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G-23 bigwigs leave Shashi Tharoor to fend for himself, he hits back: ‘They cannot even decide for the 23 …’

Leading members of the group such as Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, and Prithviraj Chavan have signed Mallikarjun Kharge's nomination papers as proposers.

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

Shashi Tharoor knew it was coming. But those who didn’t were taken by surprise Friday when leading lights of the G-23 in the Congress, such as Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and Prithviraj Chavan, rallied behind the unofficial establishment candidate Mallikarjun Kharge, signing his nomination papers as proposers for the party’s presidential election.

Tharoor was a part of that group of 23 leaders who had written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking organisational reforms. However, sources said, no senior leader from that group came forward to sign the Kerala MP’s nomination papers.

According to sources, Tharoor had reached out to many in the group but the assessment of its core leaders was that he was a “non-serious candidate” — and they, as leaders with 30-40 years of experience in the party, cannot back him. Some of them said they have conveyed their “best wishes” to him. Kharge, they said, was a senior leader with credible organisational experience and credentials.

And yet, this line of thought was surprising given that many of them had been fiercely critical of the style of functioning of AICC managers, often venting their anger in private.

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Speaking to The Indian Express the day before he filed his nomination, Tharoor indicated that he had an inkling of what would follow. “I am not contesting on the G-23’s behalf nor am I seeking an endorsement from them. My candidacy aims to revive the party, not to disrupt it,” he had said.

“We are collecting signatures from all over the country and I can tell you that so far I don’t think we have anyone, maybe at most one person, who was amongst the signatories of G-23. We must have at least 50-55 signatures already on different nomination forms. So, the truth is that we are, I hope, doing something that reflects the wishes of all Congress workers and goes well beyond the G-23,” he had said.

On Friday, Tharoor described the G-23 as a media creation, and that such a group had never met together even once. “If four or five of them help Kharge, I respect that. It is a good thing for Kharge. When 9,100-odd people have to decide for themselves and vote, then four to five cannot decide for them. I think they cannot even decide for the 23, how can they decide for 9,100-odd people (delegates)?” he said.

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When contacted, Anand Sharma told The Indian Express that he was a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and proposed Kharge’s name after a collective view was taken.

Sharma said, however, that he hoped “this is the beginning of a healthy process with a free and fair election, the first step towards the others to be taken for the revival of the Congress”.

“That would include elected PCC presidents, elections to the CWC, inclusive thinking and collective leadership…eventually leading to the restoration for the Parliamentary Board. I still stand by all the suggestions we had made in the letter (of the G-23 in 2020) very firmly,” he said.

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Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari argued that leadership, ideological clarity, narrative and transparent access to resources are pillars of a political party. Taking to Twitter, he posted that “given the recent unfortunate events it’s time to close ranks and strengthen the Congress recalling the wise words of Pranab Mukherjee and work for a consensus and effective Presidency”.

Tewari also quoted from Mukherjee’s memoir: “Certain offices should not be sought. They should be offered. Congress presidency to be one such office… My efforts were always focused on having a unanimously chosen or consensus candidate for the office of Congress president.”

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said it is for the first time that the Congress president is being elected in over two decades. “We had many people throwing their hats in the ring. We evaluated their chances. Mr Kharge was the only one who got wide support,” he said.

Chavan echoed Anand Sharma’s views that the G-23 letter of August 2020 was not aimed at anyone as they only wanted “democratisation of decision making” in the party, and they stand by it.

Sources said former Lok Sabha MP Sandeep Dikshit was, perhaps, the lone G-23 member who signed Tharoor’s nomination form as proposer.

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Kharge’s nomination papers also had the signatures of Mukul Wasnik and Akhilesh Prasad Singh as proposers – both were among the signatories on the G-23 letter two years ago.

First published on: 30-09-2022 at 03:10:25 pm
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