Uneasiness is brewing in the Kerala unit of Congress over its Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor’s North Kerala visit that is being viewed as his attempt to become more active in state politics.
On Sunday, the first day of Tharoor’s four-day North Kerala tour, the Congress in Kozhikode prevented the Youth Congress (YC) from hosting his talk on “Sangh Parivar and challenges to secularism”, even as party leader Rahul Gandhi is on Bharat Jodo Yatra attacking the Parivar over its “divisive politics”.
Unfazed by the YC withdrawing its invitation, Tharoor found another organiser — pro-Congress Jawahar Youth Foundation — to conduct the talk. Elsewhere in north Kerala, pro-Congress platforms will host the MP’s “Congress event” after the party pulled back.
Reacting to the party’s decision to deny him the venue, Tharoor on Sunday told the media that he saw it with sportsman spirit. “I want to take these things with a sportsman spirit. Certain people wanted me to sit on the side bench. But I want to play forward,” he said. Later in the day, Tharoor demanded a party probe into the YC not being allowed to host his talk. Kozhikode District Congress Committee president Praveen Kumar said the YC decision stemmed from the intervention of the party, which felt that Tharoor’s events smacked of factionalism.
Congress leaders in Kerala see a threat in the three-term MP after he contested the presidential election in October and surprised his detractors by winning 12 per cent of votes. This, some believe, has helped him demonstrate there is a demand for change in the party and he cannot be neglected anymore.
Tharoor’s contest for the national political slot was virtually cold-shouldered by the leadership in his home state as his emergence to prominence is slated to eclipse AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, currently the most influential party leader from Kerala.
Back in Kerala, Tharoor’s move to gain a bigger role in Congress politics in the state is likely to change equations in the party’s state unit, particularly the upper-caste Hindu Nair camp that is now dominated by Venugopal, Opposition leader VD Satheesan, former Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, and former party state president K Muraleedharan.
Tharoor’s entry is also likely to divide the Nair camp in the party. Congress MP from Kozhikode MK Raghavan and Youth Congress vice-president KS Sabarinadhan have thrown their weight behind Tharoor despite his defeat in the presidential elections. The extended support of K Muraleedharan to Tharoor’s activities is likely to strengthen the party.
Adding to the woes of the Nair camp in the Congress, Tharoor is the chief guest for the annual birth anniversary celebrations of Nair Service Society (NSS) founder Mannathu Padmanabhan on January 2. NSS will make an official announcement of the event on December 1. In 2009, when Tharoor contested and won his first Lok Sabha elections, the NSS was not ready to accept him. The outfit dubbed him as Delhi Nair at the time.
But since then, Tharoor has come a long way winning elections in a row and enjoying the steady support of the youth, women, and the middle class. During the last Assembly elections, Tharoor was one of Congress’s star campaigners, demonstrating his capacity to engage with voters.
Tharoor will attend various events organised by the Indian Union Muslim League, the mainstay of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in north Kerala. Tharoor’s move to get closer to IUML will also have repercussions within the party.
The IUML is rolling out the red carpet for Tharoor at a time Congress state president K Sudhakaran is on the backfoot over his repeated pro-RSS statements. Taking note of Sudhakaran’s pro-RSS stand, the IUML has sent a message to Congress that the party wants to see a credible, secular leadership at the helm of the party. Ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has kept its door open for the IUML, which has already sensed a pro-Left stand has developed among a section of scholars in Samastha Kerala Jam-Iyyathul Ulema, which has a critical say in the IUML.