Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was asked by some party leaders to seek withdrawal of Shashi Tharoor's candidature, the Thiruvananthapuram MP, who has made an aggressive bid to its top post, claimed in Kerala on Tuesday.
Tharoor, who is in Kerala as part of the poll campaign, told reporters here that Gandhi said he will not ask the former to withdraw as a contest would benefit the grand old party.
"He reminded me that he has been saying so for the past 10 years that there should be a contest for the party chief's post.
"He also told me that some persons have asked him to request me to withdraw my candidature. He told me he will not do so. He said I should not withdraw and that I should contest in the election," the Thiruvananthapuram MP said.
Earlier in the day, he said that he never expected big leaders to support him and does not expect it even now, but at the same time he needs everyone's backing.
The statement came in the wake of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakaran publicly declaring his support for veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge for the party chief's post.
Tharoor also said he was not going to betray those who supported him till now in this endeavour of his by backing off from the election.
"I was not expecting any support from the big leaders of the party and I am not expecting that now either. In fact, I met party workers at Nagpur, Wardha and then Hyderabad. They are the ones asking me to contest and not back away from it.
"I assured them I will not back away. I will not betray those who have supported me till now. Their confidence in me is what gives me the strength to move forward."
Noting that the "majority of his supporters are young party leaders and workers", he said he needs support from everyone and was not going to discount anyone.
Tharoor also said that he has seen a "partiality" on the part of some top party leaders and while he respects all senior leaders, their vote has the same value as that of any other Congress member or worker.
"I have seen a partiality on the part of some top leaders. I respect all senior leaders of the party, but the vote of an office bearer, senior leader or a Congress worker has the same weightage when it is being counted."
His comments assume significance as none of the senior KPCC leaders like Sudhakaran, V D Satheesan and Ramesh Chennithala, were present to greet Tharoor when he arrived at the party office in the state capital.
On being asked whether Sudhakaran's public support for Kharge was meant to discourage others from supporting him, Tharoor said, "Maybe. But I am not saying that. I do not need to decipher what is going on in people's minds. I will say one thing, whatever one says secretly or publicly, the ballot is secret.
"No one is going to know who voted for whom. People can vote according to their wishes and beliefs. They can decide whom they want to strengthen the party and prepare it to counter the challenges it would face in the future."
Regarding Sudhakaran's statement, the Thiruvananthapuram MP said the KPCC chief probably expressed his personal decision and preference and "there is nothing wrong with that."
"He cannot give a direction which is clear from the circular issued by the party debarring party office-bearers from campaigning for candidates. But please don't ask me about it. If the election authority wants to do something about it, it is up to them," he said.
The election circular issued by the party on Monday said that AICC general secretaries/ in-charges, secretaries, joint secretaries, Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) presidents, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leaders, heads of frontal organisations, chiefs of departments, cells and all official spokespersons "shall not campaign for or against contesting candidates."
"If they wish to support any candidate, they must first resign from their organisational post, after that they participate in the campaign process," it said.
The polling for the Congress presidential election 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.
(With PTI inputs)