Listen to this article:
New Delhi: With nominations for the post of Congress president now closed, the final candidates contesting the party’s organisation election are now set. The election will be contested by leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, Thiruvanantapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and Jharkhand Congress leader K.N. Tripathi.
Kharge appeared to be a clear favourite for the Congress presidential election as a galaxy of leaders were present by his side when he filed his nomination papers at the AICC headquarters here.
“I thank senior leaders from all states for supporting me in the Congress presidential election,” Kharge told reporters at the AICC office after filing his nomination.
Earlier, it was thought that MP Digvijaya Singh would be the one to contest against Tharoor, however, after Kharge’s candidature came to be known, reportedly as the “official” candidate after being told to do so by the party’s high command, Singh pulled out of the race and proposed Kharge’s nomination instead.
Apart from Singh, Kharge’s nomination was proposed by Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, earlier considered to be the favourite to win before the Rajasthan political flashpoint, as well as Pramod Tiwari, P.L. Punia, A.K. Antony, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Mukul Wasnik and G-23 leaders Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari, according to news agency ANI.
In addition to Tharoor and Kharge, Jharkhand Congress leader K.N. Tripathi was a surprise late entrant into the race, who filed his nomination Friday afternoon.
The polls are slated to take place on October 17.
After filing his nomination, Tharoor called Kharge and emphasised to reporters that the contest between them will be a friendly one. “We are not enemies nor rivals,” Tharoor said.
On talk that Kharge was the “official” candidate of the Gandhis, Tharoor said, “I am not surprised that the establishment is rallying behind the status quo. If you want the status quo, I think you should vote for Mr. Kharge. If you want change and progress with an eye to the rest of the 21st century, then I hope I will stand for that change.”
According to the sources cited by NDTV, Kharge emerged as the party high command’s “official” candidate, as All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary K.C. Venugopal reportedly told Kharge last night that the top brass wanted him to join the contest.
Tharoor, however, junked the claim, repeating that the Gandhis are “neither directly nor indirectly” supporting any one candidate.
In an ostensible attempt to establish his Hindi credentials, Tharoor also spoke at length in Hindi. Given that both Tharoor and Kharge are from the South, this emphasis may be needed to woo the many party members who will vote in the election coming from India’s Hindi-speaking areas.
Rajasthan crisis and Gehlot’s withdrawal
Gehlot was being considered the favourite to become the next Congress national president. However, in line with the party’s ‘one person, one vote’ policy, he would be required to step down from his post as Rajasthan chief minister.
Sachin Pilot, a long-standing rival of Gehlot’s was thought to be the favourite to succeed him as chief minister, but MLAs loyal to Gehlot were against the move.
On September 25, party observers Kharge and Ajay Maken were in Rajasthan to attend a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting convened for passing a resolution authorising the Congress chief to appoint a successor to the chief minister. However, 82 MLAs refused to attend this meeting, participating in a parallel meeting at the home of Rajasthan assembly speaker C.P. Joshi instead.
At the parallel meeting, the MLAs put forth conditions for the selection of the next chief minister, noting that the decision should be left until after the Congress organisational election, that Gehlot should have a say in the matter, and that the person selected should be someone from Gehlot’s camp.
While the CLP meeting was attended by Pilot and his camp, it was a washout and the observers had to return to Delhi without conducting the meeting. This earned disciplinary action for three of the rebel MLAs, however, no action was taken against Gehlot who, at the time, said the events were not in his hands.
Thereafter, on Thursday, after a meeting with interim party chief Sonia Gandhi, Gehlot took moral responsibility for the rebellion and announced that he would not be contesting the polls for party president.
Gehlot also said that the decision on whether or not he would remain as the chief minister of Rajasthan will rest with Gandhi, following which Venugopal noted that the decision will be taken in a day or two.
Following this, Pilot too met with Gandhi. According to a report in the Indian Express, Pilot said that the Rajasthan situation was discussed in detail during the meeting, and noted that the party’s success in next year’s assembly polls in the state remains the top priority.
Thursday also saw Singh collect the nomination forms for the organisational election, after which he met fellow contestant Tharoor who said that the contest will be “not a battle between rivals but a friendly contest” among colleagues.
Tharoor had already announced his decision to contest the polls earlier.
I agree @ShashiTharoor we are fighting the Communal Forces in India. Both believe in the Gandhian Nehruvian Ideology and shall fight them relentlessly come what may. Best wishes. @INCIndia @RahulGandhi @priyankagandhi @Jairam_Ramesh https://t.co/5KHn6P8Yug
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) September 29, 2022
Meanwhile, a meeting also took place among the G-23 leaders of the party, and sources cited in the Express report said that they had not ruled out the possibility of one of them contesting the election either, in the event of the party leadership fielding a “proxy” candidate.
This story, first published at 10.20 am on September 30, 2022, was republished at 5.34 pm on the same day with details on the three candidates.