Express News Service
NEW DELHI: The Congress presidential election gained frenetic pace on Tuesday with party president Sonia Gandhi summoning general secretary in-charge of organisation K C Venugopal for an urgent discussion, and Ashok Gehlot calling a late-evening meeting of Rajasthan MLAs before his departure to Delhi for a meeting with the party president.
Venugopal flew in from Kerala, where he was participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra with Rahul Gandhi, to meet the Congress president at her 10, Janpath residence.
Sources said the two discussed the presidential election, nomination for which is scheduled to start from September 24. Venugopal called Gehlot after meeting Sonia Gandhi and asked him to meet her in Delhi on Wednesday.
Gehlot has called party MLAs to the chief minister’s residence for a meeting at 10 pm. Sources close to the chief minister said that after meeting Sonia Gandhi in Delhi on Wednesday, Gehlot will leave for Kerala to meet Rahul Gandhi. From there, he is expected to return to Delhi and stay here till the last day of nomination on September 30.
With the party’s Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor, meeting Sonia Gandhi on Monday and expressing his desire to contest, the party high command has started preparing for a contest even as more state units adopted resolutions demanding the return of Rahul Gandhi as the party chief.
Though Sonia Gandhi told Tharoor that there would be no official candidate, sources said that the leadership has made up its mind to field a loyalist who is likely to sail through with the help of the handpicked electoral college comprising 9,300 PCC delegates.
Gehlot is reportedly the first choice of leadership as the official candidate. He, however, denies being a candidate saying that he will try and convince Rahul Gandhi to contest. Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, too, has said that he will try and persuade Rahul to return as party chief.
Meanwhile, about a dozen state units, including Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Odisha, Haryana, Maharashtra and Jammu Kashmir, have passed resolutions calling for Rahul to take the party reins. Senior Congress leaders such as P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh among others have demanded that the next president be chosen by consensus rather than contest.
The nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30. The last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8 and the election, if required, will be held on October 17. The results will be out on October 19.
If the contest does take place, it will be after over two decades that the Congressmen will be voting to elect their president. The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000 when Sonia Gandhi defeated Jitendra Prasada. Before that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997.
The new president will replace Sonia Gandhi who has become the longest-serving party president. She has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi took over as the party chief.