With days left for the opening of a week-long window for filing of nomination papers for the Congress presidential elections, the party, for the first time, signalled Wednesday that Rahul Gandhi is not likely to contest.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, meanwhile, met party chief Sonia Gandhi and said he will contest for the top post if the leadership asks him to do so. He also made it clear that he wants to continue as Chief Minister.
Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor too began the groundwork for filing his nomination papers. He met Madhusudan Mistry, chairman of the Congress Central Election Authority, at the AICC headquarters and discussed election rules and procedures including filing of nomination and campaigning. He also had a look at the electoral roll of around 9,000 PCC delegates who will vote in the election.
Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh indicated that he too could throw his hat in the ring. Asked for his preference between Gehlot and Tharoor, Singh told NDTV 24×7: “Let the last date of nomination be over… then we will know that is the choice… I am not ruling myself also. Why do you want to keep me out?”.
While Gehlot continued to maintain that he will enter the fray if Rahul does not, the party made it clear that the former Congress president has no plans of filing nomination papers.
Jairam Ramesh, AICC general secretary in charge of communication, said Rahul may travel to Delhi Friday — a rest day for the Bharat Jodo Yatra — but it will be to see his mother, who has returned from abroad after medical check-ups.
Asked whether Rahul will travel to Delhi on Friday, Ramesh said, “He can rest in Chalakudy (where the yatra will halt for the night Thursday). But if he goes to Delhi, it will be to see his mother whom he has not seen for at least three weeks… It will not be to file his nomination papers.”
“He will come back on the 23rd night. Bharat Jodo Yatra will resume on the 24th morning. And nomination cannot be filed via Zoom. Nomination has to be filed in Delhi, face-to-face. There is no plan for Mr Gandhi to go to Delhi between the 24th and the 1st (of October),” he said.
Gehlot, meanwhile, landed in Delhi and met Sonia. The meeting lasted nearly two hours. AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik too met Sonia as did AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal.
Wasnik’s meeting with Sonia is significant as there is talk of him being the ‘Plan B’ candidate in the event of Gehlot not contesting. This despite the fact that the Gandhis have signalled that they will remain neutral in the event of a contest which looks inevitable. Wasnik is also considered close to Gehlot. There is also talk in party circles that Wasnik could be appointed general secretary (organisation) if Gehlot contests and wins.
The last time the Congress witnessed an election for the post of Congress president was in 2000 when Jitendra Prasada faced off with Sonia Gandhi, two years into her presidency.
Another big question that remains unanswered is the continuation of Gehlot as Chief Minister. Several leaders invoked the ‘one person, one post’ principle adopted by the party at its Udaipur chintan shivir to suggest that he cannot continue as Chief Minister. Leaders of the G-23 told The Indian Express that their demand had all along been for a full-time president.
On his continuation as CM, Gehlot said, “The party has given me everything. I have been holding various posts for the last 40-50 years. Posts and positions are not important to me. Fulling the responsibilities given to me is more important… Today I am the CM… I am fulfilling that responsibility… nibhata rahunga mein (I will keep fulfilling that).”
Asked about the ‘one person, one post’ rule, Gehlot maintained that it applied to posts to which one was nominated.
“Here, it is an open election, anybody can contest, anybody from the 9,000 delegates, be it an MP, MLA, minister or CM. Say, a state minister wants to contest, it may be that he or she remains a minister and becomes the Congress president,” he said.
Asked specifically whether he will remain CM, Gehlot said, “Time will tell… But I would like to be in a place where my presence benefits the party… wherever I am… one post, two posts, three posts, or without any post.”
He claimed he enjoyed the trust of everyone in the party. Asked about the Gandhi family’s faith in him, he said:
“It’s not just the Gandhi family. All the people in the Congress, their families too trust me. And I am lucky that Congress people across the country love and trust me… So I won’t be able to say no. Jahan mujhe kahenge… form bharna hai, mein form bharoonga (Wherever they tell me to fill the form, I will). I will talk to my friends too.”
Gehlot is likely to travel to Mumbai and from there to Kerala Thursday to meet Rahul Gandhi. Gehlot is likely to offer prayers at Shirdi.
On his meeting with Rahul Gandhi, Gehlot said he would use it to request him again to take over as Congress president. “If he undertakes the yatra as Congress president, there will be more impact. I will go and talk to him, then I will decide.”