As 9,500 Congress delegates across the country voted on October 17 to choose between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor as their next party chief, outgoing Congress president Sonia Gandhi said she had been “waiting” for this day for a long time.
For the first time in the past 24 years, no member of the Gandhi family is a candidate for the Congress party’s top post. While Mr. Tharoor pitched himself as the candidate for change, Mr. Kharge is being seen as the “establishment” candidate for his proximity to the Gandhi family.
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Several senior leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni, and Mukul Wasnik, asserted that the Gandhi family will continue to play an key role in the future.
Apart from being the interim Congress president, Ms. Gandhi also heads the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP).
“I have been waiting for a long time for this day,” Ms. Gandhi told reporters after voting at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters here.
Apart from Ms. Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr. Chidambaram, and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were among those who voted at the polling booth at the AICC office.
Former party chief Rahul Gandhi is among the 50 delegates who are part of the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra. They voted at a specially made booth inside a container at Ballari in Karnataka.
“I feel very proud that Congress people, women and men from across the country, are coming together in a democratic manner to exercise their mandate,” Mr. Gandhi wrote in a Facebook post.
In all, there were 36 polling centres across the country to conduct the sixth presidential election in Congress’ nearly 137-year-old history. While voting started at 10 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m., counting as well as declaration of results will take place on October 19.
Briefing reporters, Madhusudan Mistry, who heads the party’s central election authority, said that 96% of the 9,915 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates or voters had voted. He asserted that other political parties could take a lesson from the Congress’ inner party democracy.
“The most satisfactory thing for us was that in all States where polling booths were set up, no adverse incident was reported. This is a big achievement...polls were held in an open process in a peaceful manner,” Mr. Mistry said, adding, “The Congress party has shown what internal democracy is and other parties that want to take a lesson from it can do so.”
Before the start of polling, both Mr. Kharge and Mr. Tharoor tweeted that they had spoken to and wished each other luck.
“My best wishes to @ShashiTharoor. Spoke to him earlier today, both of us are contesting to strengthen @INCIndia to build a stronger & better nation for the future generations,” Mr. Kharge tweeted.
“My thanks to all the @INCIndia colleagues, workers, delegates across the country who had the courage to participate, to campaign, to dream & to vote today -- whatever the result of this election, it is a victory for YOU! Jai Hind, Jai Congress!” Mr. Tharoor tweeted.
The election to the top post was necessitated after Mr. Gandhi stepped down as the party president in May 2019, owning moral responsibility for the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha election. Though Ms. Sonia Gandhi was appointed as the interim president in August that year, the party witnessed a political storm with as many as 23 leaders — referred to as the G-23 — writing to Ms. Gandhi to demand internal reforms and a visible leadership.
While the G-23 leaders endorsed Mr. Kharge as their choice in these elections, one of their key demands to have an elected Congress Working Committee (CWC) is yet to be fulfilled.
““When the [Congress] plenary meets, if it decides to have an election of the CWC, there will be elections. But the president has to take a call on the CWC as well as the CEC (Central Election Committee) but I am not in a position to comment on it today,” Mr. Mistry told reporters.