By Sushil Kutty
Shashi Tharoor and Ashok Gehlot will contest the Congress president’s post election and Tharoor will walk into it already sidelined. Gandhi family loyalist Ashok Gehlot is naturally a hot favourite. Tharoor is not going to get the advantage of being fellow Kerala MP to Rahul Gandhi. In fact, if a poll to choose between who is more popular in Kerala, “Rahul Gandhi or Shashi Tharoor?”, is held, ‘The Tharoor’ will lose by a thickset margin!
Even the fawning ladies of Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor’s parliamentary constituency which he won thrice, will vote en masse for the Gandhi scion, and Tharoor’s suave profile will be floating in Kerala’s backwaters. Come to think of it, Tharoor’s playboy image is being raked up by vested interests to paint him in unfavourable colours. Gehlot’s cohorts don’t want to take any chances.
The north-based “national media” is also in Gehlot’s corner. Certain popular Hindi news television channels, which have no affinity with the English-loquacious Tharoor, have assigned journalists to Gehlot, following him around, and capturing him in favourable poses. The Congress, like the Bharatiya Janata Party, also has a distinct north Indian pedigree.
Shashi Tharoor may have got interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s permission to contest, but that does not make him the chosen one. Gehlot, the “outgoing” Rajasthan chief minister, will be crowned Congress president come the day.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Tharoor withdraws from the race except that now there’s a third candidate also in the fray! Gehlot supporters have been issuing statements that Gehlot will contest provided “no one from the Nehru-Gandhi family” wants to be party president. Of course, the Gandhis want an election.
And Malayalis make excellent sacrificial lambs. For some unfathomable reasons, Malayalis have been serving the Nehru-Gandhi family from even before Independence. The Malayali has always been more loyal than the king to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Jawaharlal Nehru had his “own Malayali”; Indira Gandhi, too. Also, Rajiv Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi?
In fact, the Gandhi family history is replete with Malayali personal aides. There are a number of Malayalis in Rahul Gandhi’s staff. Of them, KC Venugopal has a special place. And when the Gandhi family takes a vacation, it’s mostly in or around God’s Own Country. Lakshadweep, off the coast of Kerala, used to be Rajiv Gandhi’s favourite.
Rahul Gandhi on September 22 left no doubts as to who he favoured, at least on paper. Rahul gave a broad hint to Gehlot, saying he cannot be both Congress president and Rajasthan Chief Minister! No such broad hints for Shashi Tharoor though none so broad than the unspoken one that he took the hint and quit the race.
So a contest that is not a contest! This will be only the fifth time a contest in Congress’s 137-year-old history. The last time was when Sonia Gandhi defeated Jitendra Prasada in 2000. Rahul Gandhi was thrust on the party. This time it is the turn of Ashok Gehlot to be thrust. The last non-Gandhi Congress president was Sitaram Kesri, and he wasn’t a Gandhi-pick.
Ashok Gehlot is out and out a Gandhi-pick. Gehlot met Sonia on August 23, the day before she went abroad. And since then, he has been “following” Rahul Gandhi. He was in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu when Rahul launched Bharat Jodo Yatra. And, he was in the chartered flight that brought Rahul to Delhi on September 23.
Clearly, it is not hard to guess who the Gandhis want to be party president? Gehlot is a Nehru-Gandhi loyalist. He is not G-23. He was in the thick of the protests when the ED questioned Sonia and Rahul. He defended Sonia and Rahul in the press. Shashi Tharoor wasn’t to be seen at all. Most important, Tharoor signed the G-23 letter to Sonia. Shashi Tharoor is a dissenter, a sophisticated dissenter. Tharoor wants inner-party reforms.. Tharoor also wants the electoral rolls for the Congress president’s election made public.
Gehlot has no such demands. A total of 9000 delegates will vote in the election. That will include Sachin Pilot and his supporters. Pilot can’t wait to see Ashok Gehlot become Congress President. Pilot can’t wait to replace Ashok Gehlot as Rajasthan Chief Minister! Shashi Tharoor will have to settle for the “Most Attractive MP” title! (IPA Service)