The stage is set for the All India Congress Committee (AICC) presidential elections, with the deadline for filing nominations ending on Friday.
Congress veteran and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, and former Jharkhand minister KN Tripathi filed their nomination papers at the AICC headquarters.
While the last date to withdraw nominations is 8 October, the contest is pretty much set to be between Tharoor and Kharge — both leaders from South India.
The 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge is a staunch loyalist of the party, with his allegiance pledged firmly to the Gandhi family.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Kharge has never crossed the line of discipline and has been a vocal defender of the Congress as well as the party’s first family.
With a line-up of 30 delegates proposing his candidature, Kharge seems positioned for a landslide victory in the elections.
While members of the Gandhi family have not officially endorsed any candidate, the long list of proposers on Kharge’s nomination — a combination of Gandhi family loyalists like AK Antony and Ambika Soni as well as G23 “rebel” group leaders like Manish Tewari and Anand Sharma — has put him on the path to confirmed victory.
Salman Khurshid, Deepender Hooda, Bhupinder Hooda, Narayanasamy, Rajeev Shukla, V Vaithilingam, Syed Nasser Hussain, Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Mukul Wasnik, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ajay Maken, and Tariq Anwar are among the 30 delegates who have proposed Kharge as their candidate for the AICC presidential polls.
Shashi Tharoor’s candidature has been proposed by leaders like Karti Chidambaram, Sandeep Dikshit, Praveen Davar, and Pradyut Bordoloi — all vocal about the need for structural changes in the Congress.
Even as heavyweight Congress leaders have proposed Kharge’s candidature, Tharoor is banking on the undercurrent of clamour for change in the Congress to favour his run.
More than 9,000 delegates of the Congress — from every block of every Pradesh Congress Committee — are eligible to vote in the AICC presidential elections.
AICC president from South after 26 years
Irrespective of whether any candidate withdraws their nomination or the elections take place, the AICC is set to have a president from a southern state after 26 years. The last time someone from the South headed the party was PV Narasimha Rao in 1996.
Since Independence, the Indian National Congress has had five Presidents from the southern states. Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya, hailing from the erstwhile Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, was the Congress president between 1948 to 1949.
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh was elected the Congress president in 1960, and held the post till 1963.
Then came K Kamaraj, hailing from Tamil Nadu, as the chief of the Congress party between 1964 and 1967.
S Nijalingappa discharged duties as head of the AICC from 1968 to 1969. The last AICC president from the south, PV Narasimha Rao, held the post from 1992 to 1996.
Kharge could very well be the sixth person from a southern state to lead India’s primary Opposition party.
“I thank all the leaders of all the states who have come here to support me and endorse my candidature. I request all the delegates to vote for me in the election,” Kharge said right after filing his nomination.
In a press conference after filing his nomination, Tharoor said he welcomed Kharge’s candidature. “It is not a bitter fight but a friendly contest. Kharge is a veteran, the Bhishma Pitamaha of our party,” Tharoor told reporters, insisting that he would not withdraw his candidature and it meant no disrespect in any way.
The candidature of both Tharoor and Kharge comes at a time Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has covered the former’s home state and entered the latter’s on Friday.
For the Congress, whose grassroots-level presence and electoral prospects are still strong in the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, the elevation of either leader could boost the cadres in both states.