After over two decades, the Congress is likely to see a contest for the post of party chief with Shashi Tharoor looking set to enter the fray after his meeting with Sonia Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot being seen as the other contender.
It would, however, be interesting to see if a surprise candidate or candidates also throw their hat in the ring.
The upcoming polls would certainly be historic as the new president would replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi took over.
The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000. Jitendra Prasada had lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2000 and prior to that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997.
With Rahul Gandhi likely to stick to his earlier stance of not taking on the mantle of party president, it seems the party will have its first non-Gandhi president in over two decades. Also, with Sonia Gandhi asserting that she would remain neutral in the polls and there would be no "official candidate" it could be a keener contest than the one in 2000.
Tharoor on Monday met Sonia Gandhi and expressed his intention to contest the upcoming AICC chief polls, while the Congress president conveyed that she would stay "neutral" in the elections, according to sources.
Gandhi welcomed the idea of more people contesting the polls and dispelled the notion that there would be an "official candidate", they said.
The feedback by Gandhi on Tharoor's desire to contest is being seen by many as an encouragement to him to contest and he could announce his candidature in the next few days.
With regard to Tharoor's meeting with Gandhi and the speculation over it, the Congress said no one needs a nod to contest the presidential election as it is an open, democratic and transparent process.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "Entire party is immersed in making Bharat Jodo Yatra a success. Even so it is important to reiterate that any member is welcome to contest for Congress president". "This is a democratic and transparent process. Nobody needs anybody's nod to contest, especially that of party leadership," he said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Gehlot is being considered as a candidate for the top post favoured by the present dispensation, according to some sources. Gehlot, however, denies that he is a candidate and has been saying that he will try and convince Rahul Gandhi to contest.
Adding to the buzz over the possibility of his contesting Congress president polls, Tharoor had met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence here on Monday. He, however, refused to divulge any details about the meeting.
Tharoor, who was among the group of 23 leaders who had written to Gandhi in 2020 demanding organisational overhaul, also endorsed a petition on Monday by a group of young party members seeking "constructive reforms".
The petition shared by Tharoor on Twitter sought reforms and a pledge by AICC president candidates to implement the Udaipur Declaration in entirety, if elected. The former Union minister said it had been signed by over 650 people so far.
"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. I am happy to endorse it & to go beyond it," Tharoor tweeted with screenshots of the petition.
The petition that Tharoor endorsed said, "We are members of the Congress party with a desire to strengthen the party to reflect the hopes and aspirations of our nation." The petition stated some of the tenets of the Udaipur Declaration that was made on May 15, 2022, after the party's brainstorming session.
"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 within the first 100 days of assuming office," the petition said.
In its declaration, the Congress had announced wide-ranging organisational reforms to make the party battle ready for the next round of assembly and Lok Sabha polls, stressing on wider representation to those under 50 years of age and enforcing 'one person, one post' and 'one family, one ticket' rules with riders.
Asked about the possibility of him running for the post of the Congress president, Tharoor had told PTI earlier this month, "I have only welcomed the fact that an election will be held. I believe that is very good for the party."
"Of course it is gratifying that this general statement of democratic principle has immediately led to large numbers of people around the country welcoming the prospect of my contesting. But as I have made it clear, I have not declared my candidacy," Tharoor had said.
"I hope many will contest in order to give the membership a wide choice. So far I have neither ruled myself in nor ruled myself out," the former Union minister had asserted. The process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30.
The last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8 and the election, if required, will be held on October 17. The results will be out on October 19.(With PTI inputs)