Shashi Tharoor greets newly elected Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge at the latter's residence, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Oct 19, 2022. Photo: PTI

Tharoor Line | Presidential poll helped make Cong workers battle-ready for 2024

The historic Congress Party presidential election is over, and it is time to move on. On an individual level, I was pleased that my message of change and renewal resonated with many delegates, even if the final tally did not square with our hopes and expectations. As a political figure, I was delighted that this election gave me the opportunity to build a personal connection between Congress-minded voters across the country and myself. That the media took such an avid interest in the campaign was an added bonus, since it exposed so many members of the public to my ideals and values, and reminded them of the Congress party’s beliefs, policies and track record.

I believe that when political history is written about the times we live in today, there will be a recognition of how this is an inflection point, a crossroads in the evolution of our democracy. As a lifelong student of history, I see a genuine risk that if the BJP’s power continues unchecked and our institutions continue to be hollowed out, it will fundamentally alter the character of our country and the democratic trajectory India was on.

When we look at our politics from the context of the demographics of our country (65% of our population is under 35) and the persistent high levels of unemployment, rising inflation and the collapse of the rupee, it is clear that an overweeningly dominant government and a weak Opposition could lead to catastrophic consequences for the nation.

Demonetisation and the unplanned Covid lockdown of 2020 have already taught us that regimes without an opposition and institutional checks and balances can take some disastrous decisions. An unchecked government, with the tendencies the present one has displayed, could wreck our country at the very time that it is poised for transformation.

If my fears become true, then history will ask every Congressman the question: “How could you let this happen”? Only Rahul Gandhi, with his inspiring Bharat Jodo Yatra, can truly look the next generation in the eye when they ask, “What did you do in 2022”? The rest of the Congress has very little to say as the BJP rolls over us. I argued in my campaign that the time for “business as usual” in the Congress was over. I contested because of the profound belief that, as the principal opposition party facing the threat of a ”Congress-mukt Bharat”, it is our duty to the country and our democratic system to rebuild ourselves and become a strong force, capable of offering a credible alternative to the BJP. I believe this election was a vital milestone in that direction.

This election was not about any individual -- certainly not about Shashi Tharoor as a person, nor about Mallikarjun Kharge, not even about the Gandhi family -- but about our duty to the country as Congressmen and women.

Shashi Tharoor

So for me, emphatically, this election was not about any individual -- certainly not about Shashi Tharoor as a person, nor about Mallikarjun Kharge, not even about the Gandhi family -- but about our duty to the country as Congressmen and women. I did my part by being a candidate in this election and being a voice for change, but beyond this it is up to the conscience of every Congressperson what they should do. And in the election, every party delegate had to make the individual decision as what was at stake for them.

Despite the unevenness of the playing field that everyone observed, I continue to be optimistic. Because many of the party delegates – 1072 in the official count -- fully understood the stakes involved and acted accordingly. Of course, it took some bravery on their part to stand up against the intimidation and sheer pressure coming at them from the top party leadership. But as a Malayali, I don’t have to look far in the Congress party for bravery: both in our history (think of Akkamma Cherian braving an entire battalion of artillery pointed at her) and in the spirit of our young NSUI and Youth Congress leaders who stand up to the police lathi charges constantly, I have seen plenty of courage. My campaigners, nominators, polling agents and overt supporters had to summon up a great deal of courage to out themselves on the line as they did.

Whatever their personal disappointment at the outcome might be, every vote that I have received should be seen by the party leadership and the country as a vote by the party karyakartas affirming the need for change. We must renew ourselves to be battle-ready and fighting fight for the 2024 general elections and the many assembly elections before that. I hope that this contest for the presidency will have helped galvanize our workers for that moment.

As I look to the future beyond this election, what gives me hope is that, after having interacted directly with thousands of Congressmen over the last 14 years as a party worker and people’s representative, I believe that Congressmen and women are patriots of the highest order. There might be groupism and envy and backbiting fights for smaller issues every once in a while, but when the stakes are high, such as at the present moment, I believe the Congressman will decide from their conscience and not expediency. This election contest has opened their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that lie beyond, and I believe that they will not be found wanting in rising to the challenges ahead.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor cast his vote for the party presidential post, which he is contesting, in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. Photo: Manorama

Lesson for BJP

There were irregularities in some states in the conduct of the election, but given how unusual this contest was – the first presidential election in the party in 22 years – some of it was to be expected. What was most irritating was comments from BJP spokesmen about some of the practices they claimed were unfair to me. I made it a point to retort that we in the Congress were perfectly capable of resolving our own internal problems without their commentary, and that before commenting on our election they might try to hold one of their own first! Inner-party democracy is a hollow slogan in most parties, but the Congress, at least, has proven this week that it does not need to be.

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