For over three weeks now, senior party leaders continue to warn the Thiruvananthapuram MP to ‘toe the party line’ on developmental issues or face consequences.

A file image of Shashi Tharoor in an orange vest
news Politics Thursday, December 30, 2021 - 14:47

Shashi Tharoor is no stranger to controversies. But his open praise of the CPI(M) government and its Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has landed him in trouble with most of his party colleagues in Kerala. For over three weeks now, senior party leaders have been warning the Thiruvananthapuram MP to ‘toe the party line’ or face consequences. 

On Tuesday, former KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran demanded that the central leadership should intervene and talk to Tharoor over his growing proximity with Pinarayi Vijayan. He reminded Tharoor that Congress party workers had been instrumental in making him win his Lok Sabha constituency. Just a day before that, the incumbent KPCC president K Sudhakaran too had warned Tharoor that he is just one person in the party and he too must abide by the party decisions. He added that the party has sought a written explanation from Tharoor and a decision will be taken after that.

The usually fragmented Congress unit of Kerala has come together in taking on Tharoor, who is not seen as part of any of the camps. 

Why is Congress in Kerala angry with Tharoor?

Resentment against Tharoor escalated with the Congress party’s stand on the Kerala government's SilverLine project. The SilverLine is a semi high-speed, 530-km railway project planned between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod. The Rs 63,940 cr project is a joint venture between the Kerala and Union governments and is being opposed by most of the Opposition parties in the state including the BJP. The Congress has been staging protests against the government and the project. Seventeen MPs of the state have written a letter to the Union Minister of Railways registering their protest but Tharoor has so far refused to sign the letter. 

Tharoor has maintained that he needs more time to study the details of the project before deciding his stance. His reluctance to sign the letter was seen largely as an endorsement of the project, the protest against which the Congress is perceiving as its ticket to come back to power. In his defence, Tharoor had said that without knowing the government’s stand, he cannot reject the project and that the text of the letter was not shown to him. He also added that he needed additional time to study the ramifications. 

Even as anger against Tharoor was brewing in the Congress, he praised Pinarayi during the inauguration of a mall in his constituency. Tharoor had said that the CM is changing things in Kerala and that he is trying to bring development in the state. As Tharoor heaped praise on his party’s political adversary, his party leaders who were in the audience were not amused with this. The Congress leaders who were already upset with Tharoor over another issue, sharpened their attack further. He also hailed the state government after Kerala topped the health index report released by Niti Aayog. 

“Not the first time Tharoor has been politically incorrect”

Shashi Tharoor has been in the soup for openly applauding Congress’s political opponents in the past too. He had even hailed Modi government effort in vaccination and had complimented the CoWin app developed by the Union government. 

 “Shashi Tharoor has always been politically incorrect. Many times, he has praised the BJP as well and that has not been appreciated,” a Congress leader told TNM. “Sonia Gandhi has pulled him up at least thrice for praising PM Modi. Tharoor says he is just being fair when something deserves praise but the otherside (BJP) will never reciprocate that right?” the leader added. 

But this time around, the Congress in Kerala is exasperated with Tharoor because his reluctance to take on the Pinarayi government could blunt the Congress’s attack on the government. “There have been a lot of public protests in places where the K-Rail is supposed to pass through,” a Congress MLA from Kerala told TNM. “We constituted a committee to study the project under Dr MK Muneer who is a former PWD minister. He gave a report to the UDF committee saying it is disastrous for the environmental, social and economic aspects. That is why we were opposed to it. So when Tharoor says he needs to listen to the government before deciding it does not sit well,” he added. 

Another legislator said that while Tharoor is still very important to the party, he has to be careful to not cross the line. “He is an important leader here because in Thiruvananthapuram, we are able to stop the BJP from winning. Congress allows a certain amount of freedom of expression but the individual should know where the line is.” 

Tariq Anwar, Congress General Secretary in-charge of Kerala told TNM that there has been a three-member disciplinary committee formed and they will look into this matter. “They will see if there has been any violation and then recommend to AICC if any action needs to be taken. We will make the final decision after that. I have not spoken to Shashi Tharoor on this directly nor has any other leader of AICC,” he said. 

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