Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor are among the three contestants in the Congress presidential election as the process to file nominations ended at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Former Jharkhand Minister K.N. Tripathi is the third candidate while former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh opted out in favour of Mr. Kharge.
First in 22 years
For the Congress, it is a first in the past 22 years not to have a member of the Gandhi family in the party presidential polls.
Given his loyalty to the Gandhi family and political experience of 50 years, Mr. Kharge emerged as the ‘establishment candidate’ with top leaders such as Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, party veterans A.K. Antony, Ambika Soni, Ajay Maken and Mukul Wasnik proposing his name for the party’s top post.
Show of unity
The 80-year-old leader’s nomination also became a show of unity and strength for the Congress as leaders such as Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan and Manish Tewari, who were part of the ginger group called G-23 that had sought internal reforms in 2020, became proposers of the candidate backed by the Gandhi family and were present at the nomination filing.
If elected, Mr. Kharge will be the second Congress president from Karnataka after S. Nijalingappa, and also a Dalit leader to hold the post after Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Asked to comment about the label of an ‘establishment’ candidate, Mr. Tharoor called it a sign of “status quo” in the party and appealed to the 9,000 plus delegates to vote for him if they wanted to end the “high command culture”.
Madhusudan Mistry, chairman of the Central Election Authority that is tasked with conducting the internal polls, told reporters that “no candidate can claim to have the blessings of the Gandhi family”.
Asked if the Gandhis would abstain from voting for the sake of neutrality, Mr. Mistry said it was up to them (Gandhi family) but arrangements would be made at the party headquarters for the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members to vote on October 17. If required, voting will take place across all the State units, counting and declaration of results will take place in Delhi two days later, on October 19.
Sharing details of the nomination process, Mr. Mistry said there were 14 sets of nomination for Mr. Kharge, five sets in favour of Mr. Tharoor and one set for Mr. Tripathi.
“I was encouraged by all leaders, party workers and delegates from key States to contest the elections,” Mr. Kharge said after filing his papers, as he thanked the leaders who were present during his nomination filing.
Part of Plan B
Though the Congress has been stressed on the neutrality of the high command, The Hindu last Tuesday reported that Mr. Kharge was part of Plan B of the Gandhis. Following the revolt by Rajasthan lawmakers against the high command’s decision to announce Sachin Pilot as Mr. Gehlot’s successor, once the Congress veteran had filed his nomination for the party’s top job, there was a rethink.
On Thursday, Mr. Gehlot formally bowed out of the presidential poll after a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. A series of meetings followed between top leaders, including Mr. Antony, Mr. Wasnik, party general secretary K.C. Venugopal among others in which Mr. Kharge emerged as the top contender.
Mr. Venugopal is reported to have “conveyed” the high command’s message that Mr. Kharge should contest.
“I asked him [Mr. Kharge] yesterday if he wanted to contest but then he had said that he wouldn’t contest. When I learnt from the press, I met him again this morning and told him I am with you,” Mr. Singh told reporters while withdrawing his candidature.
Mr. Tharoor, whose name has been proposed by at least four Lok Sabha members including Karti Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu) and M.K. Raghavan (Kerala), responded to the label of an ‘official candidate’.
“In some quarters it has been suggested that there will be an ‘official candidate’ backed by the leadership but on the contrary, it has been repeatedly stressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in my conversations with them over the last two weeks that the Nehru-Gandhi family welcomes these elections,” Mr. Tharoor said, while describing his rival as ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of the Congress.