AICC chief election: History beckons as Congress gears up to elect a non-Gandhi after over 2 decades
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has declared his candidacy, is expected to face Shashi Tharoor, who has also declared his intentions by collecting nomination forms on Saturday. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra all declined to contest for party president, putting a non-Gandhi in charge for the first time in more than 24 years.
With a contest for the presidency of the Congress almost certain, history calls to the party, as this would be the fourth time since Independence that polling would determine who would lead it.
In addition, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra declined to contest for party president; a non-Gandhi would be in charge for the first time in over 24 years.
The Congress Party is set to see a leadership race, with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has declared his candidacy, expected to face Shashi Tharoor, who has also declared his intentions by having nomination forms collected on Saturday.
The Congress has claimed that its internal democracy is unrivalled by any other party and that it is the only one with a central election authority for organisational elections.
When asked about the importance of the elections this time, Congress general secretary in charge of communications Jairam Ramesh stated, "Speaking for myself, I am a firm believer in the Kamraj model of consensus, but if elections are inevitable, the process has been announced, we are the only political party to have this process, and if elections are necessary, they will be held on October 17."
While talking to PTI, Ramesh said, "The significance of this system stems from the fact that it is unique to the Congress party. We have election provisions, and we are the only party established an independent election authority to ensure free and fair organisational elections, including those for Congress president."
Ramesh said that in the 1950 election for Congress president, then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's candidate Acharya Kripalani lost to Purushottam Das Tandon.
He also recalled how, in the pre-independence era of 1939, Mahatma Gandhi's candidate for Congress presidency, P Sitaramayya, had lost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. So the official candidates had lost both times, he explained.
"We know two candidates are likely; Gehlot has declared his candidacy, and Tharoor has indicated his intention, so obviously, an election will be held on October 17," Ramesh said.
He asserted, however, that Congress' most significant contribution to Indian politics is the concept of consensus.
Tandon and Kripalani contested the Congress president elections in 1950. Surprisingly, Tandon, regarded as a Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel supporter, had won the election, defeating the PM's choice.
Tandon was declared the winner, with 1,306 votes to Kripalani's 1,092 votes. The next election that required a contest occurred 47 years later, in 1997 when Sitaram Kesri faced off against Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in a triangular contest.
Except for Maharashtra and parts of Uttar Pradesh, all state Congress units supported Kesri. He had won by a landslide, receiving 6,224 delegates to Pawar's 882 and Pilot's 354.
The third contest occurred in 2000, and it was the only time a Gandhi was challenged in an election, with Jitendra Prasada opposing Sonia Gandhi. Prasada was soundly defeated by Sonia Gandhi, who received over 7,400 votes, while Prasada received only 94.
The upcoming elections would undoubtedly be historic, as the new President would succeed Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president, who has been in charge since 1998, except for the two years between 2017 and 2019, when Rahul Gandhi took over.
In addition, after more than 24 years, the party will have its first non-Gandhi President.
Rasheed Kidwai, a Congress chronicler and political observer, said the current election process could be both unprecedented and historic because the established Congress leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi is not in the fray and will be supervising the polls.
While talking to PTI, Kidwai said, "What remains to be seen is whether they will remain neutral or issue some informal messaging in support of Gehlot."
He claims the odds are stacked against Tharoor because it is an intra-party election, and the vast Indian middle class isn't interested in who the Thiruvananthapuram MP has become.
In the post-Independence era, a member of the Gandhi family led the party for approximately 40 years.
Following Independence, the party was led by 16 people, five of whom were Gandhi family presidents.
Acharya Kriplani was President in 1947, and Sitarammya was party chief from 1948 to 1949. Tandon became party chief in 1950, and Nehru served as party chief from 1951 to 1955. Nehru stepped down as Congress president in 1955, and UN Dhebar took over the party's reins.
Indira Gandhi was elected President of the Congress in 1959 and was succeeded by N S Reddy, who served until 1963. K Kamraj was the Congress president from 1964 to 1967, and S Nijalingappa was the Congress president from 1968 to 1969.
In 1970-71, Jagjivan Ram was the Congress president, and in 1972-74, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma was the Congress president. Devkant Barua was the President of the Congress from 1975 to 1977.
Indira Gandhi was the Congress President again from 1978 to 1984. Rajiv Gandhi was the Congress president from 1985 to 1991, following Indira Gandhi's assassination. P V Narasimha Rao was the Congress president from 1992 to 1996.
Following that, Kesri took over as President and was succeeded by Sonia Gandhi in 1998. She was President until 2017, when Rahul Gandhi took over. Sonia Gandhi took over as an interim leader in 2019 after Rahul Gandhi resigned following the debacle of the Lok Sabha elections.
(With inputs from PTI)