Liberals' support for Shashi Tharoor as Congress' 2019 face shows they've learnt zero lessons from election debacles

An online petition is calling for Dr Shashi Tharoor to be made UPA's PM candidate in 2019

As Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi continues tanking on the stage of electoral politics, the search for a more popular leadership face seems to have already begun, at least among Congress sympathisers. The grand old party of Indian politics managed a hands down majority in just one of out five states. In both Manipur and Goa state assemblies, the party returned as the largest party but is failing to find support from reluctant local parties which are preferring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

An online petition on is calling on Congress leadership to nominate Dr Shashi Tharoor as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2019 national elections. The petitioner, Paul Trivandrum from Tharoor’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency, says on his page that once the petition gets 10,000 signatures, he would present it to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The petition lists Tharoor’s achievements in diplomacy and as an author to argue a case for him. While Tharoor does have an illustrious public life and academic record, he somewhat lacks the credentials of a mass leader. To be fair to the former foreign affairs minister, he has never really been pitched as a leader by Congress leadership.

Here are a few reasons why Tharoor is not really the mass leader Congress is looking for at the moment.

1. He comes from the same privileged class that voters so emphatically rejected in the recently concluded assembly elections. Born in London, educated at the best of Indian institutions before moving to the US and then taking up a job at the United Nations, Tharoor doesn’t have a political background that voters these days are getting attracted to.

Congress supporters need to realise that the future leadership to tide the party over these disruptive political times has to come from anywhere but supporters of Nehru-Gandhi family, like it has happened until now. The Indian voter looks up to the leader they can connect with. Only a per cent of Indian voters—to be overly optimistic—would identify with Tharoor’s upbringing!

Tharoor discoursing on education.

(Source: Youtube/ Tedx Talks)

2. Tharoor has been an MP from an urban constituency of Thiruvananthapuram. His experience in interacting with crowds from rural constituencies, where 70 per cent of India’s population lives, could be seriously called into question.

3. He is relatively new to Indian politics. He is just a two-term MP from Thiruvananthapuram, which has one of more progressive-minded populations among Indian states. Tharoor possesses even less political experience than Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi—the widely-panned Congress vice-president who is the current favourite to become UPA’s next Prime Ministerial candidate.

Tharoor speaking in Parliament on a road project in his home constituency.

(Source: Youtube/Dr Shashi Tharoor Official)

4. While his record in public life and diplomacy speaks for itself, it doesn’t automatically make him a mass leader. He may be high-profile due to the vocal stand he has taken against British imperialism and reparations, but Tharoor doesn’t really compare to leaders like Sachin Pilot of Rajasthan and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah when it comes to connecting with the people.

Tharoor’s speech in which he argues why Britain owes reparations to India.

(Source: Youtube/Oxford Union)

Having followers on social media and authored critically-acclaimed books doesn’t make Tharoor a nationally accepted leader. The realities on the ground are different from the rosy and judgmental world of Twitter and Facebook.

5. Leave aside the masses, Tharoor may well find it hard to connect with Congress workers across the length and breadth of India, specifically in the north Indian states. A series of recent election defeats and lack of inspirational leadership has left the cadre demotivated.

A Congress leader from Goa on Monday was seen on television questioning Rahul Gandhi and the party high-command for not being quick enough to stake claim to form the government in Goa, where the party returned as single largest party in the just concluded assembly elections. Such is the level of disconnect between Congress’ Delhi-based leadership and the states. Unfortunately for Tharoor’s image, he is viewed as coming from the same plush class of leadership as Gandhi.

A Congress needs a populist like Modi to counter the Modi wave. Tharoor may not be the leader who could be the face of Congress in such challenging political times.

Tharoor is often seen as part of debate panels, less so at public rallies.

(Source: Youtube/ Dr Shashi Tharoor Official)