Outwardly, Congress leaders from Kerala appear neutral on the possible candidature of Shashi Tharoor for the Congress president’s post, but their real stance on the sitting MP from Thiruvananthapuram running for the office in the upcoming organisational polls remains unclear.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K. Sudhakaran said that if Mr. Tharoor wishes to contest the polls, there is nothing wrong in it as the Congress is a democratic party.
Although Mr. Tharoor said that he would take a final call on entering the fray only after the election notification was issued, he wants the speculation of his possible candidacy to be a kite-flying exercise because he knows that a candidate not sponsored by the Gandhi family will be at a huge disadvantage.
Therefore, it is still uncertain whether Mr. Tharoor would eventually take a shot at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) president's post.
Nonetheless, like any shrewd politician, Mr. Tharoor has been keeping people guessing. When, for instance, he was asked whether the next Congress president should be from a Hindi-speaking State, Mr. Tharoor said, "See, these days if you have to be in politics, you need to speak Hindi. People from the south are able to speak Hindi. I, too, can do it."
But, he first has to charm Congress leaders in his home State, of which most are said to be Gandhi loyalists. Considering his stature, the role of Congress Working Committee member A.K. Antony, a steadfast supporter of the Gandhi family, will be keenly watched. Mr. Antony has not taken any position on the organisational polls after the Gandhi family made it clear that none from the family will be contesting.
Then there is the looming presence of AICC general secretary (organisation) K. C. Venugopal, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi, whose disapproval can hurt Mr. Tharoor badly. But it is also a fact that now the Congress party in Kerala is driven by a new crop of independent-minded and feisty leaders such as V.D. Satheesan, for whom Mr. Tharoor could be a promising choice.
Since he is identified with the dissident G-23, the chances of Mr. Tharoor emerging as a compromise candidate in the event of loyalists such as Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge opting out of the race look bleak. Mr. Tharoor was not among the G-23 leaders the Gandhi family had tried to engage after the ginger group sought an organisational rejig and called for collective and inclusive leadership.
He has already positioned himself as an alternative to the traditional Congress establishment symbolised by the Gandhi family. Like Manish Tewari and Karti Chidambaram, Mr. Tharoor has also called for transparency in the poll process and has written to the party's central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry, demanding the publication of electoral rolls for the upcoming poll to the post of AICC president. This looks like a show of defiance as this demand was already shot down by Mr. Venugopal saying that the Congress presidential poll was an in-house process and that electoral rolls need not be made public.
As a former international diplomat, public intellectual and a best-selling author, Mr. Tharoor is also a non-conformist who had several run-ins with former KPCC presidents. This trait in him perhaps provokes sneers in traditional Congressmen but for the aspirational middle class, a constituency the Congress can ignore only at its peril. Mr. Tharoor is definitely perceived to be a class apart. But to get elected as the AICC president, only the votes of these Congressmen count.