Transforming into a mass leader to be Tharoor’s biggest challenge

Factional leaders and the high command are closely watching how he will handle the murky group politics in the state.
Party workers receiving Shashi Tharoor, who was recently inducted into the Congress Working Committee, at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport on Friday evening | Vincent Pulickal
Party workers receiving Shashi Tharoor, who was recently inducted into the Congress Working Committee, at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport on Friday evening | Vincent Pulickal

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The warmth could be missing. On the first visit to his home state following his recent induction into the Congress Working Committee (CWC), Shashi Tharoor is expected to be greeted by disingenuous smiles. The fractious factions, which never really enjoyed a rapport with Tharoor, are expected to call a truce and provide him with the space to move around freely.

Apart from a reception by the Thiruvananthapuram DCC, all senior leaders were in Puthuppally on Friday. The leaders of both the ‘A’ and ‘I’ factions have been downplaying Tharoor’s homecoming, even while praising his inclusion in the top decision-making body of the party.

By inducting him into the CWC, the high command has sought to display its willingness to accommodate even a rebel leader and pat itself on the back for what it sees as an instance of inner-party democracy.

On the other hand, this has placed the ball in Tharoor’s court. Factional leaders and the high command are closely watching how he will handle the murky group politics in the state. Although the state leadership agrees with Tharoor’s acceptability among a section of the middle class, upper middle class and youth, he has yet to find acceptance with the rank and file. It is now up to Tharoor to prove before the high command that he has a plan to revive the organisation and attract all factions.

“There is widespread criticism against the way in which his office in Thiruvananthapuram is functioning,” said a senior Congress leader. “It is detached from the average citizen and ordinary Congress workers. He may have acceptability among sections of the public. But he has yet to win the trust of ordinary party activists,” he told TNIE.  

Tharoor’s biggest challenge will be to live up to the aspirations of ordinary workers and the public. And this assumes greater importance given the larger-than-life image being accorded to the late Oommen Chandy. “Every Congress leader is now being compared to Oommen Chandy. Apart from A K Antony, all of them have only the support of their respective groups and workers,” said a veteran Congress leader.

“Oommen Chandy overcame his limitations to become a true people’s leader. If Tharoor wants to prove his ability as a leader he will have to change his current working style. Otherwise, the groups will slowly outgrow him,” he said.   

The Tharoor camp also recognises this challenge. “Tharoor’s position within the party will help improve the organisation and accord it a political upper hand,” M K Raghavan MP told TNIE. “The CPM currently enjoys the political upper hand. We could change that,” he said.

Tharoor also understands that even though the various groups may not like his positions, they would have to accommodate the CWC member who got the most votes from Kerala. “He could be accorded some leeway, but only within the organisational structure,” a senior ‘A’ group leader said.

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