Why Shashi Tharoor doesn’t stand a chance of winning against Mallikarjun Kharge in Congress race

Shashi Tharoor filed his nomination papers for the post of Congress president and will go up against veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, who has the support of the party high command. It doesn't help that the Thiruvananthapuram MP is part of the dissenting G-23 group

FP Explainers September 30, 2022 15:58:39 IST
Why Shashi Tharoor doesn’t stand a chance of winning against Mallikarjun Kharge in Congress race

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor files his nomination papers for the post of party President, at AICC headquarters in New Delhi. PTI

After several rounds of speculation, a rebellion in Rajasthan, and a whole lot of drama — it’s final: the Congress presidential election will be a two-person contest between Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjun Kharge.

Kharge entered the fray on Friday after Digvijaya Singh announced that he would not contest for the post and was, instead, proposing the candidature of the veteran leader.

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“Kharge ji is my leader and my senior. I had asked him yesterday if he wanted to contest. He said no. I met him again today. I told him I am with you fully if you are contesting. I can’t think of contesting against him. He is filing his nomination and I will be his proposer,” Singh adding, “There are some non-negotiables in my life. I don’t compromise on issues related to Dalits, tribals and OBCs; I don’t compromise with those who spoil communal harmony and I don’t compromise my commitment to the Gandhi family.”

So, it’s now Tharoor and Kharge, with the former even filing his nomination papers at the party headquarters.

However, does Shashi Tharoor, the three-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, stand a chance at grabbing the post of Congress chief? Will the articulate Congress leader be the non-Gandhi president that the party is seeking for after 20 years?

What makes Tharoor a good choice?

Tharoor, 66, is a known face of the Congress — appearing on television debates and enjoys quite a following on Twitter.

Why Shashi Tharoor doesnt stand a chance of winning against Mallikarjun Kharge in Congress race

Shashi Tharoor enjoys massive popularity on Twitter. Image Courtesy: @shashitharoor/Twitter

The articulate, erudite and suave Tharoor, who is known for speaking his mind, joined the Congress in 2009 after a long stint at the United Nations. He is known to be an active parliamentarian — after winning three Lok Sabha elections on the trot from Thiruvananthapuram — and is the chairperson of Parliamentary Standing Committee of Information Technology.

Tharoor has also been a Union minister twice, albeit for short periods. He was a Union minister of state (MoS) for external affairs from 23 May 2009 to 18 April 2010 and MoS for development from 28 October 2012 to May 2014 in the UPA I and II regime.
Many note that Shashi Tharoor would be a break from the past and provide the Congress with a new and different perspective.

He is sure to bring in new ideas that would rejuvenate and reenergise the party. Also, given his social media presence and good oration skills, he could present a strong counter-narrative to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party.

Why it’s tough for Tharoor

While there are several reasons why Tharoor could be a good pick for Congress president, it’s seems very unlikely that he will actually win the election.

Political pundits have cited his lack of organisational experience as a huge drawback. He has never worked in the organisation — barring his stint as the head of the All India Professionals Congress since 2017.

Also, Tharoor has courted several controversies in his political life; remember his ‘cattle class’ comment. He also found himself in the thick of controversy over the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar in 2014. He was charged with abetment to suicide of his wife and marital cruelty. He was acquitted of the charges in August 2021.

Another reason why Shashi Tharoor may not be able to grab the Congress president’s post is his willingness to speak up, even if it be against the party.

Tharoor has always spoken his mind; in the past, he has been reprimanded for praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Responding to his party leaders, Tharoor had then said, “As you know, I have argued for six years now that @narendramodi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs. I welcome others in Oppn coming around to a view for which I was excoriated at the time.”

Another factor that goes against Tharoor is that he is not a loyalist to the Gandhi family. In fact, the Thiruvananthapuram MP has been a part of Congress’ G-23, a group of dissenting leaders asking for organisational reforms within the party.

He has already been perceived as a ‘challenger’ and while speaking to NDTV, he said, “I am not the candidate of the G-23.”

He told Indian Express in an interview, “I am approaching these elections from the perspective of someone who has been advocating for a certain set of reforms (from) as far back as 2014. I have been outspoken on this matter simply because I care… I am going to sink my life and my ideals in a party I want to thrive. So I am very willing to express my views and my ideas and I have been doing so much before there was any G-23.”

Why Shashi Tharoor doesnt stand a chance of winning against Mallikarjun Kharge in Congress race

Senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge files his nomination for the Congress president election. PTI

Apart from being a G-23 leader, Tharoor also has to now contend with 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge, who is known to be a staunch Gandhi family loyalist and, according to insiders, has the tacit backing of the Family, despite them saying that there would be no “official candidate”.

A Dalit leader with more than 45 years of experience in politics, Kharge has seen a steady rise in his career graph from humble beginnings as a union leader in his home district of Gulbarga where he had always been in the forefront of championing the workers’ cause.

Sober by temperament and nature, Kharge has also never landed in any political trouble spot or controversy.

Kharge over the years has gained the trust of the Gandhi family and he enjoys close ties with all three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. The Dalit leader from Karnataka also assists Rahul with “mission South”.

Kharge’s nominations for the Congress president’s post also showed that he is a favourite among the veteran leaders. Senior Congress leaders including Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Pramod Tiwari, PL Punia, AK Antony, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Mukul Wasnik have officially backed the nomination of Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge for the upcoming presidential polls.

Despite all the hurdles that make his chances of winning the polls seem almost nil, Tharoor has said that he isn’t afraid of challenges. “To my mind, though the party presidential election is an internal exercise, it also represents an opportunity to ignite widespread public interest in the Congress as well as to galvanise our party workers,” he was quoted as saying to Indian Express.

With inputs from agencies

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