Despite projecting himself as a global citizen who returned to his roots, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Monday, 2 January, tried to recapture his Nair identity at a function organised by the influential Nair Service Society in Kerala.
Tharoor’s move has been seen as a bid to consolidate further his position as a chief ministerial candidate of the Congress.
Tharoor clad in traditional ‘Nair attire’, was the chief guest at the 146th birth anniversary celebration of NSS founder and social reformer Mannathu Padmanabhan.
The Congress MP also took a dig, apparently at his critics within the Congress. Incidentally, they also belong to the same community.
The Nair community is arguably the single-most largest support base of the Congress among religious groups in Kerala.
Nair vs Nair
Without naming AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, Kerala’s Opposition Leader VD Satheesan and former state home minister Ramesh Chennithala, he quoted Padmanabhan: “He said that no Nair could stand another Nair.”
“Padmanabhan used to say that it would be tough to consolidate Nairs in Kerala,” the erudite parliamentarian said.
“He said that it would be difficult for one Nair to accept another community member. He said it a century ago. But even now, sometimes, I find it true in politics,” Tharoor said to thunderous applause at the NSS headquarters at Perunna near Changanassery in the Kottayam district.
Upper-caste Nairs constitute 14.9 percent of the Kerala population, and Tharoor hopes that the NSS could rally the community members in his support to overcome the power struggles within the Congress.
The NSS leadership has strong reservations against Satheesan, who recently made a public statement, disapproving of the pressure tactics community leaders employ to intervene in party affairs.
Venugopal and Chennithala are also not in the good books of the NSS for various reasons.
While Satheesan and Venugopal were absent at the birthday celebrations, Chennithala left the venue before the arrival of Tharoor after offering floral tributes to Padmanabhan.
Chennithala then visited the head of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church near Kottayam. The Orthodox Church is another support base of the Congress.
NSS proclaims confidence in Tharoor
The NSS used the event to proclaim its confidence in Tharoor. Apart from former Union defence minister AK Antony, no Congress leader had been invited to address the Padamanabhan birth anniversary celebrations in the past.
Welcoming Tharoor, NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair expressed regret over attempting to belittle him as a ‘Delhi Nair’ when the he had contested for the first time to the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram in 2009.
Angry over the lack of proper representation for NSS nominees in the Congress list of candidates, Sukumaran Nair then argued that Tharoor could not be counted as a Nair candidate as the party high command from Delhi had airdropped him.
“I regret calling him a Delhi Nair when he contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. He is not a Delhi Nair. He is a son of Kerala and a global citizen,” the powerful NSS secretary said, indicating that Tharoor is his choice to lead Congress in Kerala.
“I don’t hesitate to say that we could not have had a better person to inaugurate this event,” he added.
After his defeat in the AICC presidential elections, Tharoor toured Kerala, meeting cultural and religious leaders, and attracting big crowds.
Unemployment rate high in Kerala
Addressing the NSS gathering, Tharoor highlighted the growing unemployment among youths in the state. “Unemployment rate among the youth in Kerala is huge and there is a need to make the state more attractive for its younger generation to prevent them from going outside for jobs,” he said.
He said only such a situation prevails only in Jammu and Kashmir due to militancy.
“No other state is having such worrisome figures of unemployment among the youth. In other states, those uneducated or unskilled are the ones lacking jobs. However, in Kerala, everyone is literate, educated and has passed Class 10. Yet many do not have jobs,” he pointed out.
Tharoor said 3.5 lakh professional and technical job-seekers, including 9,000 medical graduates, were registered as job-seekers in the southern state’s employment exchange.
“Of the 3.5 lakh job-seekers, around 71 percent have ITI certificates,” he added.
“This is the state of affairs in Kerala. Therefore, there is no doubt that the state needs to open its doors to bring in more investment. We need to create more employment opportunities,” he said.
The MP said that many youngsters are going outside the state seeking jobs, which should be seen as a loss for Kerala.
“We must make Kerala more attractive for our young people,” he offered a solution.
Satheesan welcomes NSS praise
Interestingly, Satheesan welcomed the praises showered on Tharoor by Sukumaran Nair.
“I welcome any praise of a Congress leader by anyone here in Kerala,” he told reporters.
Satheesan had recently initially expressed reservations over the Thiruvananthapuram MP’s political outreach programmes in the south Indian state.
With his rising popularity and rising profile following his excellent performance in the election for Congress national presidentship, Tharoor is seen as a threat by many Kerala party leaders.
Venugopal is currently the most prominent national face among them, given his proximity to Rahul Gandhi.
The NSS invitation to Tharoor as the chief guest is significant as the community outfit has been a powerful supporter of the Congress.
(With PTI inputs)