By C P Surendran
In the AICC presidential polls, M K Kharge won 7,897 votes. Tharoor got1072. Considering everything, Tharoor probably got more votes than he,or anyone else, expected. He should be happy— if the defeated can be atall happy. The important thing though is that we could all move on tothe next story.
Which is that with Kharge supervising the organizational aspects of theCongress party, the Gandhi family’s backs are covered, and RahulGandhi can focus on creating a movement on the ground transcendingparty politics.
All through, Rahul stuck to his guns and said he will not contest for theposition of President. He did more. He said he had no problem withTharoor or anybody else running against the offi cial candidate, Kharge.Now that Kharge has won, Rahul’s position as the most popularOpposition leader, backed not just by his party, but by people in generalfi nds renewed endorsement.
Kharge is a Dalit. Dalits in India today are a hotly contestedconstituency. The BJP has gone all out to co-opt Dalits. It is positiveaffi rmation with a vengeance, from the choice of the country’s presidentto national honors and awards.
Dalits represent about 25% of the population along with ST and SC.Muslims represent about 14 per cent of the population. If the Congressparty is able to bring into its fold substantial sections of these two demographic bases, they should be able to give the BJP a good fi ght inthe 2024 general elections.
A lot will depend on what Kharge does as the party leader. As theoffi cially elected spokesperson of the party, he will need to bring theother Opposition parties to the talking table. Rahul Gandhi is pitchinghimself as a leader transcending party ideologies, a leader beyond anydefi nable remit. When a collective Opposition strategy is discussed, hewill take care not to set terms; he is more likely to talk in terms ofprinciples. Bharat Jodo is a principle, not a negotiable term. Thisessentially means that Kharge and the others will have to do the talking.
This is not likely to be easy. Whether it is Nitish Kumar in Bihar, orMamata Banerjee in West Bengal, or K Chandrashekhar Rao inTelangana, the Opposition leaders in India have their eyes on the bigprize: prime ministership. While Rahul Gandhi has taken them all bysurprise with his drive and ambition, more historic than political, noneof them is likely to offer an alliance if they are not seriously entertainedas prime ministerial candidates. It is this applecart that Rahul hasunwittingly upset.
That’s why Kharge has his task cut out. The number of votes that ShashiTharoor polled is a surprise. It is likely Tharoor himself is the most surprised by the outcome. There would be the usual social mediapunditry that talks about the votes Tharoor pulled in as an indication tothe invisible writing on the wall: that the Congress is ready fororganizational change spearheaded by someone like Tharoor.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar , who is also the leader of the JD(U). Photo: PTI
In hindsight, despite Tharoor’s genius for diplomacy and debate, hewould have been instrumental in dividing the Congress party betweenGandhi family loyalists and dissidents. And it would have been verydiffi cult for Tharoor to manage the strife, given that he is more a British‘parliamentarian’ than a typical Indian politician. He would have alsofound it hard to negotiate with other Opposition leaders. Tharoor’sdebating talents could easily fi nd the prospect and the pleasure ofnegotiations an end in themselves.
All which point to the fact that Rahul Gandhi might well have timed hisBharat Jodo Yatra as a political intervention to bring the party’s rank andfi le to heel. This may not have been just cold strategy. Indeed, it couldhave been a measure borne of desperation. But it has ended up as thebest thing that Rahul could have done to reinvent himself in full publicview.
All in all, a consolidated and sorted Congress party is now in a betterposition to lead the fi ght against the BJP. Indians in the cities tend to gather information primarily from social media and private TVchannels. But those who still listen to AIR news bulletins out ofnostalgia or curiosity, or both, will know that the day begins and endswith prime minister Modi’s inaugurating functions, laying of foundationstones, and addressing rallies. Not much else exists or counts for Indianreality.
Rahul Gandhi’s political marathon has actually not happened if AIR iswhat one goes by. Nothing of interest happens in Tamil Nadu, Kerala,Bihar, or Punjab. Offi cially, India has no Opposition. Indeed, even innational private channels, news anchors often treat the Opposition assuperfl uous, as mere whipping boys, to raise a laugh.
It is in this rather censored and censorious India that the 2024 electionsare going to be fought. And the ruling BJP will do everything to hold onto power. It is into this dirty war that Kharge steps in as the CongressPresident. On record, as a senior and illustrious politician, he is nothappy to be called a Dalit leader. Well, he must become one then. He hasto mobilize the Dalits across political divides and bring them into theCongress fold. He has to use people like Tharoor and put a fi nesse onround table talks with other party leaders. He has to be both sectarianand accommodative. If he does both successfully, and Rahul Gandhi does his bit working his‘apolitical’ politics, then there is a chance that the Congress fortunesrevive. Would this be enough to end the BJP sway in 2024? No, thatwould depend on actually how arrived the regional parties are. It is notjust the BJP that has underestimated Rahul, and perhaps the Congress.It is the regional leaders as well, most of whom must be a bitdisappointed at the turn of events. The present prime minister was oncea chief minister.
C P Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal