AICC president election: How does Indian National Congress elect its chief, who votes?

The All-India Congress Committee chief's election is scheduled on 17 October: Shashi Tharoor and Ashok Gehlot will likely face off.

BySouth First Desk

Published Sep 21, 2022 | 12:19 AM Updated Oct 16, 2022 | 11:43 PM

Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarun Kharge file nomination for AICC President election. (South First)

It has been 22 years since the Indian National Congress held internal elections for the post of All-India Congress Committee (AICC) president. If senior Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjun Kharge do contest, this will be only the third time since India’s Independence that the grand old party will witness elections for the AICC president.

The last time elections were held for the post was in 2000, amid an ugly rebellion against an “inexperienced” Sonia Gandhi by a section of party leaders. Sonia defeated Jitendra Prasada by a landslide and remained AICC president for the next 19 years. Prasada polled only 94 of the 7,542 delegate votes in that election.

The only other time there was any real contest for the AICC president’s post after Independence was in 1996, when Sitaram Kesri took on Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot, and emerged victorious.

After Sonia Gandhi returned as “interim President” of the AICC following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation in 2019, the party announced elections for the AICC president post earlier this year. Most elevations to the post of AICC president in the Congress have been unanimous, without contest.

Given how rare internal elections are for the grand old party, concerns continue to be raised about the electoral process not just for the AICC president post but also the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

Five MPs — including Shashi Tharoor, and Karti Chidambaram — had written to the Congress Central Election Authority earlier this month seeking clarity on the electoral rolls and process. Chairman Madhusudan Mistry responded to the letter on 10 September.

How is the AICC president elected?

The Congress Constitution lays out a detailed process for electing the AICC president. According to Article 18 of the Congress Constitution, the Central Election Authority chairman will be the ex-officio Returning Officer (RO) for the election of the president. As of today, Mistry occupies that post.

Any delegate from any Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) can file nominations for the AICC president poll. Every candidate must, however, get 10 or more delegates to jointly propose his or her name.

The RO must publish the names of all those proposed by 10 delegates. Any candidate who wants to withdraw their nomination can do so within seven days. The final list of candidates is then shared with all PCCs.

In case only one candidate remains after the elimination or withdrawal process, he or she will be declared duly elected as AICC president. In the event that there are multiple candidates, elections will be held.

Within seven days after the publication of the final list of candidates, all eligible voters — delegates — are entitled to record their vote. If there are two candidates, delegates can record their vote for one candidate on the ballot paper. If there are more than two candidates, delegates have to record at least two preferences, indicating first and second preference, against the names of the candidate. Any ballot paper that doesn’t have at least two preference votes will be deemed invalid. Voting papers are then put in the ballot box provided to all PCCs.

The counting of votes will take place at the AICC headquarters by the election authority chairman. Any candidate who polls more than 50 percent of first-preference votes is declared the president.

In case no candidate polls more than 50 percent of first-preference votes, the candidate with the least first-preference votes is eliminated and the second-preference votes by those who voted for the eliminated candidate are counted. The process of eliminating candidates who secure the least number of votes continues, and subsequent preferential votes are counted. In the end, the candidate who secures more than 50 percent of the votes is declared President.

“That is what the set rules define, but on the ground, some flexibility is seen. For example, in many cases, delegates from PCCs are not elected in a contest but chosen via resolutions or unanimously. But the AICC presidential election process is transparent even if there is a contest or not. It is a good thing that the elections are being held so the party can at least put an end to criticisms of not holding due elections,” a senior member of the Congress Election Authority Committee told South First.

Who is eligible to vote?

Mistry, in his response to the five Congress MPs who sought transparent elections, said more than 9,000 delegates were eligible to vote in the AICC presidential poll. The list of eligible candidates, Mistry said, would be handed over to anyone filing nominations at the AICC headquarters, starting 20 September. The list would have the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all the 9,000+ delegates eligible to vote, Mistry said.

“Every delegate elected at the block level in every state and Union territory where the Congress has a PCC is eligible to vote,” Saleem Ahmed, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, told South First.

For example, Karnataka has 379 delegates from each block in the state. “All 379 members are eligible to vote in the AICC presidential election,” Ahmed said.

Even being elected as a delegate is a process that begins at the primary-committee level.

According to Article 5 of the Congress’ constitution, only a person who has been a member of the Congress for at least three years is eligible to be elected as a delegate or office-bearer of any Congress committee.

A primary Congress committee that consists of at least 25 members elects a delegate to a block Congress committee by a show of hands. These block Congress committee delegates are the electorate for the AICC presidential polls.

Those in the block Congress committees in turn elect delegates to the district Congress committees, who in turn elect delegates to the state committees. Delegates of the state committees are the electorate to vote on members to the CWC.

“For the first time, we are issuing QR code-based identity cards to all delegates across 28 States and nine Union Territories that have PCCs. Those who want to file nominations should check if they possess a delegate identity card. Only people with valid identity cards will be allowed to sign on the nomination papers,” Mistry said in his letter to the Congress MPs.

“Whether a president is elected unanimously or in a contest, the process of election in the Congress has been there and fair for more than 135 years. These elections will put an end to claims that the party has been avoiding the due process,” former Union minister and Congress veteran Veerappa Moily told South First.