The debate on ‘one man, one post’ is unnecessary, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said on Friday as he formally announced his candidature for the Congress presidential election since “nobody from the Gandhi family is contesting”.
Mr. Gehlot said the decision on finding his successor to head the Rajasthan government would be taken by party president Sonia Gandhi and Congress’ Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken.
Mr. Gehlot also added that once the presidential contest was over, all the leaders would work together to strengthen the party. “Given the situation in the country today, it’s important for the Opposition to become strong and I won’t spare any effort in trying to do so. I would want that all our Congress colleagues, even those who are contesting elections, work together to strengthen the party organisation at the block level, village, district and at the State level on the basis of our ideology,” he said.
Mr. Gehlot’s message can be interpreted as an attempt to reach out to Shashi Tharoor, the Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram, who is expected to be his main rival in the presidential race.
Speaking to presspersons in Shirdi, Mr. Gehlot said his statements on wanting to serve the people of Rajasthan were being interpreted in different ways. “This debate is unnecessary. I have remained silent. If the media is to be believed, I do not want to relinquish the post of Chief Minister,” Mr. Gehlot said, adding “But for sure, I have said this even today and will maintain this even after I fill the nomination form that I belong to Rajasthan. I would like to serve the State for my lifetime. What is wrong in saying this? People take a different meaning out of this. Media interprets it.”
Earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters at the Kochi airport after participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Mr. Gehlot made it official that he had joined the fray since Rahul Gandhi made it clear to him that “none from the Gandhi family will be contesting”.
“I will decide the date of my filing nomination after I return but it is decided that I will contest. It is about inner party democracy and we are making a new beginning,” Mr. Gehlot said.
On Friday, the party also tried to reinforce its stance of ‘neutrality’ as party communications chief Jairam Ramesh cautioned spokespersons and panellists against taking sides publicly or commenting on any candidate.
Mr. Ramesh’s warning follows a Twitter thread by party spokesperson Gourav Vallabh who had slammed Mr. Tharoor for writing a letter to Ms. Gandhi as part of G-23 or the ginger group that was pushing for internal reforms since August 2020.
“I would strongly urge all spokespersons and office-bearers of the Communications Department of the AICC to refrain from making any comment of any kind on any colleague of ours contesting the elections for the post of Congress president,” Mr. Ramesh said in an internal note.
He added that people may have individual preferences but as official spokespersons, they must stress the fact that the Congress was the only political party to have “a democratic and transparent system in place for election to the post of its president”.
As per the party’ poll schedule, the process of filing nominations will start on Saturday and will be open until September 30. Polling will be held on October 17, if there is more than one candidate. Counting of votes and the declaration of results would be on October 19.