The many shades to the controversy over Shashi Tharoor's comment on PM Modi

The discord between Tharoor and the Kerala state Congress leadership is not new, however this was also an issue about political messaging.
The many shades to the controversy over Shashi Tharoor's comment on PM Modi
The many shades to the controversy over Shashi Tharoor's comment on PM Modi
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The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) might have accepted Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor’s explanation regarding his tweet about Prime Narendra Modi, but the reaction by the KPCC and Congress leaders prior to the explanation has once again opened up political conversations regarding internal rivalry and impropriety.

It all began with Tharoor, along with fellow Congress leader Abhishek Manu SInghvi voicing out their support for their senior party colleague Jairam Ramesh, who stated that 'demonising' PM Modi all the time isn't going to help and that he should be praised whenever he does something good. Tharoor in his tweet, said: “As you know, I have argued for six years now that @narendramodi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs."

This did not go down well within the Kerala state leadership of the Congress party, many of whom, including KPCC chief Mullapally Ramachandran and leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, openly lashed out at Tharoor. TN Prathapan, Congress MP from Thrissur even went on to say that those who want to praise Modi can go and join the BJP. The KPCC had further sent a notice to Tharoor seeking an explanation for his tweet.

Ever since the issue began to make news, reports emerged of an internal rift within party leaders who have been unhappy with Tharoor, who was an outsider to politics when he joined the Congress party in 2009, following which he went on to win three consecutive Lok Sabha Elections from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency.

The discord between Tharoor and the state leadership is not new. During the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Tharoor complained to the Congress leadership that many of the state leaders were not playing an active role to help him in his constituency. The then two-time MP was contesting against two other major names - Kummanam Rajasekharan of the BJP and C Divakaran of the CPI. At this time, there were reports that several Congress leaders who had been eyeing for the Thiruvananthapuram seat did not want Tharoor to score a third consecutive victory.

However, political analysts feel that the KPCC sending Tharoor an explanatory notice goes way beyond an internal rivalry within the party leadership. “It has to be said that Tharoor acted without any clarity of his role,” stated CP John, a political activist and writer. He added that the Congress party in Kerala gained most of their votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls riding on a sentiment against the BJP government and Narendra Modi. The party cannot afford one of their national leaders minutely praising the Narendra Modi government, says John.

“See, when two teams are playing against each other, there is no need for one member of a team to play the role of a referee,” says John. The analyst however agrees that Tharoor has been a staunch critic of Modi, which is evident from his parliament speeches and his book, “The Paradoxical Prime Minister”. 

“Having said that, I must also say that the Congress party should not sideline Tharoor for the mistakes he commits but instead correct him because they do not want to lose a leader like Shashi Tharoor,” adds CP John.

More than an internal rivalry, there was an attempt by the Congress leaders to make a statement that they have been standing at the forefront in the fight against the BJP, feels Joseph C Mathew, a political analyst. Joseph goes on to add that the KPCC has nothing to gain by sidelining Tharoor as the controversy is not just about Tharoor. “If the Congress is to take an action against Tharoor, then they will have to do it against Jairam Ramesh as well as Abhishek Manu Singhvi, which is not possible as all the three are influential voices of the party in the Centre,” he adds. 

The three time Thiruvananthapuram MP’s statement about praising Modi government when it does something good, according to Joseph, might be true in an academic sense, but not necessarily in mass politics. “When you are into mass politics, you are dealing with the common man and they know that you are in the opposition. There is no scope for academic conversations here,” says Joseph, who goes on to add that the Congress didn’t lose the elections or the BJP didn’t win them because the Opposition failed to compliment them. He says, “The congress couldn't hold the BJP accountable when they did something wrong. That was the failure of the opposition.”

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