Shashi Tharoor is an ambitious politician. When he first contested against a fellow Asian for the post of UN Secretary-General, it was considered bad politics. His vast experience in the UN administration, where he held a senior post, should have stood him in good stead. The then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was blamed for sponsoring his campaign at great state cost and prestige. Once bitten, he should have been twice shy. Far from that, he managed to get nominated for the Thiruvanthapuram Lok Sabha seat in 2009. He knew only a smattering of Malayalam but he banked on the fact that it was Thiruvananthapuram which elected VK Krishna Menon, whose knowledge of Malayalam was worse than that of Tharoor. The dyed-in-the-wool Congressmen in Kerala were uncomfortable when he not only learnt to speak Malayalam but also proved that he could remain in the Congress without being a member of any faction. His oratorial skills, literary felicity and mastery of English helped him carve a niche for himself in Indian politics.
Tharoor proved all the doubting Thomases wrong when he retained the Thiruvananthapuram seat for a third time in 2019. He has faced many personal tragedies and he braved them as he kept on churning out bestsellers that make him one of the most popular writers in India. It is, therefore, no wonder that he wants to contest for the post of president of the Congress party. He believes that he has the dynamism, the clout and the ability to hold this post. Few doubt him on any of these scores. Tharoor would surely know that in the history of the Congress party, only one Malayali became its president. He was Chettur Sankaran Nair, who became president when the Congress held its session at Amravati in 1897. Nair held very high posts in the British government but his links with the Congress ended when he wrote a book that caricatured Mahatma Gandhi and called him a dictator. Thereafter, the party never trusted a Malayali with this post. It is just a coincidence that Tharoor and Nair belong to the same Palakkad district.
It is a jigsaw puzzle what Tharoor’s chances are if Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is his rival. That he was a member of the Group of 23 which questioned the leadership of Rahul Gandhi means that he is assured of some pan-India Congress votes. He has announced his decision to contest only in the event of Rahul Gandhi not contesting for the post. He was present with Gandhi when he travelled through Thiruvananthapuram during his ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra. This makes him acceptable to his group also. In the end, it is his personality that matters. Few in the Congress or other parties can speak in English as fluently as he can. He is a good debater who cut his teeth as a debater while he was at St Stephen’s College. Few people know that he has a good command of Hindi and, if need be, he can speak fluently in the other official language. These are certainly attributes the president of the Congress should have. He is also a master of social media who can give tit for tat, though he can at times find himself in “cattle class”!
Boastful claims in panchayat elections
Truth is often shrouded in mystery. The recent panchayat elections in Maharashtra were fit enough for anyone to claim victory. And that is exactly what happened. Both the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena which is in alliance with the BJP and the Maha Vikas Aghadi comprising the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress have both claimed victory. How can the two sides claim victory? The answer is simple. The elections were held on a non-party basis. This means that the voters chose candidates on the basis of their individual status. Not every candidate is affiliated to any political party. One reason why elections were not held on party basis was to ensure that individuals with a solid grassroots base could win the posts. When an election is held on party basis, people tend to vote for the party, rather than for the individual candidates. That is the beauty of a party-less election. In the instant elections, the voters could not have even known the party affiliations, if any, of the candidates concerned. The fluidity of the election results have allowed the warring factions to claim victory. Small wonder that if an addition of all the seats each party has won is made, there will be much more than the 590 or so seats for which elections were held. There is no way in which the political affiliation of all the candidates can be ascertained. This encourages the parties to make boastful claims which have only limited publicity value.