Shashi Tharoor, the Thiruvananthapuram MP, is contesting for president of the Indian National Congress against Mallikarjun Kharge, an MP from Karnataka with a long experience in the political arena.
On 13 October 2022, Tharoor said in a press conference, “We are holding elections after 22 years and there will be shortcomings. But in many places I travelled to, I felt some of the Pradesh Congress Committee Chiefs were not keen on meeting me. They never showed me the same warmth they have to Mr Kharge.” It is true that Tharoor is not getting, in any state that he has visited, the dignified reception that he should get as a Congress leader, let alone as a candidate for the party presidency.
Tharoor is a diplomat-turned-politician with an elite intellectual aura in the media and also among sections of the middle class. Kharge is known as a politician in touch with the grassroots and has been consistently taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka and in Parliament. Tharoor does not have even cordial political relations with the Congress leadership of his own state, Kerala. His grassroots exposure has been limited to a few meetings in his constituency.
Tharoor has more of a reputation as a writer and as a tightrope walker between the Congress and the BJP ideologies. Tharoor comes from a Shudra (Nair) community but wrote his book Why I am a Hindu as if he was a dissident within the Sangh Parivar Hinduism and not as a leader with his feet firmly planted in Congress history. That book does not challenge RSS/BJP but presents a slightly different version of their Hindutva ideology. If such a person becomes the president, where will he take the Congress party? Nobody knows.
I met Tharoor at the Mathrubhumi literary festival in Thiruvananthapuram in January 2020 just before the Coronavirus brought India and the world to a standstill. He told me that he belonged to the Nair community and they were Kshatriyas, not Shudras. According to him Nairs never considered themselves as Shudra. His is a strange understanding of Indian history and its productive communities. Nairs were Shudras with an agrarian productive culture and civilization. The Kerala Brahmins exploited them in every way possible. Tharoor’s Nair-Kshatriya theory helps the RSS/BJP more than the Congress or the OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis of Kerala.
Tharoor has written a lot in English but he mostly draws on a bookish understanding of India. His writings are not not rooted in the day-to-day life of the people, their caste, culture and labour relationship.
The Dalits, Shudras and Adivasis in the Congress also do not trust him because in his entire parliamentary life he has never spoken about the problems of the agrarian and artisanal masses. He is on record as referring to the economy class in a flight as “cattle class’.
If this man imported from the United Nations service straight into electoral politics becomes president, the Congress party will not have any electoral advantage. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the battle-hardened politicians they are, would play the electoral game without even an iota of opposition under his presidency.
Tharoor has a discredited personal record as his second wife died in a suspicious manner. In fact, with an alleged affair with a Pakistani journalist not so long ago, his personal life would become a weapon in the armory of the BJP. That would make the Congress position much worse.
Shashi Tharoor’s liberalism that has no grounding in grassroots politics, his compulsive tweeting and so on would certainly create an organizational crisis.
In this transition period after 22 years of Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi in leadership of the party, irrespective of who they support, Kharge is the better candidate because he has proven his loyalty to the Congress party and his leadership qualities over the decades he has spent in the party. As a credible Dalit leader he may perhaps take decisions that challenge the BJP which is being run by an OBC leader Narendra Modi and Bania leader Amit Shah, with Brahmin leader Mohan Bhagwat behind the scenes.
The Congress grassroots workers know that Tharoor is not fit to take over the reins of the party. Then why is he travelling all over India, riding a discourse that is more useful for the RSS/BJP than his own party?
In the long run, the Congress should keep away bureaucrat-intellectual intruders like him who have already damaged it enough.
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