Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot became the first person to announce his candidature for the AICC presidential poll on Friday, a day before the nomination process begins, and said Rahul Gandhi has told him that no one from the Gandhi family should become the next party chief.
He also said the call on his successor to head the Rajasthan government will be taken by the party’s interim president, Sonia Gandhi, and the Congress’s Rajasthan in-charge, Ajay Maken.
With Shashi Tharoor likely to be the second contender and the names of several others also doing the rounds for joining the fray, Gehlot said the aim should be that all Congress members work together after the poll to strengthen the party.
Talking to reporters in Kochi, the 71-year-old leader said, “I will fix the date (to submit the nomination papers) after going back (to Rajasthan), but I have decided that I will have to contest. It is a question of democracy and let us make a new start.”
Gehlot also said Rahul Gandhi has told him that he respects the wish of the party workers that he should take charge of the organisation but no one from the Gandhi family would become the next Congress president.
“I requested him multiple times. He has clearly said ‘I know, everyone wants me to take it up, PCCs have passed resolutions, the workers want it. I have a lot of respect for them but due to certain reasons, we have decided that a non-Gandhi family person should become the president’,” Gehlot said.
With Thiruvananthapuram MP Tharoor likely to enter the poll fray, Gehlot said other “Congress friends” may also contest but what matters is unity and the need to strengthen the organisation at all levels.
“There are Congress friends. Even if they contest, there is no issue. After the results, we should work together to strengthen the Congress at the block, village and district levels and also move forward making our (Congress) thought process as the base, so that we emerge as a strong opposition,” he added.
Considering the present situation in the country, there is a need for a strong Opposition, the veteran Congress leader said.
Later in the day, talking to reporters in Shirdi, Gehlot said the debate on “one man, one post” is unnecessary and he would like to serve the people of his state all his life. He also said his statements on wanting to serve the people of Rajasthan are being interpreted in different ways.
With the speculation over Rahul Gandhi contesting the AICC presidential poll coming to an end with Gehlot’s remarks, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury hailed the former party chief for taking a “principled” stance and called him a “natural leader”.
“It was the universal demand from the workers of our party that Rahul Gandhi should assume the charge of AICC president. But from the very first day, he has been declining the job. He has decided that someone from outside the Gandhi family should take it up,” Chowdhury told PTI.
“It is a very principled stand. He is a natural leader. When he says anything, he will draw the attention of the country. He certainly holds a special place in the heart of the common Congress worker,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi does not hanker for posts, Chowdhury said, adding that he could have taken up a ministerial berth in 2009, but had declined it.
In another related development, a day after Congress leader Gourav Vallabh taunted Tharoor over his probable AICC presidential poll bid, the party asked its spokespersons and communications department office-bearers to refrain from commenting on any colleague contesting the election.
Vallabh had also voiced support for Gehlot, who many believe enjoys the backing of the party’s current leadership.
According to sources, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh, in a message to the spokespersons and office-bearers of the party’s communications department, said, “I would strongly urge all spokespersons and office-bearers of the communications department of the AICC to refrain from making any comment of any kind on any colleague of ours contesting the election for the post of Congress president.”
Even as the race for the Congress president’s post is heating up, veteran leader and Rajya Sabha member Digvijaya Singh said he is not interested in becoming the party chief.
Several senior leaders’ names such as that of former Union minister Manish Tewari, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, Mukul Wasnik and Mallikarjun Kharge were doing the rounds as possible contenders, but many of them have privately ruled out running for the top post.
According to a notification issued by the party on Thursday, the process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30.
The date for a scrutiny of the nomination papers is October 1, while the last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8. The final list of candidates will be published at 5 pm on October 8.
The polling, if needed, will be held on October 17. The counting of votes will be taken up on October 19 and the results will be declared the same day.
More than 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates will vote in the poll.
The Congress last saw a contest for the party president’s 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.
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