Indian cuisine.

So much for branding. What about the distinctly ‘unbrandable’ side of India? Tharoor, to his credit, doesn’t neglect to mention the challenges facing the nation. Here’s his top 10 list: Communalism, Political criminalization, Poverty, Overpopulation, Unemployment, Poor infrastructure, Corruption, Demographic imbalance, Limits of federalism, and Neglect of human development.

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