As Invite to Shashi Tharoor Cancelled 'Under Pressure', a Word to the Congress Party

The Indian Youth Congress backing out of an event that Tharoor was to address does not speak well of the claims of the grand old party about inner-party democracy.

A report in the Indian Express says that an invitation to Shashi Tharoor by the Youth Congress in Kozhikode, Kerala, to speak on the ‘Sangh Parivar and Secularism’ was withdrawn.

According to one Congress leader, K.S. Sabarinadhan, who had supported Tharoor’s candidature for Congress president, “directions” for the withdrawal came from party sources, although only some technical glitches were cited for the withdrawal.

Be that as it may, this sort of backsliding, even if a faux pas of some sort, does not speak well of the claims of the grand old party about inner-party democracy.

The Indian National Congress can be justly proud of having actually effected open and credible elections to the party presidentship – an act that shames, for example, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party whose functionaries continue to be selected by top-down fiat.

But, here is the question: would that accomplishment have been possible had the principled Shashi Tharoor not breathed conviction into that exercise by taking his party constitution seriously and offering an alternative set of ideas as a candidate, even when many simply tended to pooh-pooh the Congress elections as a pre-arranged eyewash?

The fact that Tharoor drew more than a thousand delegates to his side ought to have bolstered the party into showcasing its willingness to let the old Congress tradition of internal dialogue and contention about policy lines.

Clearly, should the withdrawal of an invitation to him to speak at the party function at Kozhikode be suggestive in the least of a move to deny him his intellectual freedom as a devoted Congressman to voice views that, after all, remain ideologically very much in sync with party principles, the messaging thereof may not but contravene the claims made by party leadership about democratic traditions within the Indian Nation Congress.

It is a good surmise that had he spoken at the designated meet about the right-wing, his presentation may not, after all, have differed in any substantial measure from averments made often by such party leaders as Rahul Gandhi.

A point that may be taken due notice of by the new party leadership, a very wise and honed one, is that Tharoor, along with many Congress men and women – too many to name – embodies a unique feature of the grand old party, namely that tribe of individuals who through the party’s incomparable history, have combined great scholarship and intellectual standing with a grass-roots immersion in the woes of “we the people.”

It is indeed to be much hoped by all those who still prize those traditions that Mallikarjun Kharge and his new Congress Working Committee will sooner than later not only rehabilitate such ones who have tended to be relegated from party responsibilities, but also bring back other such ones who may have left the party on honourable principles of dissent but not turned coat and gone elsewhere.

Shashi Tharoor greets newly elected Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge at the latter’s residence, in New Delhi, October 19, 2022. Photo: PTI

From its inception in 1885, few parties have evinced quite the same quality and extent of a culture of debate and openly-voiced dissent as has the Indian National Congress.

Let it understand that if it is to offer any lasting rebuttal to the authoritarian ruling party, it has no better recourse, organisationally and ideologically, than to return the republic, however it has strayed into a culture of thoughtless and intimidated quiescence, to that vision and practice of bold and soulful democracy.

Many believe that Tharoor’s whole project in standing for elections to party presidentship was indeed to bring back that vision and that practice.

It would be tragic in the extreme if the new party leadership, even silently, endorsed any beggaring of the democratic oomph of the party’s intellect and work-a-day verve that issues from such fearless openness.

It is best for the party not to waste any time in recalling to honour and duty some of its marginalised stalwarts whose contributions it can ill afford to discard.

Conversely, Congress men and women who have flourished within the party in all sorts of ways must also need to look within, and ask themselves if in jettisoning the party they are indeed being principled or disingenuous.

It is to be noted that the Bharat Jodo Yatra of which Rahul Gandhi is a leading scion is tending to bring back the forgotten idealism of the Congress as a movement, as well as set an example of grind in the service of ordinary citizens across the length and breadth of the nation.

This is just the right moment indeed when this massive mass immersion should be combined with great intellectual efflorescence.

Discouraging people like Tharoor is hardly conducive to unleashing such a project.