Dual leadership fears, K-Rail memories, Cong biggies have reasons to shun Tharoor

Tharoor is talented and highly ambitious, but his ambition to become the AICC president can’t be justified, a top Congress leader in the state told Onmanorama. File Photo: PTI

Thiruvananthapuram: Shashi Tharoor, who has made an aggressive bid for the Congress president's post in the October 17 party election, is facing a tough challenge in Kerala, his home state, where almost all big leaders of the party have openly declared support for his rival candidate Mallikarjun Kharge.

KPCC president K Sudhakaran, Opposition leader V D Satheesan and senior leaders Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala are among those who have openly backed Kharge. This means many delegates, who are all nominees of either of these leaders, are likely to vote against Tharoor. Kerala has nearly 300 delegates with voting rights.

The undeclared support Kharge enjoys from the party leadership (read the Gandhi family) is the most obvious reason why the Kerala leaders, all loyal to the first family of the party, are rallying behind the 80-year-old Kharge.

They flaunt Kharge’s commitment to the organisation, Dalit identity and rich experience as the reasons for picking the veteran over Tharoor who, according to one of them, picked politics as a post-retirement career. K Muraleedharan, a former state Congress chief, on Wednesday cited Tharoor’s lack of connection with the masses as the main reason for opposing his Lok Sabha colleague. However, the real reasons for their opposition to Tharoor are more than what is openly stated.

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Alappuzha. Photo: Facebook/@Rahul Gandhi

“Tharoor is talented and highly ambitious, but his ambition to become the AICC president can’t be justified,” one of the top Congress leaders in the state told Onmanorama.

Fears of dual leadership

One major reason why the state leaders are against the idea of Tharoor as Congress president is their fear that it would lead to a ‘dual leadership’ situation at the party high command. “Everyone knows that Rahul Gandhi is the face of the Congress. No matter who becomes the party president, he will have a crucial say in party matters. In such a scenario, it’s better to have a president who can get along with the existing leadership. Otherwise, it would lead to dual leadership or two power centres. It won’t be in any way good for the party,” said a source, who is against Tharoor’s presidential bid.

While this reason sounds sycophantic, the other arguments put forward by the source in the anti-Tharoor camp were more logical. They included the oft-repeated complaints against Tharoor’s office in Thiruvananthapuram and the independent stances the diplomat-turned-politician has taken in the past putting party interests at stake.

“One of the major complaints we hear from party workers in Thiruvananthapuram is about Tharoor’s office and the way his staff run it. How can he run the entire party if he can’t set his office right,” a senior leader told Onmanorama.

K-Rail quandary

Tharoor was reluctant to toe the Congress line on the much-debated K-Rail SilverLine semi-high-speed rail corridor. Tharoor’s long-maintained silence on the pet project of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left government had all the traits of tactical support. Even as the Congress-led United Democratic Front had started an aggressive agitation against SilverLine, his stance was that he would study the project in detail before making his stand clear on it.

Even as the United Democratic Front had started an aggressive agitation against SilverLine, Tharoor's stance was that he would study the project in detail before making his stand clear on it.

Tharoor maintained this stance even as the Congress was trying to expose the environmental and economic impacts the project was likely to cause, with the support of a number of public intellectuals and experts.

“While we were building up a fool-proof narrative about our concerns over the SilverLine project, Tharoor, without consulting any of us, went to meet Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and kind of expressed his support for the project. It took us a lot of effort and communication to convince him about our stance,” the source said.

More recently, a similar situation arose in connection with the people’s protest against the Vizhinjam Port project. Even as the Congress-led opposition supported the Latin Catholic Church-backed local fisher community’s protest against the project, Tharoor took an open stand that there was no need to stop the work on the project.

Fishermen protest at Vizhinjam on Aug 22, 2022. Photo: Manorama

“Since the project was started by the previous UDF government itself we had evident limitations in challenging the project. We convinced the protesters about our situation and promised to amplify their cause by raising issues like coastal erosion and the need for better rehabilitation schemes. It was totally unwarranted for Tharoor to make statements in favour of the project without understanding the ground reality. At least he should have remembered that it’s the coastal community that plays a crucial role in his electoral victories,” the source said.

While the top leadership’s open endorsement of his rival has visibly irked Tharoor, he is pinning hopes on the secret ballot system that will decide the verdict of the polls.

"I was not expecting any support from the big leaders of the party and I am not expecting that now either…. I will say one thing, whatever one says secretly or publicly, the ballot is secret. No one is going to know who voted for whom. People can vote according to their wishes and beliefs. They can decide whom they want to strengthen the party and prepare it to counter the challenges it would face in the future," he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge. File Photo: PTI

Sources close to Tharoor also are optimistic that those who are desperate to see a change in the Congress system will defy the senior leaders’ diktat while casting their ballots.

The polling for the Congress presidential election 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. More than 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates will vote in the poll.

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