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Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

Shashi Tharoor tells Sonia Gandhi he may contest Congress poll, Ashok Gehlot may step in if Rahul stays away

Sources said Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is still hoping that former party president Rahul Gandhi will change his mind and contest.

Some leaders said the Gandhis would like a contest to take place in the event of them not contesting. (File Photo)

The coming election for the post of Congress president could see a contest with Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor on Monday conveying to Sonia Gandhi that he was considering contesting and she assuring him that she would remain “neutral” in the event of a contest.

Sources said Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is still hoping that former party president Rahul Gandhi will change his mind and contest. In the event of Rahul remaining firm on his decision, sources said Gehlot could enter the fray — and the party could witness a contest for the top post after 22 years.

Tharoor’s meeting with Sonia — who returned from abroad on Friday — came even as more Congress state units passed resolutions urging Rahul to take over as president. Sources said Sonia told him that she — in other words, the family — would “stay neutral” in the coming presidential elections.

Tharoor, one of the G-23 leaders who wants sweeping changes in how the party is run, refused to give details of the 40-minute meeting. Some leaders who spoke to him told The Indian Express that Sonia assured him of her neutrality, which was seen as a signal that she will not endorse or back any candidate, and there will be no official or establishment nominee.

The impression Tharoor got is that she was in favour of “a free and fair election” and believed that the party would be strengthened by an energetic contest, said a party leader.

Sources in the Congress had earlier signalled that Sonia had asked Gehlot to lead the party. Her indication to Tharoor that she will stay neutral is significant given that backdrop. It is seen as an attempt to send a message that the elections will be free and fair, given the fact that the G-23 leaders have been raising questions on the fairness of the process.

Party leaders also said that Sonia did not discourage Tharoor from contesting when he said he was considering it, and told her why.

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Resolutions raise concern

While the Congress insists the resolutions backing Rahul Gandhi as party chief won’t have any bearing on the party election, the concern, as voiced by G-23 leaders, is this might be at the leadership’s behest, to prepare the ground for him to “change his mind”.

“Anybody who wants to contest is free and welcome to do so. This has been the consistent position of Congress president and Rahul Gandhi. This is an open, democratic and transparent process. Nobody needs anybody’s nod to contest,” AICC communications head Jairam Ramesh said.

Sources said Tharoor wanted to gauge Sonia’s mind on the elections. This is in light of the fact that the G-23 leaders believe resolutions backing Rahul are being passed by the PCCs at the behest of the leadership to prepare the ground for him to “change his mind”.

Adding to the buzz over the possibility of his contesting the party polls, Tharoor on Monday endorsed a petition by a group of young Congress members seeking “constructive reforms” and implementation of the Udaipur Declaration in entirety, if elected. “I welcome this petition that is being circulated by a group of young @INCIndia members, seeking constructive reforms in the party. It has gathered over 650 signatures so far,” Tharoor tweeted, with screenshots of the petition.

The petitioners have said that as Congress members, they wanted “to strengthen the party to reflect the hopes and aspirations of our nation”, and referred to the Udaipur Declaration, at the party’s Chintan Shivir on May 15. “We appeal to each candidate in the election for the president of the All India Congress Committee to undertake a public pledge to involve party members from block committees up to the CWC and implement the Udaipur Declaration in entirety in the first 100 days of assuming office,” said the petition.

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On Monday, four more PCCs – of Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra – as well as the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee joined Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat in passing resolutions backing Rahul as party chief.

Those close to Rahul continue to insist that he is not interested in the post. “These resolutions are against his wishes, these are not planned. It is just that some people are trying to be more loyal than the king,” one leader said.

However, a G-23 leader countered: “How can such things happen without the knowledge of the Gandhis? We all have been in the Congress long enough to understand how these things work.”

Another leader said: “If the Gandhis don’t want these resolutions to be passed, there will be no resolutions. Period.”

At least two PCCs, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, incidentally, have met and not passed a resolution seeking Rahul. Like the other state units, they passed the other resolution authorising the Congress president to appoint state Congress presidents and nominate AICC delegates for the presidential election – which is required to be done before the poll as per the Congress constitution.

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Some leaders said the Gandhis would like a contest to take place in the event of them not contesting. “They would not want any other leader to emerge as a consensus choice,” one of the critics of the current leadership claimed.

A leader added: “Barring once, the Gandhis have not faced a contest for the top post in the last 24 years. (Sonia took over as Congress president in 1998, and she faced a contest in 2000 when Jitendra Prasada threw his hat in the ring.) Any other leader who wants to become the Congress president, even if they have the blessings of the Gandhis, will have to fight (an election) and win. The consensus is only on the Gandhis.”

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On Monday, Sonia also met Madhusudhan Mistry, the head of the Congress’s central election authority. Mistry briefed her about the work done by the authority so far, while Sonia is learnt to have told him to ensure that the election is free and fair.

Asked about the resolutions backing Rahul, Mistry told The Indian Express that the central election authority cannot do much about them. “How can we stop them? How can I as chairman of the authority stop them? We are going ahead with the schedule for the election that we have announced.”

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Bihar PCC president Madan Mohan Jha said a resolution favouring Rahul for the top post was passed “unanimously” by the state unit Monday, and that this was “in the interest of the nation and the party”.

On Rahul not being keen, Jha said: “It is our job to request him. It is my responsibility to bring to his knowledge the sentiments and feelings of workers and leaders. I got the signatures of those present on a resolution and am sending it to him. The rest is in his hands.”

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On passing such a resolution given that the date for the presidential election has already been announced, he said: “The party is telling him to take over. If he contests and somebody comes forward to contest against him, then only there will be an election. People are saying they will not enter the fray if Rahul contests… Nobody has said they will contest against him. So that is why we are requesting him… yeh naa ko haan mein badaliye (change your no to yes).”

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In its “unanimous” resolution, proposed by state unit chief K S Alagiri, the Tamil Nadu PCC said national politics was witnessing an “abnormal scenario” of communal politics. In order to “rescue” people and to ensure the victory of secular, democratic forces in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, it was imperative that Rahul take over the reins of the party, the resolution said.

First published on: 20-09-2022 at 04:40:03 am
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