Congress president Rahul Gandhiâ€™s veiled threat to his partyâ€™s high-profile MP and former minister Shashi Tharoor that he will not hesitate to take action against party leaders whose statements weaken the partyâ€™s â€œbigger fightsâ€ is an apt warning against going overboard in his public statements.
Some recent statements of Tharoor have gone over the hump of permissibility and it is good that Rahul has cried a stop to such open expressions of malice against the BJP. Tharoorâ€™s observation in a newspaper article that â€œit seems safe in many places these days to be a cow than a Muslimâ€ was one such glaring example of indiscreetness which tended to fan the flames of hatred between communities.
Tharoor is apparently angry with the BJP because he has recently been charged by the CBI with abetment in the suicide of his wife Sunanda Pushkar, a socialite who was found dead mysteriously in a five-star hotel in New Delhi. But this is no way to vent oneâ€™s pique.
In recent days, Tharoor has said that if the BJP wins in 2019, India's Constitution won't survive. Victory in the general elections will give the BJP "all the elements they need to tear apart the Constitution of India and write a new one. That will remove equality for minorities, that willÂ create a Hindu Pakistan..," he added.
That was impolitic and hitting BJP below the belt in a milieu in which the Congress is doing everything possible to win back favour with the majority Hindu community after it was mauled in general elections across the country in 2014. It is now felt in the higher echelons of the Congress that the party was made to pay a price by the electorate for going too far with minority appeasement.
That accounts for Rahul Gandhi going out of his way in visiting Hindu temples in Gujarat and invoking the blessings of Hindu gods and seers in Karnataka during Assembly elections in the two key states and toning down his pro-minorities rhetoric.
Rahul evidently feels that Shashi Tharoorâ€™s indiscretion would not go down well with the Hindus and would thereby sour the pitch for the Congress party.
The newly-anointed president of the Congress is no messiah of circumspection and moderation either but he does now realize which side his bread is buttered.
Before the Gujarat Assembly elections, Rahul had suspended Mani Shankar Aiyar, a veteran party leader, who called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "neech aadmi". Aiyar had later apologised to try and prevent any damage to the party but the damage nevertheless was done as the results showed. What made matters worse for the Congress was the clever manner in which Prime Minister Modi exploited Aiyarâ€™s slur to arouse the voters.
The stakes in the 2019 polls being very high, Rahul does not want the BJP to capitalize on Tharoorâ€™s indiscreet statements which can be interpreted as not only being anti-Hindu but also bordering on anti-national. Consequently, his warning on exercising caution in making statements is not only to Tharoor without naming him personally but to other partymen too in the same breath.
Rahul is also keen to be seen as a tough leader who can wield the stick if required even against a party leader who commands wide acceptance in the party.
But Rahul has a surfeit of challenges to grapple with as he sits comfortably ensconced in the party presidentâ€™s â€˜gaddi.â€™The most daunting is the authority vested in him to work out pre-poll and post-poll alliances without giving in too much to so-called allies.
In a situation in which many parties are sceptical about accepting him as leader of a major alliance, he has to use tact and diplomacy, an area in which he is clearly deficient.
The cold reality is that Rahul has been catapulted to a position for which he seemed ill-equipped. But it is not unknown for a mediocre leader to be propped up by circumstances in his favour. A lot would also depend on what type of account the BJP gives of itself in coming days.