Multi-cornered contest on cards as more leaders eye Congress chief post; Rahul unlikely to be in fray | India News

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NEW DELHI: The race for the Congress president’s post is likely to turn into a multi-cornered contest as the party on Thursday set the ball rolling for electing the successor to its longest-serving chief Sonia Gandhi
After senior leaders Ashok Gehlot and Shashi Tharoor, party spokesperson Manish Tewari has expressed his desire to contest the upcoming elections for the top Congress post, according to sources. The list of contenders may grow further as leaders like Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh are also speculated to throw their hat in the ring.
Meanwhile, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has all but ruled himself out of the race, parried questions about his participation in the election but spoke about the responsibility the post represents.
Here is the latest on the upcoming elections …
Now, Manish Tewari eyeing Cong president post?
Former Union minister Manish Tewari is the latest among the list of contenders speculated to be in the fray.
Sources close to the Sri Anandpur Sahib MP said on Thursday that he is considering throwing his hat in the ring after Sonia Gandhi made it clear that anybody can run in the poll.
Tewari’s consideration to contest comes amid the reports of several party top leaders being in the fray.
Tewari is part of the G-23, a group of dissenters who had written to Sonia Gandhi seeking reforms in the party.
According to reports, other leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath are also considering nominating themselves for the elections. Singh is expected to meet party interim chief Sonia Gandhi later today.
So far, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor are said to be the top contendors for the post.
Rahul’s message for Gehlot, Pilot
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday sent out a clear message to Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his rival Sachin Pilot that the party is expected to follow the “one-man, one-post” pledge taken at the chintan shivir in Udaipur this year.
Rahul’s remark comes a day after Gehlot indicated that he would hold on to the chief minister’s post even if he becomes the party president.
Party sources said that Gehlot, 71, fears he will be replaced by his former deputy Sachin Pilot, whose rebellion nearly brought down his government in 2020.
Earlier, Digvijaya Singh had reiterated that if Gehlot becomes the party chief, he would “have to quit as CM, as per the Udaipur declaration”.
Rahul’s affirmation to the Udaipur pledge is seen as a setback for Gehlot, who may have to choose between the presidency and the chief minister’s post in case he wins. On the other hand, it was a big boost for Pilot, who has been eyeing the CM’s post in Rajasthan since the Congress came to power in 2018.
An ‘advice’ to contenders
Rahul dodged questions about his own participation in the coming elections, but gave a piece of advice to whoever goes on to hold the post.
He said that whoever becomes the president of the party should remember that the post represents a set of ideas, a belief system and a vision of India.
Another piece of advice he had for the contestants in the party’s presidential polls was that “you are taking a historic position. A position that defines and has defined a particular view of India.”
Though Rahul has not specifically ruled himself out of the contest, the Gandhi scion’s Bharat Jodo Yatra schedule indicates he may not contest after all.
The nomination process for the elections will begin on September 24 and conclude on September 30. The leaders who wish to participate in the elections will have to phyiscally submit the forms in Delhi.
Since Rahul has a packed schedule during those dates and is unexpected to be in the national capital, it is all but clear that he is out of the fray for now.
Sonia neutral but is Gehlot the party pick?
It has long been speculated that Gehlot would be the leadership’s choice for the post if Rahul declines to participate in the race.
In a first indicator of leaders taking sides, party spokesperson Gourav Vallabh voiced explicit support for Gehlot.
“Like crores of workers, my first wish is that Rahul Gandhi ji should provide his leadership to the Congress and the country. But if Rahul Gandhi ji remains steadfast on his decision (of not taking up the Congress chief post) and one has to choose between the two names that are appearing in public discussion, then there is no comparison between the two,” Vallabh said.
On one hand, there is Ashok Gehlot who has the experience of being a Union minister, three times chief minister, five times MP, five times MLA, and who has defeated Modi-Shah in a direct contest and who has had 45 years of “spotless” political life, Vallabh said.
However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have told both Gehlot and Tharoor that she would remain “neutral” in the polls.
Cong kicks off process
Kicking off the month-long process, the Congress’s central election authority on Thursday issued notification for the AICC president polls.
According to the notification issued by the party’s central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry, the process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30.
The scrutiny of the nomination papers would take place on October 1, while the last date of withdrawal of nominations would be October 8. The final list of candidates would be published at 5pm on October 8.
Polling, if required, will take place on October 17. The counting of votes and the declaration of results would be on October 19.
Over 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee delegates will vote in the polls. The party had also assured leaders that those wanting to file nomination will be able see the list of all 9,000 delegates from the office of central election authority at the AICC office from September 20.
This will be the first time in over two decades that the grand old party will see a contest for the post of party chief.
Sonia Gandhi is the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi took over.
The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000. Jitendra Prasada had lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2000 and prior to that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997.
With Rahul Gandhi likely to stick to his stance of not taking on the mantle of party president again, it seems the party will have its first non-Gandhi president in over two decades.
(With inputs from agencies)

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