Tharoor files nomination for Cong prez poll, says he is for change while Kharge is ‘candidate of continuity’

NEW DELHI, Sep 30: Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Friday filed his nomination for the post of party president and said his electoral competitor Mallikarjun Kharge was a “candidate of continuity” and of “status quo”, while those wanting change in party should vote for him.

Tharoor, 66, also said he is aware of his underdog tag and talk of an ‘official candidate’ in some quarters but he has been told by the Gandhi family repeatedly that they are “neither directly nor indirectly” backing anyone.

Amid sound of drumbeats and fanfare, Tharoor made an entry at the AICC headquarters and submitted his papers to the party’s central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry.

Addressing a press conference at his residence after filing his nomination papers, the former Union Minister called Kharge, who is also contesting and is being seen as the favourite to win, ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of the Congress in some ways.

“It is a friendly contest that is going to happen. We are not enemies or rivals. No disrespect to him but I will represent my ideas,” the articulate and savvy Kerala MP told reporters.

Tharoor called Kharge, 80, a “candidate of continuity”, an apparent reference to the impression that the Karnataka leader is the choice of the party high command.

“I am not surprised that the establishment is rallying behind the status quo. If you want the status quo, I think you should vote for Mr. Kharge. If you want change and progress in the party with an eye to the rest of the 21st century, then I hope I will stand for that change,” the Thiruvananthapuram MP said.

Tharoor asserted he has a vision to strengthen the party which should be a vehicle for “change”.

Asked about Kharge’s candidature, Tharoor said, “He has been a terrific leader for many many years, he is the Bhishma Pitamah of our party in some ways. Let us respect him. There is no disrespect in saying that I have my own ideas.”

“There is certainly an option that those who would like to continue the status quo will not be inclined to vote for me because I represent change,” he asserted.

On a battery of senior leaders accompanying Kharge in filing his nomination, Tharoor said the differences between the approach adopted was visible as while senior leaders went for Kharge’s nomination, ordinary party workers accompanied him when he filed his papers.

“Do you want continuation of status quo, do you want the establishment to continue in this way? Then you must vote for Mr. Kharge, do you want change, you want to empower grass roots, give opportunity to the party at the lowest levels, revitalise and re-energise the districts, the blocks and states rather than being a top heavy, inverted pyramid kind of organisation, consider voting for me,” he said.

Tharoor also rejected suggestions that some members of the G-23 ginger group comprising Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari and Bhupinder Hooda backing Kharge was a blow to his campaign, saying if three-four people from that group help Kharge, it is good for him.

“When over 9,000 people vote, 3-4 people cannot decide for everyone,” he said.

He also spoke at length in Hindi, an apparent attempt to emphasise his bilingual credentials. Both Tharoor and Kharge are from south India while a majority of party delegates, who will vote in the poll, are from Hindi-speaking states.

Tharoor also ruled out withdrawing from the contest, stressing that he has not taken the trouble of filing the nomination only to opt out later. He said he will not let down party workers supporting him.

“I have a vision for the Congress and I will share it with over 9,000 delegates and seek their support. My nomination papers reflect the wide range of support I have received. I have got signatures of party workers from a dozen states, from Kashmir to Kerala and from Punjab to Nagaland,” he said.

“We hope to strengthen the Congress and take the country forward,” he said.

Tharoor submitted five forms with 50 signatures of Congress delegates.

He also released a manifesto to reiterate the core ideology of the party in which he made a strong pitch for decentralisation of the party going forward.

However, the manifesto launch created a controversy as India’s map shown in it did not appear accurate as some parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were omitted. The BJP was quick to hit out at him, but his office later said the map has been corrected.

“I have just submitted my nomination papers as a candidate for the presidential      Tharoor said he believes that a fresh leader, who has not been “jaded by being entrenched within the current system for too long”, could energise the party and also appeal to more voters than the Congress managed to during the last few elections.

He also said he hopes that the Gandhi family will recognise that they are and remain the foelection of @incindia. It is a privilege to serve the only party in India with an open democratic process to choose its leader. Greatly appreciate Soniaji’s guidance and vision,” Tharoor tweeted after filing his nomination.

In an interview with PTI, Tharoor said it is apparent that not everything about the electoral process has been ideal, but added that there is no point seeking perfection now as if one wants to play the match, one has to “bat on the available pitch”.

He, however, asserted that he remains convinced of the party’s commitment towards ensuring that these elections take place in a free and fair manner.

undational pillar of the Congress, “our moral conscience and ultimate guiding spirit”.

They cannot and must not withdraw from that role, whatever the formal designations they choose to retain, Tharoor said.

Asked about the concerns raised by him and some other MPs over the fairness and transparency of polls, Tharoor said they had raised certain practical and process-related queries regarding the upcoming elections before the chairperson of the party’s Central Election Authority.

He said the queries have since been addressed by Madhusudan Mistry and he appreciates the constructive manner in which the party’s poll panel chief reached out personally to discuss these issues at length.

“It is apparent that not everything about the process has been ideal, but don’t forget we have not had a contested election in two decades. There is no point seeking perfection now: if you want to play the match, you have to bat on the available pitch” he said.

“In some quarters it has been suggested that there will be an ‘official candidate’ backed by the leadership but on the contrary, it has been repeatedly stressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in my conversations with them over the last two weeks that the Nehru-Gandhi family welcomes these elections, that they would like to see a diverse field of candidates contesting and are neither directly nor indirectly backing any one candidate,” Tharoor said.

He said he was happy to accept their assurances and remains convinced of the commitment of the party towards ensuring that these elections take place in a free and fair manner.  (PTI)