As sections within the Congress see his four-day Kerala tour as a self-projection exercise or “parallel activity”, Shashi Tharoor today said such talk was “bizarre”. “I am very curious to know as to what is ‘parallel’,” said the Thiruvananthapuram MP who last month stood against the Gandhis-backed veteran Mallikarjun Kharge in the party chief’s election.

“Certainly I have the freedom to speak at a college or at a civil services academy. I’ve been doing that and no one can stop me from doing that,” he said, speaking to NDTV on the last day of his tour that covered parts of North Kerala.

“I am a free citizen of a free republic,” added the former diplomat, who was among 23 Congress leaders who’d sought leadership reforms in a letter to Sonia Gandhi in 2020.

“I am not saying anything against the Congress or what the party stands for,” he stressed. “I’m resolutely against factionalism. I have, in fact, not joined any of the famous groups in the party since the day I joined politics. Nor do I intend to join or start a group. I am interested in a united Congress party,” he added.

About sections within the party saying he’s carrying out the “parallel activity” to project himself as Kerala’s pre-eminent Congress leader ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and the 2026 state polls, he said, “It’s one of the most bizarre charges I’ve heard.”

On whether he’s projecting himself as a mass leader or the chief ministerial face much ahead of the 2026 state polls, he said, “No one can project themselves as anything. That’s for the masses to decide. Either they want you or they don’t.” 

The Congress has not officially objected to Mr Tharoor’s solo act, but one leader put out a not-so-veiled warning, without naming him. “The Congress in Kerala can’t afford any more parallel activities… After suffering two drubbings in the assembly polls, the party is on a comeback mode,” VD Satheesan, a senior state Congress leader, has said.

Mr Tharoor, a three-time Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram, said he’s attending a series of events to which he’s been invited, including some that have “nothing to do with politics”.

“When I am in the region, I also have to show basic political courtesy,” added the 66-year-old, who got a rousing welcome at the Kannur Congress office. Sunny Joseph, a Congress MLA from Kannur district, said, “The party general secretary in charge of Kerala has clarified this is not a parallel activity.”

The region happens to be far away from his Lok Sabha segment that’s in the deep south of the state.

About why he was not campaigning in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls, Mr Tharoor had said yesterday, “Football teaches us that every sport should he played with sportsmanship spirit. Shouldn’t we see politics also in a sporting spirit? The umpire is not out with a red card yet. Himachal and Gujarat elections didn’t have my name as star campaigners. We can go only when our names are there.”

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