By filing his nomination as Congress president on Friday, Shashi Tharoor has shown he is no ’quockerwodger' -- a word he introduced into our lexicon which means someone acting on the instructions of an influential third party.
In fact, the bestseller author, wordsmith, former UN diplomat and social media ’pioneer' with 8.3 million followers has demonstrated he is quite the opposite of a quockerwodger, a politically loaded term for a wooden puppet, and is instead independent minded, making moves on his own terms.
As speculation over who would be in the race for the Congress president mounted and most of his party colleagues demurred, Tharoor was the first off the block to declare that he would contest.
The 66-year-old filed his nomination at the office of the Congress's central election authority Madhusudan Mistry on Friday, the last day of the nomination process for the top post in the party long dominated by the Gandhi family.
Tharoor, seen as a rebel and one of the group of 23 leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking large scale reforms, now takes on veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, widely seen to be backed by senior leaders and tipped to win.
”... the longer the Congress waits to get its act together, the greater the risk of a steady erosion of our traditional vote bank and their gravitation towards our political competitors.
”Which is why I have long been an outspoken advocate for free and transparent elections within the party, including for the post of president,” the forthright former Union minister told PTI.
Those who have followed Tharoor's career path say two things -- he is full of surprises and up for a fight without being deterred by the odds stacked against him.
Born in London in 1956, Tharoor graduated with an honours in history from Delhi's prestigious St Stephen's College where he was also the president of the student's union. He did his masters from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, US, and completed a PhD from there in 1978.
Defying the politician stereotype, Tharoor went on to have a distinguished career in the UN. During his stint at the UN, he shouldered several key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and serving as senior adviser to the secretary-general, in addition to his role as under-secretary general for communications and public information.
Tharoor, who was chosen as India's official candidate for the post of secretary general, finished second of seven candidates in the 2006 election, which was won by former South Korean diplomat and politician Ban Ki-moon.
His stomach for a fight against daunting odds was perhaps first displayed in that electoral fight. Three years later, he retired as an international civil servant and made a lateral entry into politics in 2009 to be elected as MP from Thiruvananthapuram for the first time on a Congress ticket.
Though his political journey began at 53, he took giant strides as a politician after winning the Lok Sabha election.
His candidacy was opposed by a section of leaders of the Kerala Congress who viewed him as an outsider. Tharoor, however, won by a comfortable margin over his nearest opponent from the Communist Party of India.
He was appointed Union minister of state for external affairs in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Tharoor is a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. He was India's most-followed politician on Twitter till 2013 when he was overtaken by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The often outspoken politician, making headlines for his politics and sometimes also for throwing little-used words that have his Twitter followers reaching for the dictionary, finds himself at the centre of controversy every now and then.
In 2009, for instance, in the early days of his political career, he made a comment about travelling ’cattle class' for which he had to apologise.
He was also accused of having a questionable interest in a cricket team from the Kerala city of Kochi while he was a minister. He resigned from the MEA in April 2010.
His personal life saw a tragic turn in January 2014 when his wife Sunanda Pushkar was found dead in a suite of a luxury hotel here. The couple was staying in the hotel as Tharoor's official bungalow of Tharoor was being renovated at the time.
Tharoor was later charged under section 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code by Delhi Police. A Delhi court discharged him in the case last year.
The year of his wife's death was also when he won a second Lok Sabha term from Thiruvananthapuram, swimming against the tide of a massive Narendra Modi wave. However, his victory margin came down from a staggering 99,998 votes in 2009 to over 15,000.
In 2019, he won the seat for a third time, defeating his main rival and BJP-NDA candidate Kummanam Rajashekharan by a margin of 99,989 votes.
In July 2020, Tharoor crossed a milestone by becoming the longest-serving parliamentarian representing the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. Tharoor broke the record of Congress's A Charles, who represented the constituency for 4,047 days from 1984 to 1991.
An active parliamentarian and amongst the best orators in the House, Tharoor has also been chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs and is currently chair of the parliamentary panel on information and technology and communications. However, it has been reported that the government has decided to take the chair-ship of the panel from the Congress.
Always known to speak his mind, the G-23 leader has reiterated time and again that his sole intention of being among the signatories to the letter to Sonia Gandhi was reform of the party. However, he has been treated by many in the party as a sort of a rebel with many Gandhi loyalists attacking him from time to time.
Tharoor has been a prolific writer and authored about 23 books, including The Great Indian Novel, An Era of Darkness, Why I Am A Hindu and The Paradoxical Prime Minister.
He has also won several awards and bestowed with prestigious honours such as the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best Book of the Year in the Eurasian Region for The Great Indian Novel, Spain's Commander of the Order of Charles III by King of Spain, the Sahitya Akademi Award for his book An Era of Darkness as well as France's Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.
Tharoor's hope in the polls is best summed up by the lines of Urdu poet Majrooh Sultanpuri which the MP had tweeted this week -- Mein akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar log saath aate gaye aur karvaan banta gaya (I began my journey alone, people joined in and the caravan kept on growing)."