Congress leader Shashi Tharoor is often in the news, or, to borrow from one of his recent tweets, in a “kerfuffle”. On several occasions, it’s for the wrong reasons. His party men in Kerala were upset this month with his remark praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2014, he was dropped as Congress spokesperson after a similar incident. Tharoor is known for his independent opinion, which sometimes may not align with his party’s view. He has both praised and criticised Modi on various issues. Parliamentary democracy is strengthened by such leaders who have a mind of their own and who can offer support to opponents on specific subjects. So why oppose this for the sake of opposing?
Instead of targeting him, the Congress should celebrate him. Here’s a young leader (in Indian politics, middle-age is euphemistically referred to as young) who has three times in succession been elected Member of Parliament. This is no mean achievement for a party with dwindling electoral fortunes. Tharoor has a following of over 7 million on Twitter: in the Congress, only Rahul Gandhi has more numbers. Till 2013, Tharoor was India’s most-followed politician on the social media site until Narendra Modi overtook him.
He would have been the UN Secretary-General in 2006 if the United States had not been the only permanent member of the world body’s Security Council to veto his candidature.
In the special debate on the 60th anniversary of the Indian Parliament, Tharoor was one of the four members of the Congress (Sonia Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee were the other three) invited to address the Lok Sabha. Such is his intellect and public-speaking skills.
His following and popularity among the youth of India is evident. The young throng in large numbers to hear him speak. He is one of the finest debaters in politics and can hold his own against the best in the world.
So, here’s a critical question: at a time when the Congress is facing a leadership crisis, why not catapult him to the top position? When Rahul Gandhi stepped down, there was a view among some Congressmen to select a young leader. The names of Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia did the rounds but both are by-products of dynastic politics, which is the single largest criticism levelled by the BJP against the Congress.
Make Tharoor the party president and such an accusation will no longer hold. What is there to lose? The Congress is pretty much at its lowest ebb. How much worse can it get from here? This move could stump political opponents and possibly swell up the party’s ground support among the large youth population across the length and breadth of India. Things could look up from here.
The Congress needs to be galvanised soon – a complete shake-up from its traditional operating style. It needs a new culture and a different workflow. It needs dynamic leadership at the top. Someone with a mind of his own, who can call a spade a spade. It’s now or never.