Why can’t Tharoor get it right?

The crisis plaguing the Congress in Kerala over the Shashi Tharoor issue has deepened with the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, demanding in an unprecedented move, ‘appropriate action’ against the high-profile MP from Thiruvananthapuram, for his frequent praise of prime minister Narendra Modi.

Although the KPCC report has demanded appropriate action against Tharoor, it has not specified the kind of action it wants to be taken against him. The KPCC has neatly tossed the ball onto the AICC’s court on the plea that Tharoor is an AICC member and its spokesman. Therefore, only the Congress High Command has the authority to discipline the MP, who has, so to say, lurched from controversy to controversy over the years.

Tharoor’s praise for Modi on the Swachch Bharat campaign is only the last straw on the camel’s back. What has irked the Congress leaders as well as activists has been Tharoor’s adulatory references to Modi ever since the BJP government assumed power at the centre. The KPCC feels that such praise for Modi has only helped to add to the confusion and demoralisation of the Congress, which is engaged in efforts to get over the trauma of the Lok Sabha poll defeat.

Having said that, it must be mentioned that the Congress leaders in the State have not handled the issue in a mature manner. That the KPCC has not thought it fit to hear Tharoor’s version of the issue is, to say the least, strange. The party has had discussions with leaders belonging to various groups in the party, but Tharoor is not among them!

The prevailing perception is that it is a clear case of overkill. The crisis could have been defused if only the KPCC and the chief minister had had a free and frank discussion with Tharoor. It has not done so for reasons known only to the KPCC leadership.

The reality is that a section of Congress leaders, has never reconciled itself to the meteoric rise of Shashi Tharoor, who enjoys the confidence of the high command. They feel that Tharoor was made an MP and then a minister at the centre, ignoring the better claims of many other seasoned Congress leaders from Kerala.

This section, it is being pointed out, has been itching for a chance to settle scores with Tharoor. And his latest praise of Modi over the Swachch Bharat campaign gave them that opportunity. The KPCC would seem to have been influenced by the opinion of this section in deciding on demanding action against the Thiruvananthapuram MP.

And Tharoor himself has ‘contributed handsomely’ to muddying the waters by choosing to pour scorn over the KPCC move to submit a detailed report to the AICC on the episode. Instead of taking the chorus of criticism in the right spirit, Tharoor has come out with a sarcastic comment on the twitter that at last the KPCC leaders have cared to read what he had written, and that he was delighted to learn that a detailed report is being sent to the AICC! That amounted to adding fuel to the fire.

Now that the ball has been tossed into the AICC’s court, what are the options before the high command? Well, it cannot completely ignore the overwhelming sentiment within the Kerala unit for some action against Tharoor. At the same time, it cannot take any drastic action as that would only aggravate the crisis in the state Congress. After all, Kerala is one of the few states which stood by the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections.

The high command is not likely to ask Tharoor to step down as an MP. Nor is suspension of the MP on the cards. All that is likely to happen is a mild warning to Tharoor. It is also possible that he may cease to be a party spokesman, which he currently is.

In fairness, it must be mentioned that Tharoor has a point when he says that he saw no reason why the Congress should surrender the noble objective of a Clean India to the BJP, especially when it has been a Congress goal for decades. ‘Let us honour the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi whether we agree with anything else the prime minister believes or not,’ he opined on Facebook.

Also, it is not as if Tharoor has supported the divisive, communal agenda of the BJP government at the centre. In fact, he is on record that there is no compromise on the communal agenda of the saffron party.

The strong reaction of the Congress leaders would have been justified had Tharoor backed the core Hindutva agenda of Modi. Nothing of the sort has happened. All that he has done is to appreciate Modi taking up a campaign which was close to the heart of the Mahatma himself, who said that cleanliness is next only to godliness.

Moreover, had the Congress itself taken the initiative to launch the clean India campaign on Gandhi Jayanti, the wind could have been taken out of the BJP sail. The party failed to do so. Tharoor’s is, at best, a mild criticism of the Congress’s failure to do so.

Instead of taking it in the right spirit, the Congress leaders resorted to voicing opinions, which smack of intolerance and small-mindedness. Had Gandhiji been alive, he would have been the first to say a word in praise of Modi for taking up a pet project of his.

Last but not the least, Tharoor is not the only Congress leader to praise political rivals. A few years ago, Congress leader A K Antony, who was then the defence minister, lavished handsome praise on the then Kerala chief minister, V. S. Achuthanandan for extending full support to his efforts to bring defence projects to Kerala. There was no clamour for disciplinary action against Antony! Instead of indulging in such petty-mindedness, the Congress should learn to appreciate good deeds done by political rivals. Such gestures are the stuff democracy is made of. IPA
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