Ashok Gehlot, the odds-on favourite for Congress president, is reconciled to contesting the party election after failing to persuade Rahul Gandhi to resume the role he quit after the Congress’s 2019 national election defeat.
Rahul Gandhi, he said, made it clear to him that no one from the Gandhi family will run for Congress president.
Mr Gehlot also said he would “definitely” contest. If he won, any decision on who will replace him as Rajasthan Chief Minister will be decided by interim chief Sonia Gandhi, he said.
The 71-year-old veteran met with Rahul Gandhi in Kerala, where he joined his “Bharat Jodo Yatra” last evening.
“I requested him multiple times to accept everyone’s wish that he returns as Congress President. He told me he had decided that no one from the Gandhi family should become the next chief,” Mr Gehlot told reporters.
“Rahul ji told me ‘I know they want me to be chief and I respect their wish, but I have decided, for a reason, that a non-Gandhi should be Congress president’,” he added.
Mr Gehlot is believed to be the Gandhis’ leading choice for the role as the Congress prepares for its first non-Gandhi chief in over 20 years. He was reportedly reluctant to hand over the role of Rajasthan Chief Minister, especially to his rival Sachin Pilot, who rebelled against him two years ago and almost brought down his government.
Mr Gehlot had suggested that he could handle both responsibilities, but Rahul Gandhi yesterday shot it down.
“We have made a commitment in Udaipur, I expect that the commitment will be maintained,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters on the “one person, one post” rule adopted by the Congress earlier this year.
Responding to Rahul Gandhi’s assertion, Mr Gehlot said Rajasthan state in-charge Ajay Maken and Sonia Gandhi would decide on who would succeed him if he became Congress president.
Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan underscored the need for Mr Gehlot to step down as Chief Minister, saying the party needs a “full-time president”. He said: “(Mr Gehlot) is a senior leader, a good leader. We are yet to decide whether to support him or not. But if he insists on being on both the posts, then we will oppose. Is Congress President a part-time job? Is Chief Minister a part-time job?”
The Gandhis, distancing themselves from the top post amid massive churning within and questions raised on their leadership following serial election defeats, have also refused to endorse any candidate.
With the Gandhis sitting it out this time, more and more Congress leaders appear eager to contest.
Mr Gehlot is likely to file his nomination papers on Monday. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was the first to declare his intention to run for president to Sonia Gandhi.
Former Union Minister Manish Tewari and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath are also likely to join the unprecedented Congress contest.
Applicants for the Congress top job can come forward till September 30. The election will be held on October 17 and the Congress will get its new chief two days later.
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