Headline, Politics

Is Shashi Tharoor a viable contender for India’s Congress party president?

Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor is the guardian of the Congress’s view of secularism, which is fiercely contested at the moment

By Ashraf Nehal

Many leaders of India’s opposition Congress party are vying for the party president’s post following the leadership’s decision to hold elections for the top job, defying claims that it’s exclusively held by the Gandhi family.

The decision to hold elections came following the striking resignation of senior politician Ghulam Nabi Azad joining a long list of departing partymen, who had sought organizational reforms in the throes of the catastrophic aftermath of the 2019 parliamentary elections.

However, among the potential candidates, Shashi Tharoor, former diplomat, writer and public intellectual serving as a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, is garnering the most buzz.

Read: Shashi Tharoor to brainstorm with Kerala diaspora on Feb. 19 (February 18, 2021)

Shashi Tharoor is a player who scored a six on the political pitch despite the grand old party’s struggles in 2019 to secure just 52 seats in the 543 member house. He triumphed at a time when many of his party’s bigwigs suffered humiliating defeats even in the party’s strongholds.

Despite facing a formidable opponent from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan, and despite the party’s comparatively good performance in the deep south, Shashi Tharoor gave the Congress camp a decisive win.

Even though Tharoor’s political career has only lasted a little over a decade, he has been prolific. In addition, even though the saffron clamor is well established, Tharoor’s notoriety has earned him praise from all sections including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who complimented his Oxford debate remarks.

Strangely, despite the intense anticipation and competition, Tharoor hasn’t moved an inch while several party leaders and Trojan horses are fighting for a ministerial position. Unquestionably, Shashi Tharoor is a rare gem who only intensifies the longevity and valuation of the party to which he is affiliated.

Tharoor emerged splendidly with court clearances, something that the majority of the opposition politicians are failing to do to combat the cult, but Tharoor’s counterattack was numerous, despite the government apparatus and the social media troll army cornering him on several narratives.

In the meantime, Tharoor has been practical enough to support the Prime Minister and his policies when it comes to the national interest, which occasionally put him in the crosshairs of his own party colleagues, some of whom hold ministerial positions in the same Modi government today.

Read: Shashi Tharoor releases Indian American Thampi Antony’s book at Sharjah book fair (December 10, 2018)

He was one of the two opposition-aligned parliamentarians selected for a role in the Indian parliament’s Sansad TV show, because of his pragmatic choice of national politics.

Shashi Tharoor hasn’t veered away from addressing public concern regardless of his status as a member of parliament. One of the few Congress party MPs to get the coveted Sansad Ratna Awards, Tharoor has an average attendance rate of 90% during parliamentary sessions, actively participates in debates and bills, and tables many parliamentary questions.

But Tharoor is quite adaptive to traveling to Trivandrum and Kerala as soon as he leaves Delhi, defying one of the unambiguous charges of the Congress that their involvement in the constituency merely intensifies around the electoral gaming.

He has frequently been under the right wing’s scrutiny for his liberal, secular views, but he hasn’t steered away from engaging in debate with ardent opponents and establishing his intuitive grasp of secularism in the midst of it.

He is often seen testifying against Twitter trolls with his secular ideals while doing it in a polite and courteous fashion. Therefore, Tharoor is the guardian of the Congress’s view of secularism, which is fiercely contested at the moment and can only be snowballed by someone of Tharoor’s standing.

The dominant payoff to Tharoor’s candidacy could be his diplomatic background and his persuasive though unsuccessful bid for the position of UN Secretary General.

Read: Shashi Tharoor to launch his two latest books at Dallas, TX, event on September 18 (September 11, 2018)

Tharoor has openly broached the virtues and pitfalls of diplomatic ties with the US and China in regards to perusing them as allies, regardless of the ongoing antagonism, which the ruling party is completely underprepared to tackle.

Even though the US is an indispensable partner, he has cautioned against entering into any pact that could be construed as an alliance with them. Meanwhile due to the long-running border conflict, he is of the view that India cannot risk antagonizing China, which is a neighbor.

The elevation of Tharoor would only be a thrilling move for the Congress at this time, when in addition to the national harm it is currently dealing with, it also lacks a foreign policy strategy.

Tharoor not only gets involved in important delegations like the one to Pakistan in 2017 for the Asian Parliamentary Meeting and is consulted by the government on foreign policy-related issues, but he also has a stranglehold on think tanks and intelligentsia space. His opinions on foreign policy are colloquially transmitted universal enfranchisement.

Although he is a member of the G-23, a group of 23 senior Congress leaders seeking party reforms, Shashi Tharoor is steadfastly committed to the socialist-secular remnants. He makes the choice to continue moving ahead in the Congress like an underachiever with every open alternative.

Significantly, he has accelerated the Professional Congress to new heights by transforming it into a creditable and politically impartial setting. Tharoor’s inclusion of former RBI Chief Raghuram Rajan on the podium of Professional Congress has given a strong message of his acceptance and name recognition to rivals both in and out of party.

With his elite upbringing and grounded demeanor, Tharoor has the additional benefit when it comes to gaining widespread appeal. He very strongly emulates the literary, intellectual, liberal element of the Congress that has become rare in the party’s declining phase.

Yet Tharoor is well-liked everywhere from the hallways of the Bahrison Books to the Aleph Book Company. His literary resume is further enhanced by the Sahitya Akademi honors to his credit. Without him, the Jaipur Literature Festival would lose face in certain ways.

Tharoor’s view of patriotism is beyond admiration at a time when the ruling party and its affiliates have tarred the Congress with the labels of an anti-nationalist and pro-Muslim party.

Read: Trump’s America to Modi’s India, mandatory patriotism is dangerous: Shashi Tharoor (December 6, 2016)

He believes that patriotism is a good thing when it is used constructively, that is, when it aims to reinforce the best aspects of your nation and to feel righteous pride in it.

However, it should be condemned when it turns into a weapon to hit people over the skull, when it is reduced to intolerance and narrow-mindedness, when it stifles public discourse and closes the nation’s mind.

Despite his years spent abroad, he is a man of spiritual practices and adheres to traditionalism, and Congress currently just needs a figure to fill this position. It’s intriguing how his interactions with colleagues from other parties and his literary accent give power players even in the government shivers.

Tharoor’s commitment to patriotism and secularism is not limited only to the literal realms, but he has repeatedly projected it in public for everyone to see and acknowledge.

Whether it was standing up for his colleague Mahua Moitra or leaving Sansad TV in support of his fellow lawmakers who were suspended from the Rajya Sabha, to the point of taking part in anti-CAA rallies on Jamia’s outside campus, Tharoor has made himself against all odds.

Because of his popularity and goodwill across party lines, this feature even makes him a formidable candidate to lead an opposition, particularly one spearheaded by the Indian National Congress.

Read: Shashi Tharoor for Congress president? Here’s a look at the Twitter favourite MP from Kerala (August 30, 2022)

His jovial and humble demeanor and and his high esteem for every aspect make him a champion, in the political caveats of the coterie and canals. Too early to hatch but Tharoor is meant to eventually flourish.

(Ashraf Nehal is a political analyst and a columnist who mainly tracks Indian Politics)

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