On a day when the drama over the Congress’s attempts to find a president continued, CNN-News18 spoke to one of the contenders, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, about the impending contest and his plans to pull the party out of its streak of electoral reversals.
“We just can’t continue as business as usual. We’ve been stuck at the ceiling of 19 per cent of the votes in two successive elections. We need to try something different,” said Tharoor. He also reiterated his recent statement that “this is not a battle between rivals. It is a very friendly contest between colleagues.”
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge filed the nomination to run for Congress president on Friday, setting up a clash against Tharoor, with Digvijaya Singh and Ashok Gehlot backing out.
The Kerala lawmaker also said that he had some ideas to reform and reenergise the party.
“It’s about decentralising and empowering our party workers at the lower levels but it’s much more detailed than that. I have about 10 points I’ll be putting out and I hope that in the process we will find a responsive echo from our party,” he said.
Tharoor also spoke about the importance of the Congress focusing more on grassroots politics to strengthen its image among the masses and improve its electoral fortunes.
“One of the things I’ve been impressed by the party in my own state is the ethos of politics as social work between elections. So we’re not just a party that comes to life every five years to fight elections. In between our party workers are there with the people and helping them in all sorts of mundane ways,” he said.
“I mean, an old lady doesn’t know how to fill in a ration card application or a PPF certificate form, a party worker helps. Somebody else’s house is broken into by a gunda but the local cops won’t note the complaint because the gunda is connected to the ruling party, so the party worker goes and finds out, calls me as the MP who’s not part of the ruling party and says, ‘hey, will you talk to a commissioner or somebody high up and get them to come and investigate. All these are things that have actually happened. I’m talking about that kind of thing where every time in between elections, the party is present in the daily lives of ordinary people.”
He added that the Congress will continue to mount a robust fight against the “evident deficiencies” of the BJP’s economic governance on issues like unemployment, high inflation, faltering economic growth, etc, and “disastrous decisions” like demonetisation.
“Day after day we’re hearing great speeches and very poor implementation. We need to constantly point this out. We need to convert Parliament into a truly meaningful discussion forum where we challenge the government on issue after issue using the parliamentary rules, not by disruption but by debate,” he said.
Tharoor also spoke on the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra of the Congress being led by Rahul Gandhi, terming it a success.
“I think the yatra has proven that there is tremendous appeal when the Congress party hits the ground walking,” said the MP.
Questions have been raised about the efficacy of the party’s presidential election, with many speculating that whoever takes the post will have to work under the shadow of the Gandhis.
“I certainly hope the Gandhis will remain inextricably attached to the party because I think our DNA as a party and theirs as a family is completely tied together,” said Tharoor. “I hope they’ll continue to be involved with the party, but very much in cooperation with the new president, whoever he or she may be.”
He also rejected the notion that the election was a sham and that the Gandhis will keep running the show.
“If they would have wanted to keep running the party, they wouldn’t have held an election,” he said. “If Rahul Gandhi had simply withdrawn his message to the committee, he would have been president again anytime from 2019 onwards. I think it is very clear that they genuinely want to step back.”