Oily, deep-fried bread pakoda and tea is the staple for reporters at the Congress headquarters for any big event; a ‘treat’ offered by the Grand Old Party’s media department. And it’s many such cups of tea and pakodas that have been witness to changes and drifts in the Congress.
Friday was no different. Elections to the party’s presidential post were being held after a good 20 years and the party felt history was being made. However, in the process, unravelled the many changes in power equations.
First, the manner in which the two nominations were filed. Shashi Tharoor was pretty much on his own; uncharacteristically, he arrived with band, ‘baaja’ and a small ‘baraat’. There was no one from the top brass to welcome him, nor was he greeted by any senior leader. Among the recognisable faces who endorsed him were Karti Chidambaram, Salman Soz and Sandeep Dikshit. Tharoor went straight to the nomination room. As he came out, the only ones who thronged him were the media persons. Soon, Tharoor sat in his car and drove off to address a press conference and release a manifesto.
When his manifesto threw up a controversy regarding a map showing J&K inappropriately, the Congress distanced itself, saying it was up to Tharoor and his team to explain and correct the anomaly. Some like Kumari Selja told News18.com: “In the fitness of things, Tharoor should withdraw.” This was a thought echoed by many. But what came as a surprise was that the G-23, the dissident group that pushed for polls and transparency in electoral rolls, dumped Tharoor who too was a signatory to the original G-23 letter. Tharoor’s G-23 allies Manish Tewari and Anand Sharma were seen endorsing Kharge.
And then, there was a sudden flurry of activity. Big sacks of mosambi led the way as leaders like Salman Khurshid, Rajiv Shukla, Kumari Selja, and Ashok Gehlot came in. The stage was set for Kharge; making it clear who the ‘chosen one’ was. To all the waiting leaders, juice and tea was served and they were briefed about how to support Kharge when he files his nomination. That the dice was loaded in favour of Kharge was clear when he came in a car with Digvijaya Singh and Deepender Hooda as his co-passengers. Mukul Wasnik and several other leaders were already at the Congress office to greet him. Kharge was unaccompanied by a band or drums but then, the veteran leader didn’t really need it.
As the nomination process began, the stark contrast between the two contenders was clear. While most Congress leaders did not want to be seen with Tharoor, leaders flocked to Kharge as he filed his papers. It was no surprise then that the list of those who endorsed Kharge was long, going up to 30. Unlike Tharoor, who had to do his own press conference, special arrangements were made for Kharge when he addressed the media at the Congress headquarters. He was also escorted back to the office unlike Tharoor who left immediately.
The difference in treatment and response exposes one fact. The narrative that all were welcome to fight elections was a myth. So will this be a redux of the Jitendra Prasada story where he was never trusted for “daring” to fight against the official candidate 22 years ago. It was Sonia Gandhi then, it’s Mallikarjun Kharge now. So, is Tharoor the new Prasada ?