Election to the post of Congress President was an excellent opportunity for the party to reinvent itself as it is facing setbacks one after the other. Shashi Tharoor is the best person to lead the Congress party right now, as he has the potential to attract India’s middle class and the youth population. But, the Congress party has messed up everything. The first family doesn’t want a charismatic leader like Dr. Tharoor to be the party’s president. The defeat of Dr. Tharoor is not just his own loss, but it is the Congress party that is losing another opportunity to bounce back.
The Congress party is passing through its worst times. Consecutive election failures, mass defections of its leaders to other parties, infighting in various state units, and other issues are deterring any possibilities of the Grand Old Party’s revival. At this juncture, the best method to make the party strong is to opt for new leadership at the top. But guess what, the process to elect the president of the Congress party has further exposed the cracks within the party. After all those hunky-dory, the stage is set for Thiruvananthapuram MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor to take on the senior leader and the ‘Gandhi family nominee’ Mallikarjun Kharge for the Congress party’s presidential position.
The need for the presidential election in the Congress party emerged after the Gandhis decided that nobody from ‘the first family’ would stake a claim for its top position. Interestingly, all these events happen at a time when their de-facto crown prince Rahul Gandhi has embarked on a 3,500 km ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Even though the Padayatra received a considerable amount of support in Kerala, political analysts are closely observing its fate in the north of Vindhyas – the mountain range which was once denoted to depict the limited presence of the BJP, how ironic!
Rahul Gandhi’s first preference for the post of president was the sitting Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, who did much muscle flexing to nullify Rahul’s plan. With his smart moves, Gehlot did two things – one, he saved his chair, and two, denied his arch-rival Sachin Pilot the Chief Ministership of Rajasthan. The Congress family cannot even think of making Sachin Pilot the national president of the party as this move will eventually ring the death knell for the Gandhis’ political future. They are in no position to split the party just like the Indira Gandhi of the 1970s. Congress is in need of a leadership change. But, this is where the real problems sneak in as the new president is all expected to be a rubber stamp of the first family. Hence, the ultimate aim of the election is to install a Gandhi loyalist to the chair of Congress President and this is where Dr. Tharoor lags behind.
Dr. Tharoor is part of the Group of 23, or G23 – a group that emerged within the Congress party seeking leadership and functional changes. His decision to contest the election didn’t come as a surprise, as he has been advocating for ‘parivartan’ in Congress politics. Apart from being a bestselling author cum popular politician, he has all the qualities to woo India’s ambitious middle class. Dr. Tharoor is perhaps the best person to lead the Congress party, considering his national and international achievements on multiple fronts. He is the most suitable person who can sell dreams – an art that PM Narendra Modi had mastered. But the Gandhis think that Dr. Tharoor is much smarter than their crown prince and hence a potential threat to him in the future.
Projecting Mallikarjun Kharge as the presidential candidate is again a bad move by the Congress party. Kharge, aged 80, does not have much politics left in him and he has been in national politics for a long while. He could do nothing to stop the rise of the BJP and what miracle can he perform after sitting on the chair of the Congress party’s president? The projection of Kharge as a Dalit leader also underlines the fact that the Congress party has not learned from its failure in Punjab where the party brought in Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit, as a replacement to Capt. Amarinder Singh. Channi performed so badly that the party lost to AAP in the assembly election. Also, if Congress is planning to launch Kharge as a Dalit leader, it is directly playing into the hands of the BJP as the saffron party can put forward the narrative of them making a Dalit woman the President of India. Congress’s main argument of them empowering Dalits falls flat on this.
Dr. Tharoor, 66, by all means, is fairly young as per the standards of Indian politics. His personal charisma can bring the middle class, urban voters, and younger generation closer to the Congress party. His dynamic intelligence should have worked as a credible force to take on the government in a plethora of events. But the first family doesn’t seem bothered about the future of the Congress party. An electoral college of 9,000 voters will decide who will be the next president of the Congress party and by no means Dr. Tharoor is expected to cross the halfway mark. Dr. Tharoor knows the reality as such, but he might decide his future course of action only once the results are finally declared.
The Congress party has lost a wonderful opportunity to be led by a politician who could have given a tough time to the BJP on multiple national cum international issues. But, unfortunately, Dr. Tharoor is losing the election!
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About the author
The writer is a political analyst and holds a masters degree in History from the Department of History, University of Hyderabad, India. He writes articles on topics pertaining to International affairs, History and Indian politics.