The battle for the Congress president’s post has intensified in the last few days as the process for filing of the nomination papers approaches.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday met party chief Sonia Gandhi in the national capital amid a strong buzz that he may put his name down for the election. This comes two days after Tharoor also met Sonia to express his desire to contest, with the Congress president saying “he is welcome to do so.”
Here are the latest developments …
Gehlot vs Tharoor on the cards?
Gehlot’s visit to Sonia’s residence comes a day after he convened a Congress Legislature Party meeting in Jaipur and told his MLAs that he would continue “taking care” of the state “even if I have to fill out the form”.
Sources said the Congress presidential poll was on the agenda during the discussions between Gehlot and Sonia Gandhi.
Later today, he is expected to reach Kochi and make a last-ditch effort to convince Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the party.
Talking to reporters after landing in Delhi from Jaipur, Gehlot, in a clear indication that he could throw his hat in the ring for the Congress presidential poll, said he will file his nomination if the party people wish so and fulfil any responsibility given to him.
The Rajasthan CM is widely regarded as the central leadership’s choice for the job should Rahul bail out.
The development comes after Tharoor, who is part of the vocal G-23 dissenters in Congress, said he intends to contest for the upcoming elections.
Eyeing both posts?
As Gehlot expressed his interest to contest the AICC chief elections, he also indicated that such a move won’t mean he will have to give up the chief minister’s post in Rajasthan.
Asked whether he would keep the post of CM in case he becomes Congress president, Gehlot said there is no such rule of one-person-one-post in the party.
“There was talk of nomination to two posts. This is an open election, anyone can stand. An MP, MLA, CM – anybody can contest the polls. One person can remain a minister and also be elected Congress president,” Gehlot said.
The remark comes amid speculation that former deputy CM Sachin Pilot, who has been locked in a bitter battle with Gehlot for the chief ministerial position since 2018, could be elevated to the top post.
Meanwhile, Congress central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry also clarified that there is no such provision in the party’s constitution that a chief minister cannot be party president.
“Anyone is eligible to contest the polls provided he or she is a Congress delegate,” Mistry said.
All free to contest: Pilot
Earlier today, Gehlot’s bete noire Sachin Pilot, who is currently in Kerala, said that anybody is free to contest when questioned about Gehlot’s likely bid for the post.
“Anybody who wants to fight elections can file nominations. It’s an open, fair and transparent process … Congress will emerge stronger after the elections,” Pilot said.
Dismissing infighting in the state leadership, Pilot said that the decision was taken by the party leadership in 2018 and stands even today. “Whatever decision the Congress leadership takes, whether it’s about the AICC or Rajasthan, will be acceptable to everybody.”
Pilot, who is currently accompanying Rahul on the first leg of the day’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, was the notable absentee from Gehlot’s CLP meeting on Tuesday.
‘Sonia, Rahul’s permission not required to contest’
With Tharoor and now Gehlot visiting Sonia ahead of the nomination, Congress sought to clarify that leaders do not need the permission of the Congress president or her son Rahul to contest.
AICC general secretary in charge communications Jairam Ramesh, speaking to the media during the break between the first and second leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, said, “Anybody is free and welcome to contest in the election if they have the backing of 10 PCC delegates.”
“No one requires the permission of Congress president or Rahul Gandhi to file nomination. The elections will be fair and transparent. No other political party in the country holds elections to select their party chief.”
Ramesh, at the same time, also said that he believes in selection of the party president based on consensus as per the Kamraj model.
He invoked the “view” of legendary Congress leader K Kamaraj, which according to him, was “talk to everybody and find a suitable consensus choice” for leading the party.
Notably, Ramesh had said the same thing when Tharoor visited Sonia earlier this week.
State units want Rahul as chief
The clamour for Rahul to take up the role continues to grow louder with Congress units in Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand and Haryana passing resolutions backing the Gandhi scion for the post of party president.
They joined at least eight other pradesh Congress committees (PCCs) which have rooted for him.
Besides the four PCCs which backed Rahul in the last 24 hours, party units in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and J&K have already thrown in their lot behind the Wayanad MP.
While some political analysts see the passing of such resolutions as an initiative to reaffirm loyalty to the Gandhi family, others see it as a genuine attempt to convince Rahul Gandhi to take on the party reins.
When asked if he would become the Congress president earlier this month, Rahul had said, “Whether I become president or not, this will become very clear when the presidential elections of the Congress party take place.”
“Wait till that time and when that time comes, you will see, and if I don’t stand, you can ask me then ‘why didn’t you stand’ and I will answer the question for you,” he had told reporters at a press conference in Kanyakumari. He, however, had asserted that he had “very clearly” decided what he was going to do. “There is no confusion in my mind at all.”
He is currently leading the party’s 150-day Bharat Jodo Yatra across 12 states.
The election for the Congress president’s post would be held on October 17. The result will be declared on October 19. If only one candidate is left in the fray after the withdrawal of nominations, the name of the president will be declared on October 8 itself.
(With inputs from agencies)