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Congress Presidential Poll: Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot Backs Mallikarjun Kharge, Calls It One-Sided Contest

Congress Presidential Poll: Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot Backs Mallikarjun Kharge, Calls It One-Sided Contest

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said Shashi Tharoor is from the elite class and does not have the kind of experience that Mallikarjun Kharge has. The Congress party is set to have its first non-Gandhi chief since 1998 when Sonia Gandhi became Congress President.

Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge
Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge File Photo

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Sunday backed Mallikarjun Kharge in the Congress presidential contest and has called it one-sided. 

Gehlot further said Kharge's rival Shashi Tharoor belongs to the "elite class" and cannot match Kharge's experience.

The Congress presidential contest has narrowed down to two finalists — Kharge and Tharoor. When one of them becomes the party president, Congress will gets its first non-Gandhi chief in over two decades. The party presidency has stayed with Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi since 1998. 

Gehlot said Kharge has the experience to strengthen the Congress and would emerge as a clear winner in the party presidential poll.

He said, "Kharge has a long political experience. He has a clean heart, he comes from the Dalit community and [Kharge contesting election] is being welcomed everywhere. Tharoor is a class apart. He is from elite class but the kind of experience which is needed to strengthen the party at booth, block and district levels, that is with Kharge and cannot be compared to Shashi Tharoor. Therefore, it will naturally be a one-sided contest for Kharge."

A Dalit leader from Karnataka, Kharge has emerged as the clear favourite for the Congress president' post. 

Kharge has resigned as the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, sources said on Saturday. His resignation is in line with the party's declared one person- one post principle that was announced at the Udaipur 'Chintan Shivir' in May.

Dramatic Congress presidential election

Tharoor and Kharge emerged as the two finalists in the Congess presidential race after days of drama. 

Gehlot himself was said to be in the race. It's believed that the Congress high command wanted to replace Gehlot with Sachin Pilot as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan once he became the party chief. However, a rebellion by Gehlot's loyalist MPs thwarted the Congress Legislature Party meeting in the state. They were opposed to Pilot replacing Gehlot, as Pilot had led a rebellion against Gehlot in 2020. Gehlot eventually exited the presidential contest. 

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had also said he would contest the election but he too withdrew from the race later.

Three leaders had filed nominations for the election on Friday, the last day for the process. Besides Tharoor and Kharge, the third leader was former Jharkhand minister K N Tripathi. His nomination was rejected on Saturday, leaving Kharge and Tharoor as two final contestents. 

The change of guard in Congress is part of the Congress party's efforts to revive the organisation with an aim at the 2024 general election. Former party president Rahul Gandhi is leading a Kashmir-to-Kanyakumari "Bharat Jodo Yatra" with an aim to rally support for the party and assert its agenda. 

Timeline of Congress presidential election

The last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8 and the final list of candidates will be out at 5 pm on the same day.

Addressing a press conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi, the party's central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry said the panel met for scrutiny of forms on Saturday.

A total of 20 forms were received during the nomination process. Four of them were rejected as signatures were repeated or did not match, he said.

While Kharge submitted 14 forms, Tharoor submitted five and Tripathi one.

"Two candidates —Kharge and Tharoor— are in a direct contest now. One form of another candidate from Jharkhand has been rejected," Mistry said.

There is a seven-day window for withdrawal of forms till October 8 when the picture will be clearer, he said, adding if no one withdraws, the polling will be held.

Mistry said Tripathi's form was rejected as the signature of one of his proposers did not match and another proposer's signature was repeated. While one rejected form was of Tripathi, Mistry refused to divulge who had filed the other three forms that were rejected

Reacting to the development and sharing the list of valid nominations issued by the chief election authority, Tharoor tweeted, "Delighted to learn that, following scrutiny, Shri Kharge and I will be squaring off in the friendly contest for President of  Congress. May the Party and all our colleagues benefit from this democratic process!"

The polling, if needed, will be held on October 17. The counting of votes will be taken up on October 19 and the results will be declared the same day. More than 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates will vote in the poll. 

The long reign of Gandhis over Congress party

The Gandhis —first Sonia, then Rahul, and then Sonia again— have held the Congress presidency since 1998 when Sonia became the Congress president after the then-Congress President Sitaram Kesri's ouster. She is also the longest-serving Congress President in its 137 years.

In 2017, Rahul took over as the Congress President from his mother Sonia. He resigned in 2019 after taking responsibility for the drubbing in 2019 general elections.

Though elected as Congress President in 1998, Sonia had been active in politics and in public life long before that. 

"She was a companion to her mother-in-law, Smt. Indira Gandhi, during many of her official duties and frequently acted as her hostess. During the years 1984 to 1991 when her husband was Prime Minister and then briefly leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, she assumed a limited public role, mostly accompanying him on his tours in the country and abroad," notes the Congress on its website.

Rediff News in 1998 reported that Sonia was also very active in the general elections at the time.

"Apart from distributing party tickets, he [Sitaram Kesri] visited very few places to forward the party's cause. In contrast, Sonia made whirlwind tours of remote parts of the country and the attendance at her meetings became the envy of Opposition politicians," reported Rediff in 1998, contrasting her with the then-ousted party chief Kesri.

(With PTI inputs)

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