A lost battle: When Jitendra Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi for Congress president's post

With the Gandhis out of the fray, the Congress presidential election has set the stage for a chief who does not belong to the family after 24 years. What had happened when the last time a non-Gandhi had fought the poll?

FP Explainers September 23, 2022 14:57:03 IST
A lost battle: When Jitendra Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi for Congress president's post

Gandhis will not be fighting the Congress presidential election. PTI File Photo

Ending the suspense, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot confirmed today he will contest for the Congress president’s post.

Gehlot is likely to face Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in the upcoming presidential polls.

As per NDTV, former Union minister Manish Tewari and former Madhya Pradesh chief ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh are also mulling trying their luck at the hustings.

Moreover, Gehlot has confirmed no Gandhi member will be in the fray for the Congress chief’s post.

The Rajasthan chief minister, who was in Kerala to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra, said Rahul told him he wants a non-Gandhi at the helm.

“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,” Gehlot was quoted as saying by PTI.

With the Gandhis out of the fray, the presidential election has set the stage for a chief who does not belong to the family after 24 years.

The last time Congress held a proper election to elect its chief was in 2000 when late Jitendra Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi.

What had happened in the 2000 election? How many non-Gandhis have held the Congress chief post after Independence?

Let’s take a look:

Sonia Gandhi vs Jitendra Prasada

The election was a foregone conclusion.

The anti-Sonia sentiment was growing among senior Congress leaders including Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, who rebelled against her in 1999.

They believed she could not be a potential prime minister candidate due to her inexperience and Italian descent, as per India Today. The leaders were ousted from the party.

Following their absence, Rajesh Pilot and Prasada carried on the revolt to seize control of the party from Sonia Gandhi. Soon after they began their campaign against her, Pilot died in a car mishap in June 2000, leaving Jitendra Prasada alone to pursue the fight.

Prasada, who filed his nomination for the Congress president post on 29 October, met with constant resistance from Sonia Gandhi’s supporters.

His effigy was torched outside the AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road every afternoon by Sonia’s loyalists, reports India Today.

Senior Congress leaders did not want to be associated with the man who had challenged Gandhi.

Then Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha members Begum Noor Bano and Sujan Singh Bundela and (former) Rajya Sabha MP Gufran Zaidi were the only ones who were not afraid to ‘openly identify’ with him, as per India Today.

A lost battle When Jitendra Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi for Congress presidents post

Jitendra Prasada had challenged Sonia Gandhi in 2000 for the Congress chief post. Image Credit: Twitter/@SaurabhRaii_

Prasada, who was then the member of parliament from Shahjehanpur, got some relief after (now former) Central Election Authority chairman Ram Niwas Mirdha announced the election would be held by secret ballot.

After this, his campaign gathered some steam as his supporters were ensured they would not be harassed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s loyalists.

The attack on the ‘coterie’

As per India Today, Jitendra Prasada’s game plan was to target the “much-hated” coterie around Gandhi.

Coterie referred to a small group of people allegedly influencing Sonia. The first coterie included Vincent George and Arjun Singh, while the other one had leaders such as Oscar Fernandes, Madhavrao Scindia and Ambika Soni, India Today reported.

“Coteries are a cancer that eat into the vitals of all political parties – we must save the Congress from them,” Prasada was quoted as saying by BBC.

Secondly, Prasada steered clear of any direct attack on Sonia Gandhi.

Notably, none of Prasada’s supporters doubted Sonia’s inevitable victory. But with the election, their aim was to portray her as a “factional” leader, as per India Today.

While Sonia’s side’s poll strategy was to present her as a ‘liberal democratic leader’.

The result

Sonia Gandhi easily trounced Jitendra Prasada by bagging 7,448 votes against his paltry 94.

Reacting to the results later, Prasada had told India Today, “After giving me an innings defeat, my sight possibly makes her (Sonia) feel reassured. The match was fixed behind my back, but I don’t claim that I would have won if she’d played it straight.”

Congress’ non-Gandhi presidents

The last non-Gandhi Congress president was Sitaram Kesri who served from 1996-98. He was axed from the top post after the grand old party’s electoral defeat in 1998.

Sonia Gandhi, who succeeded Kesri, has been at the helm since 1998, only to give way for her son Rahul who served as the Congress president from 2017-2019.

A list of other non-Gandhi Congress presidents post Independence:

A lost battle When Jitendra Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi for Congress presidents post

Congress has had several non-Gandhi presidents before 1998. Graphic: Pranay Bhardwaj

Pattabhi Sitaramayya served as the Congress chief from 1948-49.

Purushottam Das Tandon had a short tenure as the Congress president in 1950. He had soon resigned from the post following differences with Jawaharlal Nehru.

UN Dhebar held the Congress chief post for four years from 1955-59.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was appointed to the top Congress post from 1960-63. He was also the sixth President of India.

Known as the ‘kingmaker’, K Kamaraj was the Congress president from 1964-67.

Siddavanahalli Nijalingappa, the first Karnataka chief minister, was the last president of the undivided Congress party. His tenure lasted from 1968-69.

Jagjivan Ram, the deputy prime minister to Morarji Desai, worked as the Congress president from 1970-71.

Shankar Dayal Sharma was the Congress chief from 1972-74.

Devakanta Barua, known famously for his remark ‘India is Indira, Indira is India’, was the Congress chief from 1975-77.

PV Narasimha Rao, the ninth Prime Minister of India, served as the president of the grand old party from 1992-96.

With inputs from agencies

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