Shashi Tharoor vs Ashok Gehlot likely for Congress President

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Intldesk, Sept 20: The Congress is set to have a non-Gandhi president for the first time in over 20 years. Ashok Gehlot, a Gandhi family loyalist, will run for party president opposite Shashi Tharoor, who is among those in the party who want major internal reforms.

Shashi Tharoor, a former Union Minister, was the first to declare his intention to run for a post that has been with the Gandhis — either Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul — for much of 25 years. He is a prominent member of the Congress’s G-23 or group of 23 leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 calling for an organizational overhaul and blaming the party’s downward spiral on a leadership drift, ndtv reported.

“Anybody who wants to contest is free and welcome to do so. This has been the consistent position of the Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi. This is an open, democratic and transparent process. Nobody needs anybody’s nod to contest,” said Jairam Ramesh,  Congress MP and the party’s General Secretary-in-Charge of communications.

The filing of nominations for the post of the president begins in three days. The election will take place against the backdrop of exits by a number of key leaders over the last year. The last to go was senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, whose exit was emulated by most leaders of the party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit.

Sonia Gandhi — who was the Congress President for 19 years and handed charge to son Rahul Gandhi in 2017 — has been interim Congress chief since he quit the post in 2019, owning responsibility for the party’s second consecutive defeat in general elections. It did not check the crisis. The party lost a series of state elections since, triggering demands for a sweeping change in leadership.

Mr Gandhi, who is currently leading the party’s “Bharat Jodo” yatra, has firmly refused to return as president despite  unrelenting demand from a section of Congress leaders, including Mr Gehlot. Some of those who quit the party have claimed that Mr Gandhi is the unofficial decision-maker and complained that a coterie around him is calling the shots.

As the elections were announced, Congress units in state after state urged Mr Gandhi to return as president. More such requests are likely to come in as the election gets closer.  Many in the party see this as an attempt to put the Gandhis in charge, with or without an election, and the yatra as another attempt to relaunch Rahul Gandhi.

The unchecked decline of the Congress came as a boon for opposition parties like Trinamool Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which have been competing for prime space both in states and the opposition ranks. Mr Kejriwal declared last week that the Congress was “finished” in Gujarat, where elections are approaching.

The last non-Gandhi Congress President was Sitaram Kesari, from whom Sonia Gandhi took over in March 1998 – around two years after the Narasimha Rao government was voted out. With the Congress at a low point, Mrs Gandhi, who had decided to stay away from politics after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, declared that she would join the party.