Congress has a golden opportunity to reunite and rejuvenate the party

By Sushil Kutty

Suddenly, everyone is an adviser to newly elected Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, who advises him on how to run the 137-year-old party, which, if it were to lead a life of its own, will know the constant that nothing changes in Congress until the family Gandhi wants it to change. Kharge knows this and the vanquished Shashi Tharoor knows this too.

Shashi Tharoor has lost more than just the election, including his mojo, after speaking “bluntly” for days leading up to Election Day. The progressive fate, which was rooted to him, now comes with a different slant of headlines: “Why Tharoor matters even in defeat?”, and “He is what Congress needed”.

Life is round for Shashi Tharoor. But the vibes are not comfortable. While ostensible attempts are made not to make him feel incoherent in defeat, there is also talk of Shashi Tharoor being shown his “place”. The fact that as many as 1072 deputies voted for the parliamentarian of Thiruvananthapuram has shocked the “high command”.

Left to their own devices, the 1072 represent a vague font of dissent. Tharoor received 11.42% of the total votes cast and these are men and women who did not want Kharge as “president”, and who are unlikely to accept or approve him as “president”. Also, their votes went to Tharoor after Rahul Gandhi himself put his reputation on it and made it clear, even while the votes were being counted, that “Khargeji will determine my position in Congress”.

Khargeji was the choice of the Gandhi family. The decision had already been made. All that happened after that was a show set up to play the system according to the script written for the family, the family, by the family. Inner Party Democracy in Action! If so, then it’s nicely done. Now no one can scapegoat anyone let alone a member of the Gandhi family.

Rahul Gandhi’s statement on election day, when the count was still on, that “Khargeji will decide what position I will hold…” told the story that the high command was in full control. But Tharoor went a bit too far with his witticisms, including “not everyone gets a level playing field”. They will now return to bite him. Shashi Tharoor will be naive if he expects a “position” in the party structure soon.

Shashi Tharoor will have to wait for the “high order” to take a call. Just as Rahul Gandhi said “Khargeji will decide my position”, Tharoor’s position in the renewed Congress will have to wait for the Gandhis to make a decision. Mallikarjun Kharge would continue to eat at the hands of the Gandhi family and would not decide on his own whether there is a place for the radically different Tharoor in the new scheme of things

The “gentle Kharge” has always bowed to the wishes of the Gandhi family. It was Rahul’s hand on his shoulder that caused Tharoor to hold Kharges “khadau”. Now Tharoor must be the Laxman of Kharge and this is unknown nature to Tharoor. There is also the feeling that Tharoor has to start all over again!

Congressional presidential elections have restored the party to its wholeness. The G-23, whatever was left of the ’23’, they all voted for Kharge and that was their way of saying “we’re back” with no preconditions. No one lost face. People like Manish Tewari and Anand Sharma didn’t have to crawl. They accepted the choice of the Gandhi family and would henceforth eat from Kharge’s hands, and where would they leave Tharoor?

Will Tharoor’s considerable talents be recognized by the Kharge Congress? Will the Gandhi family reward Tharoor for the asset he can prove to the Congress, which is ultimately a family business? The Gandhi family has placed the Congress under new management and Tharoor can be a valuable official in the bigger picture.

Recent weeks have shown that Tharoor can mobilize people, both congressional staff and congress leaders, and the general hoi polloi. He’s not a loose cannon like so many others. He is charismatic and fluent in Hindi, and his English is great even if his Malayalam is still on the way. The man is also a magnet for the ambitious middle class, and the media, except for the “Republic,” is on good terms with the man who wanted to be president of Congress.

Kharge’s challenge will be to win a few states for Congress and keep the two already with Congress, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, both of which will go to the polls in 2023 along with a few other states. And then there’s the “Big One” in 2024, where Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is headed for a climax. Kharge could use all the help that comes his way and Tharoor is not a man of intrigue who tells a lot about the man and his politics.

Rahul Gandhi with his Bharat Jodo Yatra is building a storm in favor of Congress, even as the BJP fights against strong headwinds of its own making. The pardon of the rapists of Bilkis Bano and India’s poor position in the Global Hunger Index have dealt Modi a blow, and now is the time to strike, because the iron is hot, very hot for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.

Congress must not let the opportunity slip by. Above all, it must not be led by differences of opinion, because the ‘High Command’ cannot keep itself to itself, and disorganized factions have taken a foothold. The only refrain heard ad verbatim is how can there be “Bharat Jodo” when Congressmen are trying their best to do “Congress Todo”? That should be a thing of the past as the Kharge-led Congress prepares to fight the BJP in the upcoming elections. (IPA service)

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