Former union minister Shashi Tharoor on Sunday built upon his argument that, in the race for the Congress chiefship, it is only he who can be an agent of change.
About his rival, veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, the 66-year-old former diplomat was rather direct. “Kharge ji comes in the top three leaders of the party. Leaders like him can’t bring in change and will continue the existing system. I’ll bring in change as per the expectations of party workers,” he was quoted as saying in Nagpur by ANI.
Kharge, the 80-year-old Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, has the apparent backing of the party’s top two – interim chief Sonia Gandhi and the party’s face Rahul Gandhi – for the October 17 election. He had to enter the contest after the Gandhis’ first choice, Ashok Gehlot, had to drop out after his loyalists in Rajasthan insisted that he must remain chief minister. The party was insistent on its ‘one person, one post’ norm.
Tharoor, a third-time MP from Kerala, was one of 23 leaders who had demanded reforms including elections in the party in a letter to Sonia Gandhi two years ago. That does not mean he is the ‘G23’ candidate in any way – not everyone from that group is supporting him – but his pitch stresses that he, being one for a “difference” and younger, has a claim to the future.
The next Lok Sabha contest is less than two years away and the Congress is hoping to rejuvenate itself for a challenge to the BJP. This sentiment is what Tharoor is appealing to.
One for tradition, Kharge on Sunday said he had told Tharoor that it would be better to have a consensus candidate but he insisted on a contest for the “sake of democracy”. Nominations can be withdrawn till October 8, but neither is likely to stand down.
According to Kharge, if he becomes the chief, he will consult the Gandhis and other leaders in running the party. “He (Tharoor) may have his views… The status quo and reforms he talks of will be decided by the 9,300-odd delegates, after that a committee will be formed (Congress Working Committee). The committee as a whole will decide all policy matters that will be formulated by consensus and we will implement that,” he told reporters at a press conference while launching his Congress presidential poll campaign.
Kharge said there is no ‘G23’ camp now and all leaders want to fight unitedly against the RSS-BJP and, therefore, are supporting him. Several dissident leaders such as Bhupinder Hooda, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and Prithviraj Chavan have put their weight behind the veteran by becoming his proposers instead of backing Tharoor.
All senior and youth leaders urged him to contest as no member of the Gandhi family wanted to become party chief, Kharge said. He resigned on Saturday as leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha in line with the party’s one-post-only rule.
Talking about Tharoor’s phone call to him after nominations, he said he had told him that it would be “better to have a consensus candidate to which he (Tharoor) said there should be a fight in a democracy, and then I said ok”. “So, he is fighting and he is my younger brother. It is a family matter and we have to stay united today and tomorrow,” he added.
Kharge also stressed that he was not fighting the polls as a Dalit leader but as a Congress worker, who has served the party for 55 years.