Congress President

Is Digvijaya trying to queer the pitch for Gehlot?

If Digvijaya Singh throws his hat into the ring, the Congress president’s election will see a repeat of 1997 when three candidates Sitaram Kesri, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot battled it out for the top party post

Is Digvijaya trying to queer the pitch for Gehlot?
Shashi Tharoor (Left); Digvijaya Singh (Centre); & Ashok Gehlot (right)

Veteran Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh has indicated that he will contest the upcoming elections to the party president’s post.

That means, there are three possible candidates as of now with Shashi Tharoor and Ashok Gehlot being the other two.

Gehlot met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday and has reached Kochi to make one last ditch effort to persuade Rahul Gandhi to return as the party chief.

However, Rahul Gandhi so far continues to remain adamant on his stand that a non-Gandhi will be the next Congress president. It appears unlikely that he will change his mind despite pressure in the form of resolutions coming from all the state units.

Gehlot had called a late-night emergency meeting of Congress legislators on Tuesday night. The Rajasthan chief minister informed them that he will file the nomination papers on September 26 if Rahul Gandhi does not agree to become the Congress president.

Till now, Gehlot has put certain conditions for Sonia Gandhi’s offer to take up the top job in the party – he wants to continue as the chief minister and if the Congress high command is unwilling to concede then his nominee and not Sachin Pilot should be handed over the reins of the government in the desert state.

His first condition will not be acceptable to the leadership. Already, Digvijaya Singh has asserted that Gehlot will have to quit as the Rajasthan chief minister as per the one-man, one-post norm adopted by the grand old party in its declaration during the three-day ‘chintan shivir (brainstorming session)’ at Udaipur in May this year.

Digvijaya Singh’s call for Gehlot’s resignation if he becomes the Congress president will obviously be music to Pilot’s ears. He has been eagerly waiting for this day and if the Congress leadership does not do a Punjab in Rajasthan, his appointment is a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps the leadership will keep in mind the disastrous result of its Punjab experiment, which resulted in the party’s rout in the assembly elections earlier this year. Billed as a masterstroke, the move to replace Captain Amarinder Singh with Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi back-fired and proved counter-productive for the Congress as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept the polls.

If Digvijaya Singh throws his hat into the ring, the Congress president’s election will see a repeat of 1997 when three candidates Sitaram Kesri, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot battled it out for the top party post.

In the end, Kesri won hands down, bagging 6,224 votes while Pawar and Pilot polled 882 and 354 votes respectively.

The entry of Digvijaya Singh in the poll fray will make the contest triangular and interesting. It will not be a cakewalk for Gehlot as otherwise predicted in case of his contest with Shashi Tharoor.

Both Gehlot (71) and Digvijaya Singh (75) are contemporaries who have risen through the ranks. Both were appointed Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs of their respective states by late Rajiv Gandhi and went on to become the chief ministers. They have vast organisational experience and held important party posts.

In comparison, Tharoor (66) is relatively much junior in the Congress. He joined the grand old party in 2009 after serving the United Nations as its Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. His connect with the Congress cadre, especially those from the Hindi heartland, is negligible though he has won three consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.

Besides, his move to join the group of dissenters, known as G-23, in seeking organisational reforms has not gone down well with the Congress workers and Gandhi family loyalists.

It will be interesting to see if the upcoming contest will be a triangular one or more join the fray if Gehlot fails to persuade Rahul Gandhi. A clear picture will emerge on October 8, the last date of withdrawal of nomination papers. While the nominations close on September 30, the polls, if required, will be held on October 17. Counting of votes will take place on October 19.