By Sushil Kutty
Suddenly everybody is an advisor to newly elected Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, advising him on how to go about running the 137-year-old party, which, if it had life of its own, will know the constant that nothing changes in the Congress till the Gandhi family wants it changed. Kharge knows this and the vanquished Shashi Tharoor knows this, too.
Shashi Tharoor after speaking “blunt” for days leading up to Election Day lost more than just the election, his mojo, too. The progressive lot, which rooted for him are now coming up with a different slant of headlines: “Why Tharoor matters even in defeat?”, and “He’s what the Congress needed”.
Life has come full circle for Shashi Tharoor. But the vibes aren’t comfortable. While efforts are ostensibly being made to not make him feel disjointed in defeat, there is also talk that Shashi Tharoor would be shown his “place”. The fact that as many as 1072 delegates voted for the Thiruvananthapuram Member of Parliament has left the “high command” shaken.
Left to their devices, the 1072 represent a nebulous font of dissent. Tharoor got 11.42% of the total votes cast and these are men and women who did not want Kharge as “President”, and are not likely to accept or endorse him as “President”. Also, their votes went to Tharoor after Rahul Gandhi himself staked his reputation on it and made it clear, even as counting of votes was on, that “Khargeji will decide my position in Congress”.
Khargeji was the Gandhi family’s choice. The decision was already made. Everything that transpired thereafter was a show put up to game the system in accordance to the script written for the family, of the family, by the family. Inner-party democracy in action! If so, it was nicely done. Now, nobody can scapegoat anybody, much less any member of the Gandhi family.
Rahul Gandhi’s statement on election day when counting was still on that “Khargeji will decide what position I’ll hold…” told the story that the high command was in total control. But Tharoor went a bit too far with his quips, including “not everybody gets a level-playing field”. They will now return to bite him. Shashi Tharoor will be naïve if he expects a “position” in the party structure anytime soon.
Shashi Tharoor will have to wait for the “high command” to take a call. Just like Rahul Gandhi said “Khargeji will decide on my position”, Tharoor’s position in the revamped Congress will have to wait for the Gandhis to make a decision. Mallikarjun Kharge would continue to eat out of the Gandhi family’s hand and wouldn’t on his own decide on whether there’s a place for the radically different Tharoor in the new scheme of things
The “soft-spoken Kharge” has always bowed to the wishes of the Gandhi family. It was Rahul’s hand on his shoulder which left Tharoor holding Kharge’s “khadau”. Now, Tharoor has to be Kharge’s Laxman and this is uncharted nature for Tharoor. Also, there’s this feeling that Tharoor will have to restart all over again!
The Congress presidential election has made the party whole again. The G-23, whatever was left of the ‘23’, all of them voted Kharge and that was their way of saying “we’re back” with no conditions attached. Nobody lost face. The likes of Manish Tewari and Anand Sharma did not have to grovel. They accepted the Gandhi family’s choice and would henceforth eat out of Kharge’s hands, leaving Tharoor where?
Will Tharoor’s considerable talents be recognized by the Kharge Congress? Will the Gandhi family reward Tharoor for the asset that he can prove to be for the Congress which at the end of the day is after-all a family enterprise? The Gandhi family has put the Congress under a new management and Tharoor can be a valuable functionary in the larger scheme of things.
The last couple of weeks has shown that Tharoor can mobilize people, both Congress workers and Congress leaders, and the general hoi polloi. He isn’t a loose cannon like so many others are. He is charismatic and speaks fluent Hindi, and his English rocks even if his Malayalam is still underway. The man is also a magnet for the aspirational middle class, and the media, other than the “Republic”, enjoy a good rapport with the man who wanted to be Congress President.
Kharge’s challenge will be to win a couple of states for the Congress and retain the two already with the Congress, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, both of which will go to polls in 2023 along with a few other states. And, then there will be the “Big One” in 2024, which is where Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is heading for a climax. Kharge could do with all the help coming his way and Tharoor is not a man of intrigue which tells a lot about the man and his politics.
Rahul Gandhi with his Bharat Jodo Yatra is building up a storm in favour of the Congress even as the BJP is fighting strong headwinds of its own making. The remission given to Bilkis Bano’s rapists and India’s poor ranking in the Global Hunger Index have dealt a body-blow to Modi, and this is the time to strike because the iron is hot, really hot for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The Congress should not allow the opportunity to slip. Above all, it shouldn’t allow itself to be wracked by differences because the “high command” could not keep itself to itself, and fractious factions have taken hold. The one refrain heard ad verbatim is how can there be “Bharat Jodo” when Congressmen are doing their best to “Congress Todo”? That should be a thing of the past as the Kharge-led Congress prepares to fight the BJP in the coming elections. (IPA Service)