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Shashi Tharoors one-man fight in Congs leadership contest

While former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is walking for 'Jodo' (unity) in Kerala, the possible candidate for AICC president, Sashi Tharoor is venturing on an independent course ahead of the organizational election. The last date for filing the nomination is September 30. If Congress could not find a consensus candidate, an election would take place on October 17.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi had reiterated that no one from the Gandhi family would be in the election fray. This has opened a range of options for leaders like Tharoor. Even though he has not officially declared his candidature, Tharoor is apparently exploring all options.

Sources close to the MP have indicated that he is trying to come out as a consensus candidate. His efforts to get a signature from Kerala PCC members for filing the nomination have not borne fruit so far, even on his home turf as all the groups are keeping a safe distance from him. Making his effort all the tougher, Tharoor has also found an obstacle within the G-23 group in which he was also a member. Senior leader and another member from G-23, Manish Tewari had also declared his intention to contest.

Amid speculations about his candidature, Tharoor had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday in New Delhi and examined the voters' list at the Congress headquarters. Tharoor's meeting came barely a week after he had called for organisational reforms and the need to reduce the "High Command" culture in Congress. For him, the meeting was also important as it may give a message to the leaders in Kerala that he still had a good relationship with the Gandhi family.

Meanwhile, the three former KPCC presidents from Kerala, Mullapally Ramachandran, K. Muralidharan and Ramesh Chennitha had pledged their support to the ones who enjoy the Gandhi family's support. Chennithala had also said that the public sentiment among the cadres is that Rahul should take over the presidentship.

Tharoor had been for months calling for reforms in the organization. But his latest criticism against the high command culture prevailing in the party had raised the eyebrows of many senior leaders. In an article published in 'The Hindu' daily, Tharoor had suggested that the answer to revamping the party "lies in a combination of effective leadership and organizational reform, to reduce the 'High Command' culture in the party…."

He also argued that 'there is no reason, for instance, that "District Congress chiefs must be approved by the party president in New Delhi, nor for a Pradesh Congress head to be answerable to a general secretary breathing down his neck from the national capital". According to a KPCC member "questioning the high command culture is strange as it would be seen as an attempt to question the authority of the Gandhi family over the party…. It is also a question of loyalty. This may not go well in Kerala or in the organization where your ability is measured basis your loyalty to the Gandhi family", he said on condition of anonymity.

The leader also pointed out two incidents as examples of Tharoor's independent course of action. "This also gives a message towards his future plan if his efforts to become the AICC president fails," he added. While the Bharat Jodo yatra was passing through Thiruvananthapuram, the anti-Vizhinjam Seaport construction protest committee members met Rahul Gandhi. The port is constructed by the Adani group. The protest committee led by the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Catholic Diocese wanted the Congress to support their demand for stoppage of port work.

Rahul accompanied by the Organizational general secretary K.C. Venugopal, Opposition leader V.D. Satheeshan, senior leader Ramesh Chennithala and others met the protesters. After hearing the grievances, Rahul asked the Kerala leaders for their opinion, and all the leaders informed Rahul that the protesters' demand is fair and Congress should support the protesters. The powerful Catholic Diocese and coastal community are a strong vote bank of Congress. But to everyone's surprise, Tharoor questioned the state leaders' stand. His stand had surprised the leaders as he is representing the Thiruvananthapuram parliament constituency, which has a formidable coastal community voter. Tharoor argued for the continuation of the port construction. He also said that the port is a dream project of the capital city.

Tharoor's stand had provoked the Catholic leadership present at the meeting. Rahul had to interfere to calm down the situation. With Tharoor on a different page from that of the state unit, Rahul was forced to direct the Congress leadership to come up with a consensus opinion. Tharoor had also publicly criticized Rahul Gandhi for his failure to attend a function organized at Neyyatinkara while the Yatra was passing through the adjacent area.

A reception for Rahul and the inauguration of freedom fighters' memorial structures were organized at a private medical college site. Tharoor, KPCC president K. Sudhakaran and other leaders waited for Rahul for an hour. But he did not turn up. A provoked Tharoor was seen saying in a video that "this kind of decision is destroying the reliability of the Congress."

Tharoor's confidants had brushed away the charges that he is looking for more options beyond the party. According to them, no groups in Kerala wanted Tharoor to win the stature of national president. But they had agreed that Tharoor had more friends outside than in the Congress. They also pointed out that the KPCC had failed to pass a resolution in favour of Rahul becoming the president while 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' is in Kerala.

Until now seven Congress state leaderships had passed such a resolution. There is dissatisfaction among the leaders about the lapse on the part of KPCC. The leaders had hinted that a meeting of the KPCC would be convened to pass the resolution. Rahul will travel to New Delhi on Friday to meet his mother. Sashi Tharoor is weighing his prospects carefully as the Rajasthan Chief Minster and Gandhi family loyalist Ashok Gehlot has expressed his desire to contest for the post of president.

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TAGS:Rahul GandhiShashi TharoorSonia GandhiCongress leadershipBharat Jodo YatraElection for Congress president
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