Congress MP Shashi Tharoor's outreach programmes in Kerala seem to have made the warring factions of the party's state unit set aside their differences and huddle together to check his bid to make inroads in the state unit, saying they were not "inflated balloons" and warned against any parallel activities in the organisation.
Unfazed by the intra-party rumblings over his Malabar tour, the suave politician went ahead with his programmes including meeting with top leaders of Indian Union Muslim League, a key partner of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, and said he was not afraid of anyone nor was he creating any group in the party.
Amid growing clout of Tharoor, particularly among youth and students in the state, Congress senior and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, VD Satheesan, said the party is on a comeback trail after two consecutive debacles in the assembly elections and it is not healthy enough to afford any more parallel activities by anyone.
Sources said a section of senior leaders of the party was upset with Tharoor's political move to position himself as a chief ministerial candidate in the 2026 assembly polls and it got reflected through Satheesan's hard hitting statement targeting the Thiruvananthapuram MP.
Although the leaders are not on same page on many matters related to the party, they have apparently come together to check Tharoor's larger political ambition in the state, they said.
However, Tharoor brushed aside with a smile, queries of the media whether Satheesan's remarks were aimed at him and announced he wants a "united Congress."
Earlier in the day, speaking to reporters at the residence of IUML chief Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal at Panakkad in Malappuram district, Tharoor said there were already enough 'A' and 'I' groups in Congress and there was no need to add any more alphabets like 'O' or 'V'.
"Some are saying it is (his tour) divisive tactics or groupism. We do not intend to create any group nor are we interested in it. Congress is already full of 'A' and 'I' groups and there is no need to add any more alphabets like 'O' and 'V'," he said.
"If there has to be an alphabet, it should be 'U' for a united Congress which is what we all need. There is nothing unusual about this visit. I fail to see the need to make a big deal out of two UDF MPs meeting an ally's leaders," Tharoor, accompanied by his staunch supporter and MP M K Raghavan, said.
The 'A' and 'I' groups in the Congress party in Kerala have been active since the days of late K Karunakaran and AK Antony, both former CMs.
In response to queries by the media as to who was afraid of his tour, Tharoor also said, "I do not fear anyone and there is no need for anyone to be afraid of me."
Satheesan, at a press conference in the state capital, responded to queries on Tharoor's Malabar tour, saying every leader has a space within the Congress and no one is against it, but insisted the party has its own mechanisms and systems.
"The Congress in Kerala is not at all healthy to afford any more parallel activities...after suffering two drubbings in the assembly polls, the party is on a comeback mode in the state. Everybody's working as a team now. At this time, no one will be allowed to do any parallel activities," he said.
He also accused a section of the media of "peddling stories with an agenda" to weaken the Congress in the southern state.
"We cannot accept the agenda of weakening the Congress party even if it is done by any media or social media. If anyone within the party has any role in this, it will be dealt with seriously," he said.
Satheesan said such false news reports could not destroy leaders like him as they were not "inflated balloons," who could be punctured with a pin prick.
Though mediapersons repeatedly asked whether Tharoor was an "inflated balloon", he declined to comment.
Tharoor too was of the view that the media was unnecessarily creating a hype over his visit to Thangal's residence or him meeting senior leaders of the IUML there.
The development comes a day after KPCC chief K Sudhakaran barred the party leaders from airing their opinions publicly on the matter.
The MP downplayed his visit and meeting with the IUML leaders by saying it was just a courtesy call on the way to an event in the district.
Other senior IUML leaders present there also termed his visit as nothing unusual and said they all go and meet Thangal whenever they pass through the area.
Tharoor also told reporters that at a time when divisive politics was active in the country, there was a need for politics which would bring together everyone and it was praiseworthy that IUML recently held programmes to promote brotherhood in Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
After meeting Tharoor, Thangal said his family has had close relations with the MP ever since he came to Kerala.
"He is invited to all important events, occasions. Therefore, when he was here, he came to meet us," Thangal said.
On being asked if he wants Tharoor to be active in Kerala politics, he said, "he is already active. He is an MP from Kerala. He won twice from here. He is not confined to Thiruvananthapuram. He is a good campaigner."
Tharoor's Malabar tour seems to have rattled a significant section in Congress in the state with a few of them sensing an "agenda" behind his move.
His opponents in the party feel that through his programmes he was trying to position himself as an ideal chief ministerial candidate of the Congress-led UDF for the 2026 Assembly polls to end the rule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front, which is in power in the state since 2016.
Congress MP K Muraleedharan, former president of the KPCC and son of legendary Congress leader Karunakaran, also indicated as much when he on Monday said the restriction on Congress members participating in an event to which Tharoor was invited may have been imposed by some who desire to be the party's CM candidate in Kerala and may have been feeling threatened by Tharoor's activities in the state.