The race for the Congress president’s post is on as senior Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjun Kharge both filed their nomination papers at the AICC headquarters on Friday with the Karnataka party loyalist emerging as a clear favourite. Former Jharkhand minister, K N Tripathi has also joined the fray, filing his nomination on Friday as well.
The 80-year-old Kharge, flanked by top Congress leaders, filed 14 sets of nomination papers with the proposers including Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, A K Antony, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik and members from the G-23 ginger group comprising Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan and Manish Tewari, while Tharoor, who was also part of the G-23 group, filed five sets of nomination papers. Former Jharkhand minister Tripathi filed a single set of poll papers with Madhusudan Mistry, the chairman of the Congress’s Central Election Authority.
Mistry on Friday told ANI that they had received three forms and would scrutinise them on Saturday and announce forms that are valid and names of the candidates on Saturday evening. “None of these 3 is an official candidate of the party. They’re contesting on their own. Congress president has made it very clear that she’ll stay neutral throughout the process & if someone claims he has her blessings, it is incorrect,” he added.
Meanwhile Digvijaya Singh beat a retreat after announcing his candidature and Ashok Gehlot pulled out of the race after realising it would cost him Rajasthan chief ministership.
As the stage is set for the contest, here are the latest updates on the Congress president election:
• Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor seeks change and has plans to pull the party out of its streak of electoral reversals. Speaking to CNN-News18, he said, “We just can’t continue as business as usual. We’ve been stuck at the ceiling of 19 per cent of the votes in two successive elections. We need to try something different,” said Tharoor. He also reiterated his recent statement that “this is not a battle between rivals. It is a very friendly contest between colleagues.”
• Kharge’s edge over Tharoor: As several senior leaders rallied behind the him, the Karnataka minister, known as a party loyalist who has never crossed the ‘laxman rekha’ has emerged as a clear favourite. Kharge, a Dalit leader and the son of a mill worker from the once-extremely backward Gulbarga, is a self-made man.
People who have seen him since his first win in the 1972 Assembly elections, say he could rise in the party hierarchy only because of loyalty, patience, vast administrative experience and his ability to grasp any situation. They also reveal that his loyalty towards the Gandhi family is non-negotiable.
A total of 30 Congress leaders have proposed Mallikarjun Kharge’s name for the election.
• Former Jharkhand Minister KN Tripathi also joined the race, filing his papers on Friday. Speaking to CNN-News18, Tripathi said that everybody wanted Rahul Gandhi to be the party chief, but he was firm on his decision of not filing his nomination. “I saw many leaders buying the nomination papers, so I also decided to fill my nomination form. We were the first to file it.” While he is considered a lightweight by many, he said “I must not think about anyone else, but the Congress high command. I will respect whatever decision the party takes. Our leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have said every Congress worker can contest for this top post. They have sacrificed the posts of Prime Minister and party president.”
• Digvijaya Singh dropped out of Congress presidential election as Mallikarjun Kharge was set to file his nomination papers on Friday. “I have told Kharge if you are filing nomination I will not fight the elections,” he said. “Kharge Ji is my senior. I went to his residence yesterday and told him that I won’t file my nomination if he’s filing (for Congress President). He said that he won’t be filing. Afterwards, I got to know via press that he is a candidate,” he said.
• All eyes are on Rajasthan after the Congress said a decision on the chief minister would be taken by Sonia Gandhi in a day or two, as Ashok Gehlot dropped out of the president race over losing his post as Rajasthan CM. On Friday, Gehlot extended his support to senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge for the Congress president post.
(With agency inputs)