Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge’s claim to be the “candidate of all”, as he launched his presidential campaign on October 2, will be tested in the Congress’s internal election later this month. But for now, with AICC office-bearers and other prominent leaders — including members of the G-23, the so-called rebels — arrayed in his support, Kharge seems to be, despite his protestations to the contrary, the establishment’s candidate. For now, too, his rival, Shashi Tharoor, appears to be the lonely challenger. As it is shaping up, the contest that was so long awaited in Congress and is all too rare in political parties in this country, seems headed towards a let-down rather than a show-down.
On October 1, Saturday, Madhusudan Mistry, returning officer, named Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor as the two candidates in the fray for the election of Congress president on October 19. With that, the contest for leadership of India’s main party of the Opposition has been kicked off. After nearly two and a half decades, it will have a non-Gandhi at its helm.
Or will it, really? With Kharge widely seen as the unofficial official candidate — a bevy of establishmentarian leaders and many of the G-23 rebels, too, have come out in his support — has the Gandhi family genuinely stepped aside, or back? Or will it still control the Congress, and not do so too? Those, of course, are the questions. But Tharoor’s candidature may already be stirring things up.
Launching his campaign for the Congress presidency, Rajya Sabha MP and party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge Sunday said he was “the candidate of all” and disclosed that he had told his opponent and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor that it would be better if one person emerged as the consensus name for the post. Tharoor, he said, replied that there should be a fight in a democracy. “I said fine.”
Kharge’s remarks are interesting as Tharoor had quoted Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as having told him that “a democratic contest will only strengthen the party”. The party had also framed the contest as an example of vibrant inner party democracy which, it emphasised, was absent in other parties.