Congress presidential candidate Shashi Tharoor took a swipe at Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) heavyweights who publicly pitched for his opponent Mallikarjun Kharge.
Mr. Tharoor was at the KPCC headquarters at Indira Bhavan as part of his multi-State organisational election campaign tour.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Tharoor pointed out that the Congress Chief Election Officer Madhusudhan Mistry had mandated that Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) office bearers stay above the electoral fray or resign their posts and campaign.
Mr. Tharoor said the All India Congress Committee (AICC) had no official candidate. Secret ballot and conscience vote is the Congress leadership’s mantra; AICC president Sonia Gandhi had restated the same.
The leaders who openly take sides in the contest challenge Ms. Gandhi’s writ. “It shows a certain disdain for and lack of trust in the Gandhi family”, he said.
Support for Mr. Kharge
Mr. Tharoor’s reaction came a day after KPCC president K. Sudhakaran threw in his lot with Mr. Kharge.
Mr.Sudhakaran had earlier called for a conscience vote in the event of a contest, a line in congruence with the AICC's stated position. However, Mr. Sudhakaran later flip-flopped and plumped for Mr. Kharge.
Several KPCC insiders viewed Mr. Sudhakaran’s emphatic stress on Mr. Kharge’s steadfast anti-RSS track as a comment on the political ambiguity of ambitious leaders. Earlier, former KPCC president Mullapally Ramachandran had accused Mr. Tharoor of being “politically erratic”.
Mr.Tharoor said there was no ideological vagueness in Congress. “We stand united in our anti-Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) stance. Contesting the presidential election is not an anti-party activity. It is to strengthen it.”, he said.
A row of KPCC veterans had lined up in quick succession behind Mr. Kharge in the run up to Mr. Tharoor’s election campaign in Kerala.
They included former Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, KPCC working president Kodikunnil Suresh, Leader of Opposition V. D. Satheeshan, Ramesh Chennithala, and former Minister V. Sivakumar.
Mr. Tharoor also found oases of support in young KPCC members, notably Hiby Eden, MP, and K. S. Sabarinathan, ex-MLA. M. K. Raghavan, MP, who represents Kozhikode Lok Sabha constituency, had also come out in support of Mr. Tharoor.
Mr. Tharoor appeared unperturbed about the loyalty commanded by Mr. Kharge among senior KPCC leaders. “I respect seniority in the party. But the votes of seniors and juniors in the KPCC carry the same weight. One does not take precedence over the other. I believe all votes are equal, irrespective of who casts them”.
Mr. Tharoor said he saw hope in the secret ballot. “The sealed ballot boxes from PCC offices will be opened in the presence of the candidates at the AICC headquarters. The votes will be mixed and counted. So no person will know the voting pattern in individual States”, he said.
Mr. Tharoor said he embodied change and not continuity. He had published a comprehensive manifesto to back his electioneering. “I have support pouring in from several States. Congress gained just 19% of the total votes cast in the past two Lok Sabha elections. We have to retake lost ground. It cannot be business as usual, lest Congress be disappointed in 2024”, he said.