Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor feels that the grand old party is indispensable to any Opposition front's Government in 2024, and asserted that TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee should see the merit in working together with the Congress and other Opposition parties to defeat the saffron camp.
The former Union Minister said that there are still two-and-a-half years for the Lok Sabha elections, and the Opposition parties should start working together by 2024 to defeat the BJP.
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Dismissing allegations that Rahul Gandhi lacks leadership qualities, Mr. Tharoor said that he has made effective contributions to the party at different times, and asserted that an overwhelming majority of Congress workers would like to see him resume as party president, a post which he quit after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
"Congress is indispensable to any opposition front's Government at the Centre in 2024," Mr. Tharoor told PTI in an interview during his recent visit to Kolkata for the launch of his book 'Pride, Prejudice & Punditry'.
Asked about Ms. Banerjee and her party's recent attacks on the Congress for "failing to put up a fight against BJP", Mr. Tharoor called the West Bengal Chief Minister a "remarkable figure" and urged her to see merit in working together with the grand old party.
"I have a lot of respect for Mamata Di. I have known her as a Minister in the UPA Government. I have seen her as a Chief Minister. She is a remarkable figure, and of course, she has won an impressive victory against the BJP. So, I hope she sees merit in working together with Congress and other opposition parties," he said.
Mr. Tharoor's comment comes in the backdrop of an escalation in the war of words between the Congress and the TMC, with Ms. Banerjee's party recently claiming that it is now the "real Congress", given the fact that the "war-weary" grand old party has failed to perform its role as the main opposition to the BJP.
"But there are still two-and-a-half years to go; I don't expect everything to be resolved with great clarity right now. Things will take time. I think the important thing is that by 2024, we should all be working together," he said.
Ties between the Congress and the TMC further strained after the ruling party in West Bengal, in an article in its mouthpiece 'Jago Bangla' , asserted that Ms. Banerjee, and not Rahul Gandhi , has emerged as the face of the opposition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While speaking on the lack of clarity in the Opposition front over the issue of leadership, Mr. Tharoor said things will be sorted as there is still time for the next general elections.
"I think these are still early days. What the Opposition parties have in common in terms of their conviction is far greater than what divides them. Right now, there might be some tussle here and there, but at the end of the day, I believe everyone has to work together," he said.
Pointing out the figures of vote share in the last Lok Sabha polls, the 65-year-old politician said that more the Opposition parties find common ground, the better the chances of defeating the BJP.
"The mathematical evidence for this is already there in the last election, where despite an increase in its vote share, BJP got 37%. So, the remaining 63% went to the Opposition, but to 45 different parties, including 20% to Congress.
"So, it is important to realise that the more we find common ground, and less we divide our votes, the better the chances of defeating the BJP," he said.
Mr. Tharoor rejected allegations of a leadership crisis within the Congress but acknowledged that the "sense of drift is much less" than it was two years back when Rahul Gandhi resigned from his post as Congress president.
"Whatever the way forward, I don't think it is effective to be done through the media. The Congress will have to resolve its issues, and we will talk within the party and resolve whatever issues may remain," he said.
When asked whether there is a sense of a drift in the party, Mr. Tharoor said, "Less so now, than there was two years ago when the president resigned and there was sense of confusion and drift at that time."
"But since then, as you know, Sonia Gandhi has returned to the leadership and is working actively as a full-time president. And therefore, it is not fair enough to talk about a sense of drift. But I don't think it is useful for me as a Congressman to be engaging in this conversation outside the party forums. I am not ready to go into a debate in the media about it," he said.
Responding to allegations that Rahul Gandhi is always abroad whenever there is a political crisis, he said that these charges are "not fair and reasonable".
"All I will say is that Rahul Gandhi has made effective contributions to the party at different times. And certainly, many of the party workers would like to see him back. I would say an overwhelming number of party workers would like to see him resume the responsibility he surrendered," he said.
Rahul Gandhi had in July 2019 resigned as the Congress president following the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha polls.
While speaking on a recent controversy about his party colleagues in Kerala lashing out at him for praising the Pinarayi Vijayan Government for its "investment-friendly" initiatives, Mr. Tharoor said those criticising him should go through his speech.
"I had congratulated the Chief Minister for sending a clear message that Kerala was open for business, investment. I had said that without investment, we would not be able to generate jobs for our people. Currently, we are exporting our unemployment to the Gulf countries and elsewhere in India, but that may not last forever. And if people start coming back to Kerala, how do you absorb these people? This doesn't mean I am supporting the Left Front Government in Kerala," he said.
"Those who are hastily jumping to conclusions based on headlines should listen to the speech, which is actually not that long," he added.