A contest for the party’s presidency is set to take place after two decades. Among the likely contenders are Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan, and Shashi Tharoor, the MP of Thiruvananthapuram.
It’s a busy time at the Congress headquarters as the race for the presidential nomination intensifies – a mega Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) by Rahul Gandhi in South India and hectic visitations in the capital.
Considering how battered and bruised the party has been, it’s not surprising a buzz is building. Politicians have sarcastically mocked and vilified Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. Congress appears to be taking on the BJP head-on this time, as dynastic politics is the core of the BJP attacks directed at Congress.
The party is moving towards electing a new president, and it will not be a Gandhi. Two years after rebels cried out for a full-time president, the party is now moving toward an election. Earlier this week, the central election authority of the Congress party announced the start of the election process for the successor to Sonia Gandhi, the party’s longest-serving leader.
The contrast between the two candidates could not be starker. Ashok Gehlot has a solid reputation as a Gandhi family loyalist, a yes-man, and a grassroots activist. Politically experienced and an organizational leader, he has been a prominent member of the Congress party.
A master of English and an erudite speaker, Tharoor is an international figure of renown. However, his stint in Congress only began in 2009. Gehlot has been hailed as a true Gandhian since he started almost thirty years ago.
Ashok Gehlot and Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor appear on a collision course. They are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of their personality. Gehlot, however, has been positioned as a hot favourite far in advance of his likely opponent Shashi Tharoor based on his stature, experience, and mass following. Congress loyalists have begun to label Shashi Tharoor as an ‘international man’ and a relative outsider.
Congress MLAs against Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor’s home turf, Kerala, has been the most critical of his possible presidentship. Many leaders at home have threatened him with a boycott and have been unrelenting in their criticism. A KPCC leader said Tharoor is a relative newcomer and should not be a candidate. He further added that it doesn’t matter if he (Tharoor) is from Kerela. They will only support the candidate who has been in Congress for a long time.
Surprisingly, Gaurav Vallabh, the party’s economics expert from Rajasthan, attacked Shashi Tharoor on Twitter. As a politician who is otherwise measured, Gaurav was clear about who to vote for. In a tweet, Vallabh said that it hurt the sentiments of party workers like him to have seen Shashi Tharoor’s only contribution to the party in the past eight years be letters sent to Sonia Gandhi when she was hospitalized. His remarks elaborated on Gehlot’s spotless political career as a ‘distinguished politician.’
While Congress takes pride in a free and fair internal election, Tharoor’s vilification is a stark reminder of how those who challenged the Gandhi family are treated.
A Third Candidate
It is rumoured that former Union Minister and MP Manish Tewari might also run for the position. In the wake of Sonia Gandhi’s announcement that anybody can participate in the elections, sources close to Tewari have said he is considering running for the position.
Several top leaders are reportedly interested in running for office, including Tewari. As a member of the G-23, Tewari sought reforms within the party in a letter to Sonia Gandhi. His candidacy is the only one on the table since veteran leader and group member Ghulam Nabi Azad exited this year on August 26.
Kamal Nath, Prithviraj Chavan, Siddaramaiah and Digvijaya Singh are possibly the other potential candidates.
From September 24 to 30, nominations will be accepted for the election. Nominations may be withdrawn until October 8; the election, if needed, will take place on October 17. On October 19, the results will be announced.
Despite the unrelenting demands from a section of Congress leaders, including Mr. Gehlot, Rahul Gandhi has firmly refused to return as president. Gandhi is said to be the unofficial decision-maker, and those who quit the party claim a coterie is running the show.
There have been competitions for prime space in states and among opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party due to the unchecked decline of the Congress. Gujarat’s elections are around the corner, and Kejriwal declared that the Congress was “finished” there.
After Narasimha Rao’s government was voted out in March 1998, Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress President from Sitaram Kesari. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Sonia Gandhi, who had decided to stay out of politics, joined Congress at a low point.