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The Hindu
The Hindu
Sobhana K. Nair

Shashi Tharoor plans to run for Congress president?

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is exploring the possibility of running for the party President’s postThe Hindu has learnt, though the only indication from him is an article he wrote for a Malayalam daily on Monday, in which he expressed hope that several candidates come forward for the contest.

The Hindu has already reported that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is the likely nominee of the Gandhi family, who have themselves decided to stay away from the contest. Mr. Tharoor, citing the example of the ongoing leadership race in the British Conservative Party, which has attracted global interest, said a similar scenario for the Congress would similarly “increase the national interest in the party and galvanise more voters towards the Congress party once again.” He went on to write, “For this reason I hope that several candidates come forward to present themselves for consideration. Putting forward their visions for the party and the nation will surely stir public interest.”

According to the sources, Mr. Tharoor has been in touch with party leaders to figure out whether he can gain a critical mass of support though possibility of his victory against an official nominee is slim. However, when The Hindu contacted Mr. Tharoor, who was in his Thiruvananthapuram constituency, he refused to comment on the subject.

‘Damaging effect’

He further wrote in Mathrubhumi that the leadership vacuum at the top has had a damaging effect within the party. “By fixing the current leadership vacuum and institutionalising a process through which the Congress worker can have a concrete say in the leaders that represent them at the upper echelons of the party, free and fair elections will give the party the strong footing it needs in the hearts of the workers and the general public,” Mr. Tharoor said.

If there are multiple candidates and an election is forced — it will be a first for the party in 22 years. The last contest for the President’s post was seen in November 2000 when Jitendra Prasada stood against Sonia Gandhi. Even then the election was one-sided as Prasada was miserably outmanoeuvred and outnumbered — of the 7,542 valid votes, he got merely 94 votes.

Prior to this, in June 1997, the post for Congress President was keenly contested between the incumbent Sitaram Kesari, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. Both Mr. Pawar and Pilot together polled 1,236 out of 7,460 valid votes polled, amid allegations that the electoral rolls were managed by Kesari, whose chosen people were heading various State units. Once again, questions have been raised on the electoral rolls. Congress Working Committee member Anand Sharma questioned the “sanctity” of the electoral rolls at Sunday’s meeting of the panel.

‘Aim is to revive party’

Mr. Tharoor’s move, sources said, is independent to the reformist group, originally called G-23 because of the 23 signatories including Ghulam Nabi Azad who wrote to interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi asking for overhauling. After Mr. Azad’s exit, the group so far has not had any formal meetings. “As a signatory of the so-called G-23 letter, I should say that it reflected concerns building up over many months among party members and well-wishers who wanted a re-energised Congress. These concerns were about the party’s functioning not its ideology or values. Our only intention was to strengthen and revive the party, not to divide or weaken it,” Mr. Tharoor wrote.

Out of the 23 leaders who were in G-23, including Mr. Azad, at least three leaders have already left the party. The other two are Kapil Sibal and Jitin Prasada. Mr. Sibal recently won the Rajya Sabha election supported by the Samajwadi Party while, Mr. Prasada left to join the BJP and is currently a Minister in the Yogi Adityanath Cabinet in Uttar Pradesh.

Responding to the steady stream of leaders leaving the Congress, Mr. Tharoor wrote, “This latest in a steady spate of departures has been fuelling incessant media speculation and a daily dose of obituaries for the party. In turn, the Congress worker, who has already had to contend with the disappointment of the recent election results, risks further demoralisation.”

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