By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: He should have been hailed as a hero. Instead, he is being demonized by a section within the Congress itself. And his only ‘crime’? Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor is trying his level best to boost the fortunes of the Congress in one of the few states where it is still a force to be reckoned with.
But a section within the State unit of the Congress is not liking it at all. What is irritating them – and they are puzzled over the development – is the enthusiastic welcome Shashi is receiving from all sections of the society cutting across religion, caste and community. In other words, his all-round acceptance is simply unacceptable to them! If the party suffers because of their plain jealousy, so be it. That seems to be the attitude of these leaders who have hardly any support beyond the Congress.
But the man himself is unfazed. Tharoor has become the darling of all communities. In his earlier tour of the Malabar region, Tharoor was accorded a rousing reception by the leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second most powerful partner in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which is trying to stage a comeback of sorts in the State. The IUML leaders made no secret of their admiration for the ‘global citizen’ and leader with acclaimed qualities of head and heart. They also did not hide their displeasure at the way in which the Congress has been handling the Tharoor issue.
As if this was not enough, Tharoor was extended a warm welcome by heads of of various Christian churches in the State. They were also of the view that an immensely popular leader like Tharoor is what the Congress needs at this critical juncture. To the dismay of senior Congress leaders like leader of the opposition, V D Satheesan and former KPCC chnief Ramesh Chennithala, the boss of the powerful Nair Service Society (NSS) lavished praise on Tharoor. Nair said Tharoor is a global citizen who could even become the Prime Minister of the country.
Not only that. The NSS chief invited Tharoor to inaugurate the birth centenary celebrations of NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan at the organisation’s headquarters at Perunna. . Satheeshan and Chennithala, the blue-eyed- boys of NSS at one time, found themselves out of NSS favour. NSS boss G Sukumaran Nair was severe in his criticism of Satheeshan, who, according to him, dumped the NSS after using it for winning the assembly election. Chennithala was also singled out for criticism by Nair for turning his back on the organization after using it.
It is this growing acceptance of Tharoor which is causing these leaders sleepless nights. The thought that Tharoor is all set to outsmart them seems to have unnerved them as never before. That explains the unceasing hostility which animates the growing attacks against Tharoor by Chennithala and Satheesan. And it is clear that this section would go to any extent to deny Tharoor a ticket in the next assembly elections. Tharoor, however, seems to enjoy the silent support of the faction led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy. He also enjoys the support of younger leaders and cadres in the party besides the backing of women.
This being the backdrop, the Congress will have to tread carefully when it comes to handling the sensitive issue. There is a section within the state unit which is seeking disciplinary action against the MP. But, given the immense popularity and acceptance of the Thiruvananthapuram MP, it will be extremely unwise if the party leadership were to act against him in haste. The party should not repeat the mistakes it made in Punjab where it was in power. Shockingly inept handling resulted in Punjab slipping out of the Congress hands. The party seems consumed by a death wish if its actions in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the two states where it is in power, are anything to go by.
Meanwhile, the party continues to score self goals. A few Lok Sabha MPs have openly expressed their wish to return to state politics. They seem to think that the party will find it extremely difficult to retain the 19 seats it now has. Statements made by these MPs amount to accepting defeat even before the Lok Sabha election battle has begun! No wonder, the party leadership has pulled up the erring MPs. Senior leader A K Antony himself has sounded a note of caution. His advice to the party leaders : forget about the assembly elections and concentrate on winning the Lok Sabha elections. There should be no discussion on the 2026 assembly polls now.
But, unfortunately, Antony himself added to the prevailing confusion in the party by coming out with a shocking statement that those going to temples or applying tilak on the forehead should not be sidelined! Critics pounced on the statement to severely upbraid Antony. Such majority-appeasement remarks can only undermine the prospects of the Congress in the upcoming poll battle. Significantly, the IUML has refused to comment on the statement. It only shows the party’s displeasure over such statements which would only benefit the BJP in the state. The Congress-led UDF had lost a big slice of the majority community votes in the last assembly election. Failure to win them back would be nothing but a political disaster, Antony feels. It must also be mentioned that whenever Antony had made statements appeasing the majority community, the UDF had suffered electoral defeats. That is why a section within the Congress itself is wary of the repercussions of Antony’s stance.
The writing on the wall is clear. If the Tharoor issue is not handled with care, the party will lose heavily. Any attempt to sideline or totally marginalize Tharoor is a recipe to disaster. The Congress cannot afford the luxury of another act of political hara-kiri in the State. (IPA Service)