Opinion | Kharge, Tharoor can thrive in Congress only under the canopy of Gandhis

Shashi Tharoor; Mallikarjun Kharge. Photo: IANS

Mappanna Mallikarjun Kharge’s elevation as the first elected Congress president outside the Gandhi family in nearly a quarter of a decade does not have an element of surprise.

Instead, it was a foregone conclusion as the 80-year-old loyal Congress veteran from Karnataka was seen as the choice of the Gandhi family, which still knits the Congress’s fortunes despite being swept away from power in two Lok Sabha polls in a row.

The issue with Kharge’s ceremonial elevation to the top post in Congress is that the Gandhi loyalists still can’t think out of the box – the First Family to be precise – despite being humiliated in the hustings since 2014.

No one knew this better than Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat who was airdropped as the Thiruvananthapuram MP in 2009.

Airdropped, he was, but Tharoor retained the seat in election after election, despite staunch opposition even from the ‘loyal Congress’ camp that dictates the terms in Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).

The sole factor that unites the ‘A’ and ‘I’ factions in the Kerala unit of the Congress is Tharoor – united by opposition to him actually.

They talked in hushed tones that Tharoor is a novice when he was made the candidate first. The novice won despite the silent opposition from his own party.

Roadblocks for Kharge

Now, during the campaign for the polls to elect the Congress president, the diatribes grew louder. Tharoor was dubbed a trainee by the KPCC chief. A former KPCC chief, who lost a bypoll while he was a minister, said the Thiruvananthapuram MP lacked organisational skills.

The issue with this approach is the archaic Congress mindset which is fondly referred to as loyalty. This is the biggest hurdle that Kharge is going to face if he embarks on a path to reform.

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Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (right) with Sonia Gandhi (centre) and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

Only someone from the Gandhi clan can bind the Congressmen together, loyalists believe.

This is the same belief which plotted the unceremonious exit of Sitaram Kesri as Congress president in 1998 to give the Congress on a platter to Sonia Gandhi.

Kesri was then 82, but age wasn’t the factor that apparently shooed him away from the helm.

Shadow of the clan

The chorus for someone from the Gandhi clan is not without merit as a unifying force for embattled Congress workers, but it seems to be out of sync with the new-age realities.

The biggest shout-out against the Congress by the new Indian stark realities hijacked by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is that it is a family-run party.

The BJP’s moral authority to lampoon the Congress on this count is debatable with its own leaders blatantly promoting kith and kin to positions of power.

But for new India, it doesn’t matter because the man at the helm of the BJP government has not installed anyone from his family in the corridors of power.

That is probably why the BJP projects only Modi in even state or local body elections across the country.

The Congress cannot hope to win even Karnataka polls with Kharge as a rallying point.

It needs the balm of Gandhis to rally its leaders, set up a functional organisation and woo the voters. Sad.

Though Kharge has no long rope to latch on to as the Congress chief, his opportunities at the helm are also not scarce.

As long as he remains a staunch loyalist, unlike Kesri who tried to stamp his authority, Kharge will actually be able to revive the dormant organisation. The Gandhis should have no problem on that count, as Kharge doesn’t fancy vaulting ambitions.

If Kharge is able to set up a solid organisational structure, that would give him the moral authority to rein in regional satraps at the behest of his staunch backers – the Gandhis.

Tharoor, who made his voice heard by charting a diplomatic path, could be accommodated in the new Congress hierarchy.

This means his detractors in the Kerala unit of the Congress may have to tone down their reluctance to accept him.

Tharoor can play a bigger role in parliamentary politics as Kharge steers the organisation, all under the canopy of the Grand Old Family as loyalists cling on to the GOP with the burden of hope.

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