New Delhi: Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor’s decision to traverse Kerala, while attending meetings organised by various communities and professional groups, continues to rankle the rank and file of the Congress’s state unit.
Kerala Congress functionaries allege that Tharoor, despite clear directives from the All India Congress Committee (AICC), has refused to share his itinerary with local Congress leaders in districts he plans to visit. Senior leaders lamented the “loss” of a man who they helped win his first election in Thiruvananthapuram way back in 2009.
Those in the AICC with a more sympathetic view of Tharoor, claim the state leadership’s statements against him are made with the tacit support of Congress’s general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, who is perceived to be close to the Gandhis.
Kerala Congress leaders, meanwhile, claim senior AICC functionaries have spoken to Tharoor and asked him to keep the party in the loop about his travels, but the party’s state unit continues to remain in the dark.
Kerala Congress chief K. Sudhakaran said he invited Tharoor to his district (Kannur) more than once, to no avail. But when Tharoor finally went there, he was caught unawares.
“He did not even bother to give me a courtesy call. It was very shameful for me as the KPCC (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee) president. He is never there for party meetings though we inform him. There are so many agitations in his own constituency, but he does not turn up for any of them. I have nothing against him. We want him back in the party. Please tell him that,” Sudhakaran told ThePrint.
During Tharoor’s visit to Kannur on 10 December, the district youth Congress passed a resolution criticising senior leaders, much to the chagrin of the state Congress leadership.
A three-term MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor’s profile took a leap when he contested — albeit unsuccessfully — against Mallikarjun Kharge in the election for the post of Congress president last October.
Tharoor has since made multiple trips to his home state, causing much consternation within the party’s state unit that claims it has been left out.
On 8 January, he stirred the pot further by declaring that he was ready to take on the mantle of chief minister if the people so desired. Tharoor withdrew the remark three days later.
Sudhakaran said AICC was apprised of the differences between Tharoor and the party organisation. “Tariq Anwar ji (general secretary in charge of Kerala) has spoken to him and asked him to take the party along, but nothing has changed.”
ThePrint reached Tharoor over WhatsApp for a response on Sudhakaran’s plaints, along with AICC general secretaries K.C. Venugopal and Tariq Anwar over phone and WhatsApp, respectively, for a comment. This report will be updated when a response is received.
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‘Delhi leaders pushing their own favourites’
A plaintive Sudhakaran recounted his long association with Tharoor to make the point that contrary to the impression being given by some quarters, the party organisation is not opposed to the former Union minister.
“I never opposed him. I have always stood by him even when he made the controversial cattle class remark, I supported him. In fact, Jayanthi Natarajan pulled me up in the Central Hall of Parliament for supporting him.”
“But the simple thing that we have asked of him is that he should inform the local Congress leadership where he is travelling, and seek permission from the KPCC president. He is part and parcel of the Congress, and this is a matter of courtesy. Even if we attend a social function, we inform the PCC, block or mandal presidents,” said Sudhakaran.
Early on in his political career, Tharoor had courted controversy in 2009 when, following a show of austerity by the central government, all functionaries including ministers were asked to fly economy. Then the junior minister for external affairs, Tharoor posted a photo of himself on Twitter and said he would travel “cattle class in solidarity with all our holy cows”.
Following the outrage it caused, Tharoor was forced to apologise.
The AICC leadership has reportedly asked all Kerala leaders, including Tharoor, to “maintain decorum”.
However, Venugopal himself hinted that attempts were underway to “torpedo” the Congress party’s efforts to mount a comeback in the state after two back-to-back electoral defeats.
A senior party functionary in Delhi told ThePrint, “This factionalism will only hurt us when harnessing the popularity of a leader like Tharoor and his acceptability to allies like IUML (Indian Union Muslim League) should have propelled us ahead. Delhi leaders pushing their own favourites does not bode well for the party.”
‘Worked thrice for his win’
Senior state Congress leaders said Tharoor’s resistance will merely mean that neither the party nor he would benefit from his outreach as the two can work only in tandem, as force multipliers and not at cross purposes.
Ramesh Chennithala, who was PCC president when Tharoor fought his first election from Thiruvananthapuram, told ThePrint, “Unlike in other states, we are a well-knit party organisation in Kerala. We consider him an asset to the party.”
“All we ask of him is that he maintain decorum, go through the party organisation and inform party leaders. That is the system in our state. Without that, neither he nor the party will benefit from his travels. Somebody like him will attract crowds the first time, but the second time onwards, the novelty factor will reduce. See already the crowds are less.”
Among the many meetings Tharoor has attended so far, was one hosted by the Nair Service Society (NSS) where he made the statement about chief ministership.
NSS chief Sukumaran Nair subsequently said that Tharoor is good enough to be prime minister, not just the chief minister. The NSS has traditionally been aligned with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), though their official policy is of equidistance from political parties.
Tharoor was once dubbed a “Delhi Nair”, but later became the first Congress leader in many years to be invited for a NSS function.
Remembering Tharoor’s first election, Chennithala said the diplomat-turned-author and politician had just returned from the United Nations (UN) and Sonia Gandhi wanted him to be given a ticket.
“We all worked hard for his victory then and later. This is the time to fight the Left in the state and prepare for the Parliamentary elections, not to decide who will be CM. Assembly elections are four years away. Who knows what is going to happen? On the other hand, just 400 days to go for the Parliament elections,” Chennithala told ThePrint.
He added that following a discussion on Tharoor’s declaration at the NSS event in an internal party meeting, it was decided that no leader would unilaterally declare either what election — state or Lok Sabha — they intended to contest or their candidature for any post.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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