Congress’ election office at party headquarters in New Delhi has never been busier. Two extra tables have been set up and additional staff has been roped in to provide electoral rolls to those who asked for it and also guide leaders who wish to file the nomination for the party’s presidential election scheduled in October.
The office saw some excitement when Shashi Tharoor turned up to take a look at the rolls. He clicked a picture with the chairman of Congress’ Central Election Authority, Madhusudan Mistry, and left. This confirmed the speculation that Tharoor is considering contesting the polls. But are there other big contenders? Most leaders are testing waters and gauging whether they can muster the support of 10 mandatory delegates for filing the nomination.
With Congress president Sonia Gandhi making it clear that she would be neutral in the election process and anyone can file the nomination, there are many who are weighing the option.
Shashi Tharoor is erudite, a bit of maverick, and has often been seen as someone who has not toed the party line yet proved himself by winning a tough and challenging seat of Thiruvananthapuram. Once considered as an outsider in Kerala politics, Tharoor has managed to prove many wrong. He was one of the members of the rebel G23 group who wanted a transparent election. With the Kerala unit of Congress saying they will not support Tharoor , a win seems tough for him. But if he does contest, he will be seen as someone who could walk the talk, and emerge stronger after fighting the tough election — quite similar to his initial years in politics after a successful run in the United Nations.
The Congress MP is a real rebel who now does not enjoy a good relation with the Gandhis. While many in the G23 have either opted out or co-opted with the Gandhis, Tewari continues to rebel and speak his mind. At present, he is making rounds of his constituency in Punjab, trying to track how many delegates would back him if he decides to file his nomination papers. Like Tharoor, Tewari would want to prove a point by contesting knowing well that not many in his party would support or vote for him.
Mallikarjun Kharge and Mukul Wasnik
A Gandhi loyalist with a strong administrative experience, Kharge has the right credentials to contest the presidential election. Ahead of the Karnataka polls, his home state, Kharge can convey a deep political message to both himself and his party. In fact, many feel that Kharge could muster many votes as he has a good equation with most leaders of the party. Meanwhile, Mukul Wasnik, a Dalit leader from Maharashtra and a loyalist, is a relatively young leader who could consider contesting the polls.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan
Both leaders have already got in touch with their respective state units and followers, and would want to use the Congress presidential election, even if they lose, to gain some traction and reach out to their supporters.
The Congress leader has added to the confusion by saying he is yet to make up his mind, but sources close to him say it’s highly unlikely he may. But the 75-year-old former Madhya Pradesh chief minister has endeared himself and impressed many with his stamina at Congress’ Bharato Jodo Yatra, which has re-established him as a loyalist to the Gandhis.
The picture will be clear by September 30 when the nomination ends. Chief minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot, however, is the front-runner but one never knows if there can be surprises thrown up. One thing is clear — this election is a popularity test for those who will contest. Soon, they would know how many within the party are their actual friends.
The nominations for the Congress’ presidential election will be filed from September 24 to 30. The voting will be held on October 17 and the results will be declared on October 19. The nomination form will be available at the AICC Office, 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi, according to the party’s notification.