Congress leader Shashi Tharoor's ongoing Malabar tour to attend various programmes and meet public figures seems to have rattled a significant section of Congress in Kerala with a few of them sensing an "agenda" behind the Thiruvananthapuram MP's move.
In an indication of the emergence of a new "Tharoor group" in the state Congress, his supporters have come out openly against those leaders who had allegedly imposed an "unannounced ban" on a seminar on "Sangh Parivar and Challenges to Secularism" organised by the Youth Congress here on Sunday.
The Tharoor supporters, led by those including Kozhikode MP M K Raghavan, however, refused to budge to the alleged diktat of the top leaders by organising a grand seminar on the same topic under the banner of "the Kozhikode Jawahar Youth Foundation".
Besides, Raghavan also urged the party leadership to launch an inquiry into the incident to find out who was responsible for imposing an unannounced ban on Tharoor's programme organised by the Youth Congress.
An elated Tharoor on Monday posted a video of him getting a rousing welcome from the Youth Congress workers in Kozhikode on his Twitter handle. "Wonderful welcome by @iyc activists in Kozhikode after some came under pressure not to provide me a platform", he wrote on top of the video.
Tharoor's 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 CPI(M)-led LDF in the state.
As the issue continued to boil in the Congress's state unit, senior party leader and Vatakara MP K Muraleedharan threw his weight behind his Thiruvananthapuram counterpart and said there was a "conspiracy" behind cancelling of an event, by Youth Congress, which Tharoor was to attend.
With senior leaders starting to issue statements in favour of Tharoor, KPCC chief K Sudhakaran on Monday barred the party leaders from airing their opinions publicly.
He also termed as baseless the reports that Tharoor was barred from attending public events. "Tharoor has also denied it", Sudhakaran said.
Earlier in the day, Muraleedharan, former president of the KPCC and son of legendary Congress leader K Karunakaran, said the restriction on Congress members participating in the event may have been imposed by some who desire to be the party's chief minister candidate in Kerala and may have been feeling threatened by Tharoor's activities in the state.
"The restriction may have been created by those who are desirous to be chief minister candidate of the party. I have no such desires; hence I am not bothered by his activities. But that is not the case for everyone."
"There may be those threatened by his activities, why else would they conspire to create such an issue? In any case, the KPCC president has made it clear there is no restriction on attending such events," he said.
Muraleedharan said "what happened should not have happened" and that everyone should ensure it is not repeated.
"There was strong pressure from above and due to that they (Youth Congress) withdrew the event to which they themselves had invited Tharoor. I know the reason for the same, but I do not wish to disclose or discuss it in public," he added.
According to Muraleedharan, such actions would not help the party activities or work in the state and added that party MLA and Youth Congress state president Shafi Parambil had no role in it and people much above him were involved.
However, a powerful section of the Congress in the state is upset over Tharoor's "Malabar tour", particularly in view of his rising popularity among youth and students.
"There is an agenda behind his move", a top Congress leader, who did not wish to be identified, told PTI. He claimed that setting aside their differences, all senior leaders from the state are together against Tharoor's bid to establish himself in the state Congress.
Party MP Raghavan on Sunday had requested PCC chief Sudhakaran to carry out an inquiry into the incident to find out who was responsible for what happened.
Raghavan had said that if an inquiry was initiated, he would hand over material he has regarding what happened.
If no inquiry is conducted, then he will have no option but to raise the issue and make revelations about the same at all the party meetings he attends.
Kickstarting his Malabar tour on Sunday, Tharoor met Malayalam literary stalwart and Jnanpith laureate M T Vasudevan Nair in Kozhikode. He had also paid a visit to the family of his friend and once parliament colleague M V Shreyams Kumar to express condolences on the loss of his mother.
On Monday, he also attended a function in the Kannur district to felicitate noted Malayalam writer T Padmanabhan.
Tharoor is also expected to meet leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key ally of the Congress-led UDF, during his Malabar tour.
On Sunday, Muraleedharan, reacting to the incident in Kozhikode, had said there were no restrictions on any Congress member or leader from attending events organised by the party.
In his statement, PCC Chief Sudhakaran said Congress is a party that totally ensures internal democracy.
The public response is not good for the party at all. "Leaders should refrain from actions that bring disrespect to the Congress in the public eye regarding the Shashi Tharoor issue", he said.
Sudhakaran also clarified that Tharoor, a senior leader, has no impediment to participating in official party programmes in consultation with the concerned district congress committees.
He added the controversies around Tharoor's Malabar tour were media creation and urged the leaders and workers to be careful to distance themselves from such "false propaganda."