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Congress to hold election for party president on October 17; No mention of Rahul Gandhi's candidature at CWC

The result will be declared on October 19. If only one candidate is left in the fray after the withdrawal of nominations, the name of the president will be declared on October 8 itself, the party's Central Election Authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry said after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

August 29, 2022 / 07:20 AM IST
Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

Facing internal upheaval, the Congress announced that the election for its president would be held on October 17, asserting that it is the only party in the country which follows such a democratic exercise.

The result will be declared on October 19. If only one candidate is left in the fray after the withdrawal of nominations, the name of the president will be declared on October 8 itself, the party's Central Election Authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry said after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000.

The BJP, which has often criticised the Congress over dynastic politics due to the control of the Gandhi family over it, mocked it as "Mughal-style coronation''. Sonia Gandhi is the longest-serving party president and has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017-19 when Rahul Gandhi took over.

Jitendra Prasada had lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2000 and prior to that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997. While many Gandhi loyalists have been pushing for Rahul Gandhi to return to the top post that he quit after the defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he is not keen on assuming the role and wants a non-Gandhi to be at the helm.

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Sources point out that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is among the frontrunners to occupy the post. The schedule of the election was approved unanimously at the online meeting of the CWC which took place under the shadow of the shock resignation of veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Friday and his stinging letter to the party president in which he lashed out at Rahul Gandhi for "demolishing the party's entire consultative mechanism".

However, there was no mention of Azad's exit or any leader urging Rahul Gandhi to take over as party chief at the meeting which lasted barely 30 minutes. Azad was a CWC member and part of the group of 23 dissident leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking large-scale reforms and an organisational overhaul, including elections at all levels.

The online CWC meeting was presided over by Sonia Gandhi, who is abroad for medical checkups. She was seen flanked by former party chief Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who are accompanying her abroad.

Two days after Azad termed the election process as a "farce and sham" and blamed the leadership for this "fraud", Anand Sharma, another G23 member, raised questions at the CWC meeting on the preparation of electoral rolls for the AICC president's election and asked whether due process under the party's constitution was followed or not, sources said.

They added that Sharma claimed he has received complaints that neither any virtual nor physical meeting was held to finalise the electoral rolls. He asked Mistry to make the lists public as no Pradesh Congress Committee has received any list of delegates and said such a process violates the sanctity of the election process.

Mistry, the sources said, assured that all PCCs and candidates in the fray will get the list of over 9000 delegates. Party's General Secretary Jairam Ramesh, however, later denied that Sharma had raised any such issue

"The election schedule that was put forward by Mistry, all CWC members unanimously approved it without raising any questions or demanding an extension of dates," he said.

"The Congress is the only party in which elections at various levels and especially for the post of the president have taken place, will take place and keep taking place," Ramesh told reporters.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was also present at today's CWC meet, besides other members. Sonia Gandhi said this meeting had to be conducted virtually due to her medical condition and welcomed Singh and other members.

She also said that the party is fully geared up for September 4 mega rally against price rise and unemployment and Bharat Jodo Yatra starting from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, hoping she would be back soon.

The notification for the election will be issued on September 22, while the filing of nomination would begin on September 24 and continue till September 30, Mistry told reporters.

The date of scrutiny of the nomination papers would be October 1, while the last date of withdrawal of nominations would be October 8.

The election, if there is more than one candidate, will take place on October 17, while counting of votes, if necessary, and the counting of votes and the declaration of results would be on October 19, Mistry said.

The Congress had announced in October last year that the election of the new party president will be held between August 21 and September 20 this year.

Sources had said earlier that the election of the Congress president is likely to be delayed by a few weeks with the party focused on the Kanyakumari to Kashmir 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' starting September 7 and some state units not completing all formalities.

The CWC extended its best wishes to Congress President Sonia Gandhi for a full and speedy recovery, AICC general secretary organisation K C Venugopal said while addressing the media along with Mistry and Ramesh.

Asked about leaders being busy with Bharat Jodo Yatra and if voting for them would be an issue, Venugopal said arrangements would be made to ensure that all delegates can cast their votes without any problem.

The Congress, dealing with the fallout of a series of high-profile exits including that of Kapil Sibal and Ashwani Kumar, has attempted to deflect the latest blow by alleging that Azad's DNA had been "Modi-fied" and linking his resignation to the end of his Rajya Sabha tenure.

Among those present at the meeting were Mistry, Venugopal, former union ministers Jairam Ramesh, Mukul Wasnik and P Chidambaram and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot along with his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel.

The meeting came amid several leaders, including Gehlot, having publicly exhorted Rahul Gandhi to return as the party chief. However, uncertainty and suspense continue on the issue.

Several party insiders say Rahul Gandhi is persisting with his stance that he will not be the AICC president. Gehlot on Wednesday had sought to play down reports about him being the frontrunner for the Congress president's post and said efforts will be made till the last minute to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the party again.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Sunday cautioned that the Congress will not survive if someone is made a "puppet president".

On the discussions related to the names of Gehlot and some other leaders for the post of Congress president, Chavan asked if the president's name will be decided before the election.

"Why are you taking the reverse path? You will confirm the name in advance and then conduct elections, does this ever happen? Hold elections, whoever has to fight, will fight," said the Congress leader who is part of the G-23. "If backseat driving continues by making a puppet president, then the party will not be able to survive," he warned.

Gehlot's meeting with Sonia Gandhi triggered the buzz that the two may have discussed the possibility of him being the next party president. Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president after the party suffered its second consecutive defeat in parliamentary elections in 2019.

Sonia Gandhi who took over the reins of the party again as interim president had also offered to quit in August 2020 after an open revolt by a section of leaders, referred to as G-23, but the CWC had urged her to continue.
PTI
first published: Aug 29, 2022 07:25 am
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