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Congress Presidential Polls: Top Leaders Insist Gandhis To Play Key Role As Party Elects Non-Gandhi Chief

The Congress is electing its first non-Gandhi party president in 24 years. Since 1998, either Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul Gandhi have been chief.

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Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka
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Top leaders of the Congress have asked the Gandhi family to play a key role even as the party elects its first non-Gandhi party chief in 24 years. 

Since 1998, the Congress presidency has been with the Gandhis. Sonia Gandhi was appointed as the Congress President in 1998. During 2017-19, her son Rahul Gandhi was the party cheif, but he resigned in 2019 after poor performance in the general elections. Sonia took over as party chief again in 2019.

The contest this time is between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor. In an interview with Outlook, Tharoor also said that, irrespective of their formal designation, the Gandhis should remain active in the Congress. 

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Voting for the Congress presidential polls began on Monday. Over 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates form the electoral college to pick the party chief in a secret ballot.

Speaking to reporters after casting her vote at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Headquarters in Delhi, senior leader Ambika Soni asserted that the Gandhi family cannot be ignored and the party workers' attachment with them would remain. Hailing Sonia's contribution to the party, Soni said she played a key role in the formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government (2004-14) and the Congress' win in the 2004 polls, beating the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) 'Shining India' campaign.

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"This effort to separate them (Gandhis) will never succeed. Talk about issues such as price rise, prices are soaring," said Soni.

On the role leaders like her and Sonia would play going forward, Soni said, "I don't have any role. I have served 52 years in the Congress party. I want Sonia ji's role to be there as our guide, friend, philosopher, as MP, CLP...It will be there."

Congress General Secretary Mukul Wasnik said the Gandhi family has a very long history spread over 100 years and its members have played a very important role in the freedom struggle which nobody could disregard.

He said, "After getting Independence also, they have contributed immensely in building a modern India. When time demanded, they even made the supreme sacrifice, nobody can forget the sacrifices made by Indira-ji, Rajiv-ji and the contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru in giving a vision for the building of modern India.

"The Gandhi family will continue to play a very important role. Sonia Gandhi will be demitting her office after the new president is elected but there is no doubt that she has been our leader and will continue to be our leader. We will look towards her for inspiration and guidance from time to time."

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Wasnik added that Rahul also has a set of ideas on how to go forward, and his guidance will also be absolutely invaluable for the party.

Congress Spokesperson and In-Charge for Sikkim, Tripura, and Nagaland Ajoy Kumar asserted that it was a historical moment as he slammed the BJP for its criticism of the AICC presidential polls.

He said, "None of us know how JP Nadda got selected, two-and-a-half people decided – one Modi, one Shah and a half RSS. So such a party commenting on polls is a joke. A truly democratic party, we have our challenges, but you will see a huge amount of goodwill for whoever is elected as president."

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Noting that Rahul is undertaking a 3,500-km Kanyakumari to Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra, Kumar said it was such a difficult task and Rahul was without doubt a crowd-puller.

He said, "Who is pulling the crowds for the Yatra? So, why will the person not be important? Whether it is Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka-ji or other tall leaders, there are a lot of people, Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot, everyone is there. Mr Gandhi is one of the tallest leaders among our group."

Both Kharge and Tharoor have emphasised that the Gandhis hold a special place in the party with Kharge having said that he would seek their "guidance" and "suggestions", and Tharoor having asserted that no Congress president can function keeping a distance from the Gandhi family as their DNA runs in the party's blood.

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In the post-Independence era, members of the Gandhi family have been at the helm of the party for around 40 years in total.

Speaking to Outlook, Tharoor said that "Nehru-Gandhi family has held, and will always hold, a special place in the hearts of Congress party members". He further said that many leaders have therefore expressed hope that Rahul "would resume his leadership".

"...It is my hope that the family will recognise that they are and remain the foundational pillar of the Congress, our moral conscience, and ultimate guiding spirit. They cannot and must not withdraw from that role, whatever the formal designations they choose to retain," said Tharoor in an interview with Outlook

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(With PTI inputs)

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