By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The World Cup football is in full cry. So is the political soccer game in Kerala. The only difference is that, unlike in the Qatar extravaganza, political parties in the state, especially the Congress, are busy scoring self goals!
The latest episode which betrays the Congress party’s proclivity to commit political hara-kiri relates to the Shashi Tharoor issue. As it has done on so many occasions in the past, the Congress leadership, both at the central level and at the state levels, are mishandling the issue and exposing itself for further fragmentation – a luxury the party, which is attempting a comeback in the State, can ill-afford at this critical juncture.
It all started when Thiruvananthapuram MP and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor decided to undertake a tour of the Malabar region for “strengthening the party”. The Congress leadership, which has always had an uneasy relationship with Tharoor, immediately smelled a rat.
Although Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakaran said there is no bar on Tharoor embarking on his “Malabar mission”, a section, led by leader of the Opposition, V D Satheesan felt that his activities amounted to promoting groupism. Satheesan’s stand shows that the party leadership is divided on the issue. The Congress High Command on its part, has let it be known that it supports the party’s state leadership in the matter and that it would intervene if it files a complaint against Tharoor for ‘flouting the party line”.
Tharoor countered the argument by emphatically denying that he was trying to form his own group in the party, already riven by groupism. All that he was interested in doing was ensure total unity in the party, instead of forming his own group. This being the reality, he said he was hurt by the insinuations of the Leader of the Opposition. Kozhikode MP M K Raghavan, who is a staunch Tharoor loyalist and who is supervising his Malabar tour, also said that such remarks were uncalled for. Raghavan is of the firm view that the Congress in Kerala needs a leader of Tharoor’s stature, calibre and popularity to revive the party’s waning fortunes.
Be that as it may, the party’s state leadership has been rattled by the enthusiastic welcome being accorded to Tharoor by the rank and file of the Congress. Party leaders may be conspicuous by their absence from his functions. But the workers clearly do not share the misgivings and fears being voiced by the leaders in the state. The perception that Tharoor is one of the leaders who can energise the Congress in Kerala is growing and acquiring added resonance. This has not been to the liking of Tharoor baiters in the State,
Whatever their views, there is no denying that Tharoor has wide acceptance among the people, especially among women and youth. That was evident during his campaign for the AICC president’s post. The fact that he is a three-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram bears eloquent testimony to his immense popularity. Not many senior leaders backed him, but young Congress leaders openly stood by him and participated enthusiastically in Tharoor’s campaign, much to the dismay of the central as well as state leaderships.
What has caused serious concern among the Congress leadership in the state is the warm welcome the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second most important partner in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), gave him during his tour of the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district. Of course, IUML leaders scrupulously avoided commenting on the internal conflict of the Congress. But they made no secret of their liking for Tharoor, who is conducting a strong campaign against the forces of communalism. The anti-BJP stance is Tharoor’s USP, and the IUML is fully supportive of his firm stand against the RSS-BJP combine. This has to be viewed against KPCC chief Sudhakaran’s frequent pro-RSS statements in the recent past, which dented the party’s anti-BJP credentials badly. Not surprisingly, Sudhakaran’s stand has not been to the liking of IUML. Hence the party’s effusive welcome to Tharoor.
The Congress leadership – both at the central and state levels – must realize the serious mistake they are making by targeting Tharoor. If the party’s comeback attempt is to succeed, the leadership must cry a halt to the anti-Tharoor utterances. Of course, for form’s sake the KPCC chief has asked the leaders to stop public criticism of Tharoor. But it is observed more in its breach than observance. Party leaders, with the exception of Lok Sabha MP, K Muralidharan, are committing a big political blunder by trying to humiliate Tharoor.
The Congress leadership’s arrogance and indifference have already caused the exit of a few capable leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is now a Minister in the Modi Cabinet. The Congress cannot afford to lose more leaders. The effort should be to accommodate the likes of Tharoor who is an asset to the party and utilize his qualities of head and heart to revive the party both at the central and state levels. Continued demonization of him would only cost the party dear, seriously weakening its attempt to stage a comeback both in the State and at the Centre. (IPA Service)