I have been waiting for a long time for Congress presidential elections, asserted Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi as party delegates across India voted on Monday to choose a new non-Gandhi chief for the first time in 22 years.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor are fighting it out in the organisational polls.
Though the Gandhis – Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka – have maintained a distance from the elections, Kharge is being seen as a candidate “approved” by them.
“I have been waiting for this for a long time,” Sonia told reporters before casting her vote at the party headquarters in Delhi.
The voting began at 10 am at the Congress headquarters and its state offices across the country and will conclude at 4 pm. Results will be declared on October 19.
Former finance minister and Congress MP P Chidambaram was the first delegate to exercise his franchise at the party’s main office in Delhi.
Apart from Sonia, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, former ministers Salman Khurshid and Jairam Ramesh, Rajasthan leader Sachin Pilot and spokesperson Pawan Khera were among those who cast their votes at the AICC headquarters.
Speaking to the media, Pilot said: “Due to internal elections, a sense of competition will emerge within the party. One of the pledges that we took during the Udaipur Nav Sankal Chintan Shivir earlier this year is being fulfilled today.”
The former Rajasthan deputy CM also said that the elections in Congress will motivate others parties to hold internal polls.
When asked if the newly-elected Congress president be able to solve the internal tussle in the party’s Rajasthan unit, Pilot said: “Our main focus is on winning the 2023 Assembly elections and forming the government.”
He sought to evade another question on Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s remark indicating that Pilot was in hurry to replace him, saying that the party aims to win the next general elections.
As many as 9000 delegates are expected to cast their votes in the election for a new Congress president. It is the sixth time in the nearly 137-year-old history of the party that a secret ballot vote would decide who would head the Grand Old Party.
Both the candidates, Kharge and Tharoor, have campaigned extensively. While Kharge has been considered the Gandhi family’s ‘unofficial official candidate’ with a large number of senior leaders backing him, Tharoor has pitched himself as the candidate who would bring sweeping reforms.
Tharoor has alleged an “uneven playing field” in the elections, claiming state party chiefs and senior leaders were not available for meeting him during his campaign.
Alleging differential treatment, the Congress MP had said that the same leaders welcome Kharge when he visited their respective states.
Meanwhile, Congress’ 3,570-km Bharat Jodo Yatra also took a day halt for polling as 41 of the Bharat Yatris are voters, including former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul exercised his voting right at the Bharat Jodo Yatra campsite in Karnataka’s Sanganakallu, where a truck container which was serving as the meeting room of the party, has been converted into a polling booth.
Congress Central Election Authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry has advised voters to put ‘tick’ in the box against the name of the candidate of their choice.
Tharoor will cast his vote at the Kerala Congress headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram, while Kharge will exercise his franchise at the Karnataka Congress office in Bengaluru.