Shashi Tharoor’s north Kerala outreach continued to roil the party on Monday, with the party’s state president K Sudhakaran directing leaders not to make public statements that may harm party unity even as the Thiruvananthapuram MP’s backers in the state unit continued to criticise how things had turned out.
“Congress is a party that ensures internal democracy. Public statements that may affect party unity should be avoided. Tharoor is a prominent Congress leader. He has the freedom to attend official functions in consultation with the district Congress Committees (DCCs). There should not be any obstacle to leaders’ organisational work. The party will debate issues related to Tharoor,” said the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).
Sudhakaran’s appeal to his party colleagues came a day after Tharoor began his four-day north Kerala tour under the spotlight. Following pressure from the party, the Youth Congress (YC) on Sunday pulled out of an event in Kozhikode where the MP was scheduled to talk about “Sangh Parivar and the challenges to secularism’’. Tharoor initially said he was seeing the event with a “sportsman spirit” but later in the day he demanded a party probe into the Youth Congress not being allowed to host his talk.
Sudhakaran’s statement was in sharp contrast to the party’s Kozhikode district president Praveen Kumar who claimed that Tharoor was denied the venue since the talk was deemed “factional activity”. Sending a strong message to Tharoor detractors in the party, Kozhikode MP MK Raghavan said on Sunday, “Those who have banned the YC from hosting Tharoor should remember that Vishu (Kerala’s harvest festival celebrated in April) cannot be eradicated by cutting down the Amaltas (the flowering of which marks the arrival of Vishu).”
On Monday, former KPCC president and Vatakara MP K Muraleedharan added a new twist to the controversy, claiming that certain leaders in the party viewed Tharoor as a threat. Without naming anyone, Muraleedharan said, “Those eyeing the chief minister’s post are behind it (withdrawal of the party venue). I don’t want to name anyone. The ban on Tharoor should not have happened.”
Asked about MK Raghavan’s demand for an internal inquiry into the episode, Muraleedharan said, “Everybody knows what has happened. No probe is required because things are very clear. Tharoor should not have been prevented from using the YC platform.”
Congress legislator VD Satheesan has been suspected by some of being behind the Youth Congress’s decision to pull out of the Tharoor event. He refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying, “I don’t want to comment on what he (Muraleedharan) stated. It is a party matter and the state president will comment on it,’’ he said in Alappuzha.
Satheesan, former Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, and All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary KC Venugopal have been silent on the controversy. These leaders, including Muraleedharan, were part of the Congress (I) group in Kerala in the late 1970s that was allied to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — the “I” stood for Indira. The faction was led by Muraleedharan’s father and former CM late K Karunakaran, while the rival faction “A” was led by AK Antony. Later, Chennithala carried forward the legacy of the I group and former CM Oommen Chandy that of the A group. But both groups declined after the emergence of Satheesan as Opposition leader and Sudhakaran as party president in 2021.
With Tharoor said to be looking to become active in state politics, the equations are likely to change among these leaders in the coming days. The upper-caste Hindu Nair camp in the Congress is already full of ambitious leaders and Tharoor’s entry into state politics is likely to trigger churning in the group.
Though both Muraleedharan and Sudhakaran were not with Tharoor when he contested the party presidential election in October, they have backed him during this latest controversy.
The Congress’s ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) on Monday threw its weight behind Tharoor, with party leader PK Kunhalikutty saying, “When the Congress is leading the secular front in the country, Tharoor is its vanguard fighter. He is a popular leader and it is up to Congress how to use Tharoor.”
Tharoor will hold discussions with IUML chief Panakkad Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal and Kunhalikutty in Malappuram on Tuesday. Tharoor has already met two Catholic bishops in Kozhikode in the last two days.
Sources in the Congress said the party was worried that the CPI(M) would use the Tharoor episode to paint it as the Congress’s reluctance to take on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. On many occasions in the past, the CPI(M) accused the state Congress — under both Sudhakaran and Satheesan — of adopting a soft Hindutva stand.