After minorities, ‘chief minister candidate’ Shashi Tharoor wins backing of the influential Nairs

The influential Nair Service Society has invited him as the chief guest at the birth anniversary celebrations of its founder.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 23, 2022 | 5:01 PM Updated Nov 23, 2022 | 6:46 PM

Shashi Tharoor

A day after Opposition leader VD Satheesan warned his party colleague Shashi Tharoor against indulging in sectarian or parallel activities in the Congress, the Thiruvananthapuram MP received an invite that could make other politicians in Kerala turn green with envy.

The influential upper-caste Hindu organisation in the state, the Nair Service Society (NSS), invited Tharoor to be the chief guest at the 146th birth anniversary celebrations of its founder Mannathu Padmanabhan on 2 January 2023.

The invite came even as Tharoor is touring the Malabar region, meeting minority community leaders, intellectuals and youngsters, in an apparent bid to position himself as the chief minister candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

The invitation from G Sukumar Nair, the general secretary of the NSS, came hardly a week after he had slammed Satheesan for winning the election with “Nair votes”, and then “conveniently forgetting” the commitments the politician had made to the community.

Major political parties would prefer not to antagonise the NSS, which could sway electoral fortunes. The Nair community, comprising 14.47 percent of the total population, was once a traditional vote bank of the Congress.

Among the Congress leaders in Kerala, Satheesan and former home minister Ramesh Chennithala are the Nair faces. But both are not in the good books of the NSS. The organisation feels the present Congress leadership is wilfully ignoring its concerns.

The message is clear

By choosing Tharoor as chief guest on the occasion, the NSS has conveyed, albeit indirectly, that he would be its choice to lead the Congress — and thereby the UDF — in the next Assembly election.

G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society.

G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society. (

Recently, Sukumaran Nair used a meeting at the NSS headquarters in Perunna, Kottayam district, to vent his anger at the political formations in Kerala.

He voiced his anger at the “extreme disregard experienced by the forward communities from the successive governments and the political class”.

By inviting Tharoor, also from the Nair community, Sukumaran Nair has revealed his preference on who should lead the Congress.

For Tharoor, who called on several Christian and Muslim leaders over the past three days as part of his Malabar sojourn, the emerging support from the Nair community is a shot in the arm.

Incidentally, no upper-caste Hindu has become the state’s chief minister after EK Nayanar of the CPI(M). Nayanar’s third stint as the chief minister ended in 2001.

Notwithstanding the criticism from within his own party, Tharoor is now emerging as an upper-caste Hindu candidate to lead the state with the backing of Muslim, Christian and Dalit communities. The diplomat-turned-politician’s biggest asset is that he is approachable to all communities.

“Tharoor is now proving that he has enough potential to strike a caste and community equilibrium in his favour,” a Tharoor loyalist in the party, who preferred anonymity, said.

IUML welcomes Tharoor with open arms

Even as Satheesan and Chennithala locked horns with Tharoor over the latter’s “parallel move” to position himself as the future Congress leader in Kerala, the UDF’s second-largest constituent, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), accorded him a rousing reception in Malappuram, its traditional citadel, on Tuesday, 22 November.

The entire IUML leadership was present during his breakfast meeting with party supremo Panakkad Sayyid Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal at the latter’s residence.

Tharoor was also the chief guest at a meeting the IUML organised at one of its educational institutions, where the students impressed him with their quality and “perspicacious questions“.

During his north Kerala tour, Tharoor also reached out to Kanthapuram AP Abubacker Musaliar, a powerful Sunni leader with a vast mass following. Kanthapuram and the IUML are not on the same page.

His meeting with Roman Catholic Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil in Kozhikode was also part of the calculated move to turn the communal and caste equilibrium in his favour.

Support from Muraleedharan

Though most Congress leaders in Kerala have expressed displeasure over Tharoor’s move terming it ill-timed and potentially factious, the unexpected support of archrival K Muraleedharan, MP, son of the late Congress strongman and chief minister K Karunakaran, has made pro-Tharoor party men confident.

K Muraleedharan, MP representing Vadakara (Twitter)

K Muraleedharan (Twitter)

Muraleedharan, who maintains personal grudges against Satheesan and Chennithala, is now finding it is better for him to join hands with Tharoor.

Amidst all the commotion created by Tharoor’s recent moves, conspicuous is the studied silence of former chief minister Oommen Chandy and his powerful group.

Chandy, who underwent throat surgery in Germany reccently, is now on voice rest but none of his group members has spoken against Tharoor. His rivals suspect that he has the silent backing of Chandy as well.

Meanwhile, groups supporting Satheesan, Chennithala and AICC general secretary KC Venugopal are trying to convince the party followers that Tharoor is far removed from grassroots realities.

They are also trying to convey the message that Tharoor’s agenda is to take over the party leadership. Satheesan has publicly expressed reservations over Tharoor staying away from protests and hectic campaigns in the state capital against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government and its “wrong policies”.

‘Where is the MP?’

“We are waging a bitter war against the CPI(M)-ruled Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation where nepotism and illegal appointments are ruling the roost. Many of our workers still languish in jail for participating in the protests. The Thiruvananthapuram MP was not present. Where was he when we mobilised public opinion against the wrong policies of the Vijayan government,” Satheesan was blunt at a news conference on Tuesday.

When the Congress and UDF organised protests against the government’s controversial multi-crore SilverLine semi-high-speed rail project and the Adani Group’s taking over of the Trivandrum International Airport, Tharoor defied the party whip and stood with state and central governments.

In the case of the anti-Adani seaport agitations at Vizhinjam, too, Tharoor took a stand favouring the corporate house against the concerns of the affected fishing community.

Leaders close to Satheesan believe that Tharoor has drawn up a perfect game plan, aided by effective public relations and media manipulations.

MPs MK Raghavan and Shashi Tharoor at Providence College for Women in Kozhikode. (Twitter/Shashi Tharoor)

MPs MK Raghavan and Shashi Tharoor at Providence Women’s College in Kozhikode. (Twitter)

When Tharoor was introduced in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in 2009, replacing the incumbent Nair leader, VS Sivakumar, NSS was not impressed. It termed Tharoor a Delhi Nair. But in the next five years, Tharoor emerged as a close confidant of Sukumaran Nair.

For the IUML, Tharoor is more acceptable than KPCC president K Sudhakaran who recently courted controversy by repeatedly praising the BJP and RSS. Senior Congress leader and Kozhikode MP MK Raghavan has now become Tharoor’s campaign manager, further boosting his prospects.

After the Kerala stretch of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the UDF has won a new lease of life. The by-election results in some local bodies, too, indicated a shift in voters’ preference towards the UDF.

Now, ordinary UDF workers are anxious about whether Tharoor’s moves would benefit the Congress or lead to its disintegration.

Some leaders felt that he is just testing the waters since he had clarified that he would not encourage any group politics in the already fragmented state unit of the party.

Meanwhile, Tharoor is still drawing massive crowds, making him a formidable force that cannot be ignored. Youngsters in large numbers thronged his public functions in Malabar.