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Indian Congress Party to Get First Non-Gandhi President in 24 Years As Kharge Vs Tharoor Comes to An End Today


OCTOBER 18, 2022

Has the Congress chosen a “Gandhi proxy” or a “candidate of change”? All this will be clear as the grand old party gets its first non-Gandhi president in 24 years between senior leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor, once the results of the presidential elections are declared on Wednesday.

Over 9,500 votes were cast in a secret ballot to choose between the two candidates, with Kharge pitched as the favourite due to his proximity to the Gandhi family and a large number of leaders backing him. But, Tharoor has promised change and large-scale reforms within the party if he wins the elections, the sixth in the 137-year history of the Congress. The chosen candidate will succeed interim party president Sonia Gandhi.

The counting of votes will begin at 10 am at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi. All sealed ballot boxes from 68 polling booths across the country have been brought together and kept in a “strong room” at the party office. The boxes will be opened before the candidates’ agents and ballot papers will be mixed repeatedly.

The Congress claims to be the only party with an internal democratic set-up to choose its president. It also has a central election authority, whose chairperson Madhusudan Mistry expressed satisfaction with the polling process calling it “free, fair and transparent”. He also said it was a secret ballot and no one will know who voted for whom.

A total of 9,915 Pradesh Congress Committee delegates formed the electoral college to pick the party chief in a secret ballot at party offices and the AICC headquarters.

The campaigning by both Kharge and Tharoor has been robust this time. Kharge is a grassroots politician and hardcore loyalist of the Gandhi family, while Tharoor, a social media pioneer and often outspoken, joined the Congress only in 2009 after a long stint at the United Nations.

Ahead of the polling, Kharge had said he would have no shame in taking the advice and support of the Gandhi family in running party affairs, if he becomes president. Tharoor, on his part, took a veiled dig at some senior leaders supporting Kharge, saying some colleagues were “indulging in netagiri and telling party workers that they know who Sonia Gandhi wants elected”.

Congress ‘Gandhi’ President?

The Nehru-Gandhi family has been at the helm of the Congress for about 40 years since Independence. The five prominent family members — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — have all taken up the mantle of the party president. The first three also became leaders of the country.

Electors in the presidential polls this time were asked to put a tick mark against their preferred candidate after Tharoor’s team took up the issue of its earlier directive that voters write “1”. This, the team said, might lead to confusion.

Looking back

1939: Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate P Sitaramayya had lost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose when an electoral contest was held to decide who will be the Congress chief.

1950: In the first election post-Independence, the face-off was between Purshottam Das Tandon and Acharya Kripalani. Tandon, seen as a Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel loyalist, surprised all by winning the contest and trumping the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s choice.

1977: After the resignation of Dev Kant Barooah as party president in the wake of the defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, K Brahmananda Reddy defeated Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Karan Singh.

1997: This election contest came 20 years later when Sitaram Kesri squared off in a triangular contest with Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. Except for Maharashtra and parts of Uttar Pradesh, all state Congress units had backed Kesri. He posted a landslide victory, getting 6,224 delegate votes against Pawar’s 882 and Pilot’s 354.

2000: In the fifth contest, this was the only time a Gandhi family member was challenged in the elections with Jitendra Prasada taking on Sonia Gandhi. Prasada suffered a crushing defeat as Sonia garnered over 7,400 votes. Prasada had reportedly polled a paltry 94 votes.

2022: The sixth election is historic as the new president will replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party chief since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi was at the helm of affairs.

Source/Courtesy: News18