Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Thursday, 16 February, virtually ruled out contesting the Congress Working Committee (CWC) polls if the party decided to hold them, saying he was not considering any further elections after having fought the AICC presidential polls and it is “for others to step forward”.
In an exclusive interview with PTI on the Congress’ upcoming plenary session in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur, Tharoor said the convention comes at an “inflection point” in the party’s history as it is being held after the presidential polls and the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and ahead of the 2024 elections.
The Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram said the plenary could not have come at a more opportune time and gives the party members an opportunity to focus on what “we have gained and what faces the party in terms of challenges for the future”.
Asked if it was essential for the party to have polls for the Congress Working Committee (CWC) at the party’s plenary session and if he had raised this issue with the party leadership, Tharoor said, “I had made the point that elections are healthy for the party and participated in one election myself and now that I have lost, I don’t think it is my business to tell the party leadership what to do. Let them take the steps that they judge are appropriate.”
‘Majority view will prevail’
He stressed the majority view in the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is the view that will prevail.
“I am fairly confident that if a majority of the delegates want an election they will hold one and if the majority feels that they would rather not rock the boat at this time and just move ahead, then that too will be a possible option,” the former Union minister said.
“I just feel that by having contested once, making my point and not winning the majority, or not even coming close to the majority of delegates, I have in a sense forfeited the right demanding the same thing,” he said.
Tharoor said that he was “stepping back a little bit” from the demand of CWC polls, asserting that he was doing so not because he was withdrawing his words but because he had made his point and it was now for those who won the presidential polls and are in charge of the party’s fortunes to decide on it in consultation with the majority of the delegates.
Tharoor said that his own view very simply is that as far as the principle is concerned he had demonstrated during the presidential elections that polls can have a very useful contribution in galvanising the party.
However, he said, if the majority of the party prefers otherwise then it was not his place to substitute his wishes and preferences for the wishes of the majority.
‘Not considering any further elections’
Asked whether he would contest the CWC polls, Tharoor said, “At this point, I am not considering any further elections. I have done my bit, and I have made my point. I think it is for others to step forward if they feel that is the way forward.”
Pressed further on if he may later consider contesting if asked by his supporters, Tharoor said at this stage there was no announcement regarding the CWC polls so there was no question of his making a decision.
“If at all they are announced, my instinct is that I have already done my contesting as it were and that I should leave it to others. But certainly, I will talk to a number of colleagues in the party if there are polls announced and there are colleagues who want to come forward, we will see what is in the best interest of the party,” Tharoor said.
“Ultimately, all these exercises are only to strengthen the party, we don’t want to weaken the party at a time when general elections are one year away… we will do what is best to strengthen the party, including choosing not to fight a poll if that is the sentiment of those who care about the future of the party,” he said.
Tharoor contested the Congress presidential polls last October but lost to Mallikarjun Kharge. He, however, made a mark by getting over 1,000 votes from PCC delegates despite Kharge being seen as largely backed by the top leadership of the party.
Steering committee meeting on 24 February
According to party sources, members of the Congress Steering Committee would meet on 24 February at Raipur in Chhattisgarh to decide on whether there should be elections to the CWC, the party’s top decision-making body.
On whether holding CWC polls would complete the cycle started by the presidential polls, Tharoor said the party has to move forward, rejuvenate, revive some of its dormant organs within it and build on the new self-belief and the new levels of energy apparent when the Bharat Jodo Yatra reached its climax in Srinagar.
Asked about the reported meeting of three leaders from Kerala — K Muraleedharan, Benny Behanan and MK Raghavan — with Kharge and whether they expressed backing for his being nominated a member of the CWC, Tharoor said he was not present for the meeting and would not like to comment on things he does not know about.
On his own meeting with Kharge last week, Tharoor said it was largely about the All India Professionals Congress that he heads and some other issues were also discussed.
‘I have an important responsibility to fulfil’
Asked whether he ever felt sidelined or marginalised after the AICC presidential polls last year, Tharoor said, “My role so far in politics has been fairly clear. I am MP for Thiruvananthapuram which is an important responsibility to fulfil every day. I am at the same time a parliamentarian, available to the party on whatever issue they want me to speak on. I am the chairman of AIPC (All India Professionals’ Congress) and in addition, I happen to chair a parliamentary standing committee.”
Those have been my portfolios for a few years now and they continue to remain so, he said, adding that there has been no change in them for the better or for the worse since the party’s presidential elections.
The plenary session from February 24-26 is being held to ratify Mallikarjun Kharge’s election as Congress president, and the leaders would meet in Raipur to brainstorm the party’s strategy going forward.
There has been intense speculation over whether there would be elections for some CWC seats or the president would be authorised to nominate all members.
According to the party constitution, the working committee shall consist of the president of the Congress, the Leader of the Congress Party in Parliament and 23 other members of whom 12 members will be elected by the AICC, as per rules prescribed by the CWC and the rest shall be appointed by the president.
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