Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi has not yet clarified whether or not he would contest the election scheduled for October 17. If he throws his hat in the ring, no one else may contest against him.
However, if Rahul opts out of the race, then a Gehlot-Tharoor contest is likely to take place. If an election does take place, it would only be for the fifth time in the history of the 137-year-old party.
In 1938, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose won with a thumping margin defeating Pattabhi Sittaramayya even though the latter was considered as Mahatma Gandhi’s nominee. Purushottam Das Tandon defeated JB Kripalani in 1950, Sitaram Kesri defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997, and Sonia defeated Jitendra Prasada in 2000.
Gehlot’s candidature came into the limelight after he met Sonia on August 23, a day before she, along with Rahul and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, went abroad for medical checkup and to meet her ailing mother who later passed away in Italy.
Rahul came back on September 3-4 to take part in the party’s ‘Mehangai par halla bol rally’ in Delhi. On September 7, he went to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to launch the party’s 3,570-km and 150-day padyatra to Kashmir, covering 12 states and 2 Union Territories.
So far in his yatra, he has not given an unequivocal statement about his candidature for the party’s presidential election.
The election process will kick off on September 24 when candidates can start filing their nominations till the end of the month. Though a clear picture will emerge on September 30, it seems to be a Gehlot-Tharoor affair for now.
And if an election takes place between the two veteran Congress leaders, these are the five reasons why Gehlot will have an edge over Tharoor.
1. Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist
Gehlot is considered to be a Nehru-Gandhi loyalist. He is consulted by both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi on crucial matters.
He played an active role in the protests held by the Congress when Rahul was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for five days and over 50 hours in June and Sonia for three days in July.
The Rajasthan CM was present during the protests on the streets. He was also detained a number of times for several hours during the protests. He took the lead in defending Sonia and Rahul and held several press conferences in Delhi.
Besides being the Rajasthan CM, he is also the senior observer for Gujarat which is to face assembly election in the next couple of months.
On the other hand, Tharoor is not known to be a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist. He is considered to be a dissenter.
Tharoor was one of the 23 Congress leaders – popularly known as G-23 – who wrote a letter to Sonia in 2020 demanding inner-party reforms and transparency in decision-making at the top level.
2. Veteran Congressman
Gehlot is a dyed in the wool Congressman and he also has a long political background. He was elected to the Lok Sabha five times – his first election was from Jodhpur in 1980.
Gehlot is also a five-term MLA. He has also been the All India Congress Committee general secretary.
As far as Tharoor is concerned, he is relatively a new entrant to the Congress having joined the party in 2009.
He is a three-term MP from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala consecutively since 2009. He is also the chairperson of All India Professionals’ Congress (AIPC).
3. Administrative experience
Gehlot has extensive administrative experience in the government. He was a Union minister on three occasions and was in the cabinet of three Congress PMs – Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao.
He is also a three-term CM.
Tharoor has been a Union minister twice. On both the occasions it was for a brief period.
Author of 23 books, he was a Union minister of state (MoS) for external affairs from May 23, 2009 to April 18, 2010. Again, he was MoS for human resource development from October 28, 2012 to May 2014.
Tharoor served in the United Nations for 29 years from 1978-2007 in different capacities, including as an under secretary general.
In 2006, he contested the election for the post of the UN secretary general to succeed Kofi Annan. However, he withdrew after South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-moon emerged as the favourites of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.
4. Establishment candidate
Gehlot is believed to have the backing of the Nehru-Gandhis. He is their old-time favourite.
The Congress fought the 2018 Rajasthan assembly election with Gehlot’s rival Sachin Pilot as the state PCC president. In Madhya Pradesh the same year, the party contested with Kamal Nath as the state president.
However, while Kamal Nath was chosen to lead the government in MP, Sachin Pilot’s claim was ignored and Gehlot was appointed as the Rajasthan CM.
Gehlot is now being pressured by the top leadership to contest the presidential election. Therefore, between him and Tharoor, the former is likely to have the support of the majority of the 9,000 delegates who are eligible for voting.
The Nehru-Gandhis command majority support in the party. A simple proof is the resolutions passed by eight Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) – West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat – to appoint Rahul as the Congress president.
In fact, the PCCs were directed to pass a one-line resolution authorising the Congress president to appoint PCC president and nominate All India Congress Committee (AICC) delegates.
As the AICC delegates, who make the electoral roll, would be appointed by Sonia, it is most likely that they would also elect a candidate of her choice.
While Gehlot carries a clean image, Tharoor has found himself in several controversies.
Tharoor had to resign as the Union minister in April 2010 over allegations of misusing his position to buy shares in an IPL cricket franchise.
He found himself in the thick of controversy over the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar in a Delhi hotel in January 2014 under mysterious circumstances. He was charged with abetment to suicide of his wife and marital cruelty. He was acquitted of the charges in August 2021.
With 8.3 million followers, though Tharoor is quite popular on Twitter, his tweets have also generated controversies time and again. He was the most followed Indian politician till 2013. However, he was later overtaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
One of his tweets with six fellow women Lok Sabha MPs – Preneet Kaur and Jothimani of the Congress, Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat J Ruhii of Trinamool Congress (TMC), Thamizhachi Thangapandian of DMK and Supriya Sule of NCP – on November 29, 2021 generated a major controversy.
Tagging all the six women MPs, Tharoor wrote: “Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work? With six of my fellow MPs this morning.”
Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work? With six of my fellow MPs this morning: @supriya_sule … https://t.co/Shk4ivPFwH
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) 1638166261000
Twitter users objected to “objectification” of women. Hours later, Tharoor issued an apology, saying, “The whole selfie thing was done (at the women MPs’ initiative) in great good humour and it was they who asked me to tweet it in the same spirit. I am sorry some people are offended but I was happy to be roped into this show of workplace camaraderie. That’s all this is.”
In view of these advantages, Gehlot is likely to emerge as a winner defeating Tharoor if election to the post of Congress president takes place. The result will be announced on October 19.