In a surprise move, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday filed his nomination papers for the Congress president election. The 80-year-old will lock horns with Shashi Tharoor and Jharkhand Congress leader KN Tripathi who are also in the fray.
Kharge is said to have the backing of the Gandhi family as his name cropped up on the last day of nomination and prompted former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh to pull out of the race.
After filing nomination, Kharge, who had won 10 consecutive elections — nine time assembly polls and once in Lok Sabha in 2014 — said, “Today, I have filed my nomination papers for the election of Congress president. Many prominent leaders today were with me during my filing of nomination.”
He thanked the delegates, party leaders and workers who encouraged him to contest the election. “I thank all the delegates, leaders and workers who encouraged me to contest in the election. I will appeal to all the leaders and delegates to vote for me in maximum numbers to ensure my victory,” he said.
The veteran leader asserted he has fought throughout his life and will keep on fighting in future. “I have always fought and will always stand up for the ideology of Congress with whom I have been associated for over four decades,” he said, adding that he has been inspired by leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar and others.
Kharge also recalled how then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had come to Katnataka’s Gulbarga and exhorted people to work for the Congress. “I got my first ticket in 1972 and have been winning since then. Today also Congress leaders have backed my candidature for the party president post,” he added.
When asked about Shashi Tharoor, against whom he’s contesting the election, Kharge said, “What I have to say, have already informed you. Other than that I will not say anything. I am hopeful that I will win.”
His candidature was proposed by noted party leaders such as Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Pramod Tiwari, PL Punia, AK Antony, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Tariq Anwar, Salman Khurshid, Deepender Hooda, Manish Tewari, among many others.
Meanwhile, Tharoor, who also filed his nomination papers for the party’s top post, told the media, “I have a vision for the Congress which I shall be sending to all delegates as I seek their support. I’m here to be the voice of all party workers.”
He further stated the nomination papers he submitted reflect an extraordinarily wide range of support extended voluntarily to him by party workers across India. “We have submitted 5 forms with 50 signs. We are about to submit the 6th form before 3 pm, which will take the total to 60. This shows enormous support which the Congress workers are lending me,” the 66-year-old said.
Talking about Kharge being the favourite of the Gandhi family, the Thiruvananthapuram MP clarified, “The Congress president Sonia Gandhi assured me the party has no official candidate and the Gandhi family will stay neutral in this race. They welcome as many candidates as possible. In that spirit, I put forth my candidacy. The contest will be held in a friendly manner. We are not enemies or rivals.”
Tharoor called Kharge, 80, a “candidate of continuity”, an apparent sign that the Karnataka leader is the choice of the Gandhis. “I am not surprised that the establishment is rallying behind the status quo. If you want the status quo, you should vote for Kharge. If you want substantive change, I stand for that change,” he candidly said.
He also referred to Kharge as the ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of Congress and said, “Let party workers decide how to proceed. I won’t say anything negative about Kharge, Digvijaya Singh or Tripathi.”
The leader also spoke at length in Hindi, an attempt to emphasize his bilingual credentials.
In a tweet, Tharoor after filing his nomination papers said, “I have just submitted my nomination papers as a candidate for the presidential election of Congress. It is a privilege to serve the only party in India with an open democratic process to choose its leader. Greatly appreciate Soniaji’s guidance and vision.”
I have just submitted my nomination papers as a candidate for the presidential election of @incindia. It is a privilege to serve the only party in India with an open democratic process to choose its leader. Greatly appreciate Soniaji’s guidance&vision.#ThinkTomorrowThinkTharoor pic.twitter.com/4HM4Xq3XIO
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 30, 2022Advertisement
Congress is witnessing an election for the top post after a hiatus of 21 years. Sonia Gandhi was the party chief for 18 years on the trot from 2000 to 2017. In 2017, Rahul Gandhi became the president but quit after Congress copped a humiliating drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Since then, Sonia has been holding the post of interim Congress chief.
As per the election schedule, the date of notification is September 22, and the candidates can file their nominations between September 24 and 30. The last date of withdrawal is October 8. The date of the election (if needed) is October 17 (Monday) from 10 am to 4 pm. The counting and declaration of results (if needed) will happen on October 19.
On September 22, Congress CEA Chairman Madhusudan Mistry had issued the notification of the party president election.