“No candidate is to be accorded preferential treatment.” This has been the refrain of Congress president Sonia Gandhi ever since the race to replace her narrowed down to two contenders – Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor.
It is no secret that Kharge is the Gandhi family choice. On record, however, the party has issued guidelines to all state units that both candidates are to be accorded open reception. But as Tharoor found out to his disappointment, the guideline remains only on paper.
Only 20 party workers were present at the Delhi Congress office on Thursday, and barely any arrangements were made to warmly welcome Shashi Tharoor. The man pitching for change was visibly upset and didn’t hold back at a press conference.
“We are holding elections after 22 years and there will be shortcomings. But to many places I travelled, I felt some of the Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs were not keen on meeting me. They never showed me the same warmth they have to Mr Kharge. I am not complaining, but can’t you see the difference in treatment?” he asked.
Mallikarjun Kharge is backed by a formidable team, which includes Naseer Hussain, Deepender Hooda and Gaurav Gogoi. The party’s media department has also facilitated interactions with Kharge, though it maintains no candidate is being favoured over the other.
The presence of PCC chiefs not only matters for optics, but come October 17, it’s the 9,000 PCC delegates who will decide who replace Sonia Gandhi. The presence and attitude shown by the PCC chiefs during candidate visits is a key indicator of the sentiment.
Many leaders, including Tharoor himself, have also time and again referenced that the number of delegates is either not updated or easily available to him, giving Kharge an edge in the contest. Kharge has maintained that he is fighting fair and does not see Tharoor as an adversary but as a colleague who plans to up the ante against the BJP.
It is, however, a fact that the ‘Think Change, Think Tharoor’ tagline adopted by the Thiruvananthapuram MP is making many uncomfortable and has not inspired confidence that he can keep the flock together if elected to the top post.
While the numbers are stacked in Kharge’s favour, the Congress hopes to make the point that unlike the BJP and other parties, Congress at least held a contest.
Tharoor’s vocal disappointment has amplified BJP criticism that the elections are a “sham” to “keep the seat warm” for a Gandhi in the future.