Editorial: Who’s afraid of Shashi Tharoor?

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Friday, November 25, 2022, 05:22 AM IST
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Congress MP Shashi Tharoor | File Photo

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor knows how to capture the headlines in the media. Nobody expected him to win the Congress Presidential election when his rival was octogenarian Mallikarjun Kharge but he contested, obtaining over a thousand votes. He was in the spotlight for at least one month. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself admitted that the election was to the advantage of the party. Mr Tharoor was gracious enough to congratulate Mr Kharge soon after he was elected and to offer his services in whatever capacity he deemed necessary. But that did not enable his inclusion in either the Congress Working Committee or the list of leaders chosen to campaign in states like Gujarat. There is reason to believe that he is not in the good books of the Congress leadership.

Whatever be the truth, Mr Tharoor’s recent trip to the Malabar region of Kerala, where he addressed a series of programmes organised by Congress leaders and met the leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League, a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the Congress. An attempt was made to scuttle the programme by claiming that it had no official sanction, but it failed to impact Congressmen who found a new “saviour” in Mr Tharoor. He did not use the fora to attack any fellow Congress leader or to create a schism or faction in the party; rather, he addressed Congressmen and spoke about their ideology, a point that the leadership could not lose sight of. In other words, his campaign could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as anti-Congress.

Nonetheless, it is too simplistic to see Mr Tharoor’s campaign as just to while away the time. Far from that – there is a political motive, which is to capture the leadership of the Congress in the state. He knows only too well that despite the anti-incumbency factor, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was able to return to power only because a section of the traditional UDF vote bank, especially those belonging to the minority communities, gravitated towards the LDF. They felt that the Congress was hardly in a position to take on the might of the Sangh Parivar, at least in the state. They also knew that when Oommen Chandy was the chief minister, his main detractors were within the party rather than outside it. To win the next election, the UDF needs more votes from the minority communities and a large section of the youth and women.

Mr Tharoor may not be a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman but he is certainly the most popular leader, perhaps, after Mr Chandy who, in any case, is not in the pink of health. During the last elections, he was the most sought-after Congress campaigner in the state, a fact few can deny. That he was able to win the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat – considered a nemesis for the Congress – three times is in itself commendable. Much more than that is his personal appeal to various communities, owing mainly to his affable nature and his standing as a good orator, prolific writer and crowd-puller. Of course, all this is like the red rag to the bulls in the Congress like VD Satheesan, who has already described him as a balloon, created by the media, which would burst if pricked by a needle. Such expressions betray the sense of insecurity Mr Tharoor evokes among leaders of his ilk.

Many see KC Venugopal, the right-hand man of Rahul Gandhi, as the dark horse for the post of chief minister in case the UDF wins a majority in the next election. He is believed to be the one who pulls the strings against Mr Tharoor by denying him his due in the party. KPCC chief K Sudhakaran, who does not have any control over his tongue and who creates, rather than solves, problems for the party, is not as personally ambitious as some others to create roadblocks for Mr Tharoor. It is too early to say whether Mr Tharoor is the right person to lead the UDF, given the pulls and pressures under which it works, but his campaign has certainly instilled fresh hope among the Congressmen. The party can either accept this reality or deny it.

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