Having filed nomination papers for the post of Congress president, Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor on Friday framed the contest between him and veteran Mallikarjun Kharge as a choice between “change” represented by him, and continuation of “status quo and business and usual” by Kharge. While calling Kharge the Bhishma Pitamah of the Congress, he said the veteran is seen as the candidate of continuity.
A bevy of top AICC leaders led by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, A K Antony, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ambika Soni, Digvijaya Singh, several CWC members and AICC office-bearers, including Ajay Maken and Tariq Anwar, signed as proposers on the three sets of nomination papers filed by Kharge, sending a clear signal that he was the unofficial establishment candidate.
Tharoor said he was not surprised that the “establishment is rallying behind the status quo. If you want a status quo, you should vote for Mr Kharge. If you want change and progress in the party with an eye to the rest of the 21st century, then I am hoping I will stand for the change,” Tharoor said after filing his nomination.
“I go by the assurances given to me by the party president and by other leaders, including the former president. They have made it very clear that as far as they are concerned, there is not and will not be an official candidate. Now, if appearances suggest otherwise, I think that one of the differences between the approach that has been adopted of a whole series of senior leaders going and in my case a whole series of ordinary party workers going it already tells you a story,” he added.
Arguing that Kharge will be seen as a candidate of continuity, he said “Do you want the continuation of the status quo, do you want the establishment to continue in this way then definitely you must vote for Mr Kharge. Do you want change, do you want to empower the grassroots, do you want to give opportunities in the party’s lower levels, do you want to revitalise and re-energise the district, the blocks, the states, rather than being a top heavy, inverted pyramid kind of organisation…if you want that then please consider voting for me.”
Tharoor filed five sets of nomination papers containing 50 signatures from delegates across 12 states. Some MPs, including Karti Chidambaram, Pradyut Borodoloi and Mohammed Jawed, too, have signed his forms as proposers. He said “the bulk of my signatures are from regular workers which reflect the extraordinarily wide range of support” that has been extended to him.
Before filing the nomination, Tharoor offered prayers at Rajghat and the Rajiv Gandhi memorial in Delhi. Tharoor then arrived at the party office amid drum beats and slogan shouting by his supporters.
Addressing the media later, he spoke in Hindi and English — besides of course Malayalam — to send a signal to those who have been saying that a Hindi speaker should be heading the Congress party.
Tharoor released a manifesto on steps to “rejuvenate the party, decentralise the organisation, reimagine the role of our headquarters in order to empower our grassroot workers, to reiterate the core ideology of the party to broaden participation, to reinvigorate our election management to focus on youth, giving a bigger role for women, reaching out to industry and professionals who we need to take India forward in this country”.
Tharoor said he will not bow out of the race. “Why would I take the trouble to file the nomination today. Why would I welcome the support of so many workers…as I said 60 people from the country are supporting me. Why would I do that in order to withdraw? I will not let down the workers from around the country who have gone out of their way to extend their support to me. They have invited me to contest as their representative and when they ask me and they sign the papers…they sometimes travel long distances to give me their signatures… I am not going to disappoint them by pulling out,” he said.
On the leading lights of the G-23 backing Kharge, he said, “If 4-5 of them help Kharge, then I respect that. It is a good thing for Kharge. When 9,100-odd people have to decide for themselves and vote…then 4-5 cannot decide for them. They cannot even decide for the 23 how can they decide for 9,100-odd people.”