More than 9,500 Congress delegates across the country on Monday voted to elect the party’s first non-Gandhi president in 24 years, choosing between senior leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor as successor to Sonia Gandhi.
Of the total 9,915 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates that form the electoral college to pick the party chief in a secret ballot, over 9,500 cast their ballot at all PCC offices and the AICC headquarters in Delhi, party’s central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry announced here.
The results of election will be declared on October 19, after ballots from all PCC offices reach Delhi and the votes polled are mixed before counting.
“I have been waiting for a long time for this day,” Congress chief Sonia Gandhi told reporters after voting at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters here.
Sonia Gandhi, who had been the party president from 1998 to 2017, was made interim president after Rahul Gandhi resigned in 2019 over the party’s poll debacle.
Voting in the much discussed elections, viewed by some as an exercise aimed at putting the party on the path to revival, began at 10 am at the AICC headquarters and at polling booths in PCC offices across the country.
Mistry expressed satisfaction over the poll process and claimed that the election has been “free, fair, and transparent”. He, however, said that he cannot force anyone to attend someone’s meeting, reacting to Tharoor’s charge that there was no level playing field.
Kharge is considered the favourite for his perceived proximity to the Gandhis and has the backing of senior leaders, even as Tharoor has pitched himself as the “candidate of change”.
Mistry said the exercise started around two years ago and more than 9,900 delegates, one from every block in the country, were selected for this election.
“Today’s election was held across the country. Out of a total 9,915 delegates, over 9,500 voted, with around 96 per cent voting in the Congress president’s elections,” he told reporters.
“The most satisfactory thing for us was that in all states where polling booths were set up, no adverse incident was reported. This is a big achievement…polls were held in an open process and in a peaceful manner,” Mistry said.
Mistry said no one should have any apprehensions as it is a secret ballot and nobody will get to know who voted for whom. He also said that the entire polling was recorded in cameras.
This is an example of democracy within the party and any party can draw lessons from this internal democracy, he said, adding that 87 delegates, most of them Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, voted at the AICC headquarters.
He further said a total of 50 delegates, including Rahul Gandhi, participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra, cast their vote in the polling booth set up at camp site near Ballari in Karnataka.
Asked whether there will be voting for the new CWC, he said it will depend on the new Congress president and the decision of party’s plenary session.
Mistry termed his experience as “very good” and said the election was like an “utsav”.
Besides Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were among those who voted in Delhi.
Kharge, 80, a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka who is tipped to win the election because of his proximity to the Gandhis, cast his ballot at the Karnataka Congress office in Bengaluru. His electoral rival and Thiruvananthapuram MP Tharoor, 66, voted in the Kerala capital.
Kharge said in Bengaluru that Tharoor called him up and wished him good luck and he wished him the same. The two were contesting internal polls on a friendly note to strengthen the Congress to build a stronger and better nation for the future generations, he said.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor said he is confident of victory even though the odds were stacked against him as leaders and establishment were with the other candidate.
“India needs a strong Congress. I did not contest for my political future, but for that of the Congress and India. I am here as a viable alternative. I am standing for change. A change in how the party functions,” he said.
“Spoke to Mallikarjun Kharge this morning to wish him well and to reaffirm my respect for him and our shared devotion to the success of Congress,” Tharoor added in a tweet, noting that the Congress’ revival had begun.
“Some people play safe in order not to lose. But if you just play safe, you will definitely lose,” Thaoor tweeted in the morning, using the hashtag “#ThinkTomorrowThinkTharoor”.
Electors in the Congress presidential polls have been asked to put a tick mark against their candidate in the ballot paper after Tharoor’s team took up with the party’s top poll body the issue of its earlier directive that voters write “1” to reflect their preference. This, the team said, might lead to confusion.
As the election process continued, the Gandhis dominated the discourse in many places.
“The Gandhi family will continue to play an important role. There is no doubt that Sonia Gandhi will continue to be our leader,” Congress general secretary Mukul Wasnik said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, once a frontrunner for the top party post, said in Jaipur that his relationship with the Gandhi family will be the “same for life”, even after October 19.
Attacking the BJP, Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar said the party’s elections marked a historical moment. “None of us know how J P Nadda got selected, two-and-a-half people decided – one Modi, one Shah and a half RSS. So, such a party commenting on Congress polls is a joke,” he said.
The political journeys of the two dramatis personae in the Congress presidential elections have been disparate.
Kharge is a grassroots politician and a 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 the party affairs, if he becomes its president.
Tharoor, on his part, took a veiled dig at some senior leaders supporting Kharge, saying that some colleagues were “indulging in ‘netagiri’ and telling party workers that they know who Sonia Gandhi wants elected”.
The last election for the post of Congress president was held in 2000 when Sonia Gandhi handed Jitendra Prasada a crushing defeat.
The Nehru-Gandhi family has been at the helm of the party for about 40 years since Independence. The five family members to take on the mantle of party president included Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)