Shashi Tharoor may have plunged into the Congress presidential poll fray as an underdog against the establishment-backed Mallikarjun Kharge, but he is planning a full-fledged campaign aiming at garnering maximum support for the October 17 internal elections.
Soon after filing his nomination papers on Friday, Tharoor released a manifesto-like document, apparently a first in the history of the grand old party’s internal elections. The next day, he launched his campaign by visiting the Deekshabhoomi monument in Nagpur where B R Ambedkar embraced Buddhism with his followers on October 14, 1956. On Sunday, he visited the Sewagram Ashram in Maharashtra to pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary.
Apart from these visible gestures aimed at building up a narrative appealing to the Congress workers as well as the public, the diplomat-turned-politician is learnt to be designing a discreet outreach exercise to gather support from the 9000-odd party delegates who have voting rights.
Tharoor will be deploying dedicated teams to reach delegates in all the states and pass his message, the core of which as he has already articulated is to bring a change in party in place of status quo. He has termed his rival, the 80-year-old Kharge, a candidate of continuity even as repeatedly maintaining that he is engaging in a friendly contest.
Tharoor’s teams have already started working in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The former Union minister’s priority will be to convey a message to the delegates that he is not a rebel candidate as being projected to be. The main point he will try to establish is that he is standing for a change, but he is not against the Gandhi family.
Tharoor personally will be speaking to all the important leaders in every state. However, a key strategy, it is learnt, will be to influence district level leaders who make a major portion of the electorate. The logic behind the move to focus on this section is that top leaders of states, who are close to the party high command, are most likely to back Kharge, who, it is believed, enjoys the undeclared support of the Gandhi family.
Support rising in Kerala?
The Tharoor camp is elated to see a gradual growth in his support base. In Kerala, his home state, Hibi Eden MP and KSU state president K M Abhijith have extended support to Tharoor, if their Facebook posts are any indication. M K Raghavan, MP, Youth Congress state vice-president K S Sabarinathan and Mathew Kuzhalnadan, MLA, former District Congress Committee presidents P Mohan Raj and K C Abu are among those who have openly declared their support to the Thiruvananthapuram MP. Of the 60 proposers who have signed his nominations, 13 are from Kerala.
Those in Tharoor’s team claim that more delegates have extended support to his candidature though they are not ready to make it public.
Tharoor’s decision to contest has obviously got huge support from party followers on social media. A casual look at Eden’s Facebook post alone proves it. The post – just a photo of Tharoor with three red heart symbols – has garnered 77k likes and over 5,500 comments, appreciating him for standing for change. The Ernakulam MP’s Facebook posts usually fetch 1,000-odd likes.
On the other side, leaders like V D Satheesan and Ramesh Chennithala have been drawing flak on social media for openly endorsing Kharge’s candidature.
Kharge and Tharoor were left in the fray in the Congress presidential poll after former Jharkhand minister K N Tripathi's nomination was rejected on Saturday.
According to a notification issued by the Congress on Thursday, the process for filing nominations for the election was from September 24 to 30. The date for scrutiny of the nomination papers was on October 1, while the last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8. The final list of candidates will be published at 5 pm on October 8.
The polling, if needed, will be held on October 17. The counting of votes will be taken up on October 19 and the results will be declared the same day.