Poll for AICC president may be Congress’ chance to resolve G-23, family rule, and Rajasthan glitches

The election for the post of Congress president is scheduled to be held on 17 October, with the possibility of a contest after 22 years.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Sep 22, 2022 | 6:55 PMUpdatedSep 23, 2022 | 11:22 PM

Rajasthan Chief Minister and likely contender for Congress president post Ashok Gehlot in the upcoming poll at the Bharat Jodo Yatra with Rahul Gandhi in Ernakulam on Thursday

The Congress on Thursday issued a notification for the election of party president. Hours later, former All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Rahul Gandhi offered ‘advice‘ to the next party chief, as if taking himself out of the contest.

With that, after 22 years, India’s primary opposition party may very well see elections to its top post. Since India’s Independence, the Congress has seen elections to the AICC president post only twice earlier.

Till Wednesday, only Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot were expected to contest the upcoming AICC president polls. By Thursday, the number of aspirants had shot up to five with reports suggesting former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, and MPs Digvijaya Singh and Manish Tewari are also looking to contest. On Friday, Gehlot confirmed his candidature.

Shashi Tharoor at Dakshin Dialogues

Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor at South First’s Dakshin Dialogues 2022 in Hyderabad on Saturday, 17 September 2022 (South First)

One solution to many problems

Irrespective of how many candidates file their nominations or whether there will be a need for voting at all, the AICC president poll may just be the medicine the Congress needs.

Marred by electoral losses, desertion of leaders, criticism over single-family control, fissures within state units, and dissent within its structure, the elections could help the Congress put to rest some, if not all, problems to rest.

Several state units have passed resolutions asking Rahul to take over as party president.

Often ridiculed by the BJP for being a ‘single-family controlled’ party, a non-Nehru-Gandhi president may help the Congress dilute that perception.

The suspicion that the new president might be reduced to a ‘rubber stamp’ lingers, with several Congress leaders reiterating that they would only back candidates ‘loyal’ to the Nehru-Gandhi family. But the possible candidature of Tharoor and Tewari, whose 2020 letter for sweeping reforms was seen as a transgression, offsets criticism of the elections being rigged to favour the Gandhis right from the beginning.

With Tharoor and Tewari said to be thinking about filing their nominations, the Congress can finally claim to have offered the G23 leaders the platform for democratic process they asked for.

Whether or not Tharoor or Tewari file their nominations or win the poll, the G23 group, of which two leaders have already quit the party, can no longer accuse the Congress of avoiding an electoral process and lack of transparency.

If leaders from the G-23 group contest and win the election, the Congress would prove that internal democracy, including dissent against the Gandhi family, is alive and kicking. If they lose, the Congress could claim that the majority of the party was not in agreement with their stance on the state of affairs.

Shashi Tharoor, who visited the AICC election authority office on Wednesday to collect the list of voters, is said to be holding talks with leaders like former Union minister MM Pallam Raju to rally support for him. “Even if Tharoor manages to swing a few leaders with influence, it is unlikely that he would poll more than 300–500 votes out of the 9000+,” a senior functionary of AICC told South First. Tharoor put up a ‘not-so-cryptic’ tweet on Thursday night.

Means to end infighting in Rajasthan?

While Sonia Gandhi is said to have assured Congress leaders that neither she nor her family will back any one candidate, Ashok Gehlot, a staunch loyalist of the party and the family, is seen as the natural choice after Rahul for the post. The AICC election authority has identified more than 9,000 delegates who are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections.

Rajasthan Congress leader Sachin Pilot with Rahul at the Bharat Jodo Yatra on Wednesday in Kochi (Supplied)

If Gehlot were to contest and win the poll, his elevation as Congress president will open up the post of Rajasthan chief minister — a position Sachin Pilot is keen on.

Barely a day after Gehlot was touted as a contender for the AICC president post, Pilot — who has been patiently awaiting his turn to take over the reins in Rajasthan — joined Rahul at the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kochi. On Thursday, it was Gehlot’s turn to walk with Rahul.

While Gehlot is attempting to work out a way to either remain the chief minister of Rajasthan even after being elected Congress president in the poll or place one of his aides in the post, Pilot is said to have asserted his demand to be allowed to take over from the former. While the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia deserted the Congress, Pilot has been wooed to stay put with a promise of elevation in due time. With Gehlot’s elevation, the Congress could finally hope to deliver on its promise to Pilot.

During a press conference in Kochi on Thursday, Rahul made it amply clear that the party’s ‘one person, one post’ is ideal, as if in reference to Gehlot’s hopes to steer the party as well as the Rajasthan government.

“What we decided in Udaipur, we expect that commitment to be maintained,” Rahul said, referring to the chintan shivir the party held in Udaipur earlier this year.

In shambles across the country, the Congress can use warhorses and strategists like Gehlot or Kamal Nath to steer the party into Lok Sabha elections in 2024. Meanwhile, a diplomatic ‘reformist’ like Tharoor could hope to shock the ailing structure of the party and jolt it to revival.