The historic Congress Presidential elections have concluded with veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge being named the party chief. Reportedly a favourite from the start, Kharge won with 7,897 votes over his rival Shashi Tharoor, who clinched 1,072 votes. However, the Thiruvananthapuram MP has faced a rap from Congress, which on Thursday criticised Tharoor and called him "two-faced".
Tharoor, who accepted the defeat and congratulated Kharge, urged the Congress president-elect to implement that provision of the Congress constitution that calls for elections to the Congress Working Committee. Addressing a press conference hours after the results were announced, the Thiruvananthapuram MP asserted that the revival of the party has truly begun.
He further claimed that he had pitched himself as the candidate of change and not of dissent. "I did not pitch myself as the candidate of dissent, I pitched myself as a candidate of change and change not in the ideology of the party or the direction of the party but the manner in which we do our work," Tharoor said.
Irregularities in Presidential polls?
Even as the counting of votes was going on, Tharoor's election representative Salman Soz wrote to Congress's election in-charge Madhusudhan Mistry, noting "disturbing facts" in the election process in Uttar Pradesh and demanded that votes in the state be cancelled.
While the Thiruvanathputam MP later expressed regret over the leaking of the "strictly internal letter" and also suggested moving on, the Congress seems to not be taking this lying down.
In an response to his allegations, Mistry said, "I am sorry to say that you had one face before me which communicated that you're satisfied with all our answers and different face in the media which made all these allegations against us," in the reply to Tharoor's team.
Tharoor's nomination and controversy
The elections have caused quite a stir both externally and within the party itself with Tharoor emerging as the underdog challenger.
Prior to the elections, the 66-year-old had raised issues of an uneven playing field during his campaign and his team filed complaints with the party's central election authority.
The ruling BJP took potshots at the Presidential election and Tharoor over the filing of the "irregularities" issues, saying did he expect free and fair elections.
The party's IT department head Amit Malviya claimed that Tharoor will be ridiculed and shamed for taking on the Gandhis.
"Shashi Tharoor is whining like a sore loser. Did he actually expect elections in Congress to be free and fair? He should be grateful that he wasn't locked up in the bathroom… The worst is still to come. In the next few months he will be ridiculed and shamed for taking on the Gandhis," Malviya tweeted.
The BJP leader's attack came after a letter from Tharoor's team to the party's chief election authority, flagging "extremely serious irregularities" in the conduct of the election in Uttar Pradesh. The team also demanded that all votes from the state be deemed invalid, sources said.
While the BJP leader's attack came in the backdrop of Tharoor's allegations, the demand for fair Presidential polls had been raised by several Congress leaders, including Tharoor and Manish Tewari. Congress Presidential polls have long borne the brunt of being dubbed a farce by Opposition leaders and critics due to the dominance of the Gandhi family whose members reportedly have a free hand to contest. The party had for the past 24 years been run by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi (for a brief stint).
While the election of Kharge is a welcome change, critics claim that Kharge was destined to win since he had the seal of approval from the Gandhis. Seen as someone who would not rock the boat a lot and work in acquiescence with the high command, Kharge was reportedly favoured by Sonia Gandhi herself.
In an editorial for The Print, author Kapil Komireddi who has penned 'Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India', criticised the party for not siding with Tharoor, who was the first to file for nomination and had been talking about reforms within the party for the past couple of months. Instead, it chose Kharge, whom Komireddi referred to as the "Rajya Sabha grandee conscripted as a substitute surrogate candidate in the final minute".
He also defended Tharoor over accusations of 'elitism', stating that while Kharge was campaigning in private jets, Tharoor was flying budget airlines.
(With inputs from PTI)