The much talked about change of guard in India's oldest political party is now happening. As Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for the post of party president on Monday, heralding a generational shift in the leadership of party, the day also marked the beginning of the end of Congress' longest-serving high command's tenure, which has steered the party for 19 years, including the 10 when it led the UPA government. The official handover, however, is yet to occur.
The election process
According to the election process laid out in the party's constitution, the Congress' Central Working Committee (CWC) meets and decides to elect its chief. Once the notification is published, interested candidates are then required to file their nominations before the party's Central Election Committee within a given deadline, which ended on Monday at 3 pm. Party units and members of the CWC then file nominations, espousing the candidate of their choice. The committee then scrutinises the nominations, this time on 5 December.
The same day, a list of valid nominations will be published. The election process also has a window for withdrawal of candidature until 11 December. Later that day, the final list of candidates contesting the election will be published, and if necessary, the casting of votes will be held on 16 December. The votes will be counted and result will be declared on 19 December
Sources say Rahul only candidate in fray
The grand old party seeking a revival in its electoral fortunes is all set to elect Rahul to take over the party's reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi, as he remains the sole candidate in the fray. The election for choosing a new Congress president saw 89 sets of nominations being filed on Monday: All likely in support of Rahul as the new party chief.
Talking to the media after the process for filing nominations ended, Mullappally Ramachandran, returning officer for the election, said "89 nominations had been filed on Monday, the last day." He did not give further details and said these will be given after the scrutiny of nominations is done on Tuesday.
However, sources said all the nominations were for "one candidate", IANS reported.
The office for conducting the party's presidential election had distributed a total of 90 nominations. Sources said that one form was not filed apparently because it did not have signatures of the stipulated 10 delegates.
Ramachandran said the nomination forms had been signed by 890 delegates. The 47-year-old, who will be the sixth Nehru-Gandhi scion to helm the party, filed papers at the Congress headquarters amid cheers and celebrations by party leaders and workers. His mother and incumbent party president Sonia signed the first nomination paper for Rahul's election. The maximum number of nominations were from Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state.
Rahul—who was appointed Congress vice-president in January 2013—was accompanied by a host of senior party leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who called Rahul the "darling" of the party. Party leaders exuded confidence that he will carry forward the party's traditions and lead it to victory in the next general elections in 2019.
"Rahul ji has been the darling of the Congress...Rahul will carry on the great traditions of the Congress party," the normally taciturn Singh told reporters at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters after Rahul filed his papers.
While there were several nomination forms filed on behalf of Rahul, the Congress vice-president personally filed two sets. The first nomination form was filed by him and proposed by Sonia, Motilal Vora, Ahmed Patel, Mohsina Kidwai, Kamal Nath, Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot, Mukul Wasnik, Tarun Gogoi and V Narayanasamy. All leaders except Sonia were present.
The second nomination form was proposed by Manmohan, Siddaramaiah, Oscar Fernandes, P Chidambaram, Sushilkumar Shinde, Jyotiraditya Scindia, T Subbarami Reddy, Jaipal Reddy, Mukul Sangma and Anand Sharma.
Three more forms were filed on behalf of Rahul by other senior leaders. These included Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ambika Soni, Amarinder Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, CP Joshi, Selja, KC Venugopal and Salman Khurshid, besides Janardan Dwivedi, Shivraj Patil, Meira Kumar, Harish Rawat, Avinash Pande and BK Hariprasad.
Rahul arrived at the Congress headquarters around 10.30 am and filed his papers around 11 am. "We are very happy that Rahul ji has filed his nomination... I am confident that Rahul will turn out a very successful leader. And under his leadership, the Congress will regain power," Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
Before filing his nomination, Rahul sought the blessings of former president Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and his mother.
Controversy over Mani Shankar Aiyar's remark
The filing of nomination was not without controversy. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar invoked the Mughal dynasty in the Congress presidential election and Prime Minister Narendra Modi latched on, calling it "Aurangzeb Raj".
"When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir did any election happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan did any election happen? It was known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go to the heir," Aiyar said, retorting to the 'dynasty' jibes of the BJP on Rahul's election.
"But in a democracy elections are held. I openly invite (Shehzad) Poonawalla to file the nomination and contest," Aiyar said, adding that nobody would have heard of Poonawalla earlier.
Aiyar was replying to a question about BJP's criticism following Maharashtra Congress leader Poonawalla alleging that election for Congress president was a sham and Rahul Gandhi's elevation was rigged.
Modi was quick to pounce on Aiyar's remarks. Addressing an election rally in Gujarat, Modi said: "Aiyar, who never shies away from showing loyalty to one family, proudly said: When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir did any elections happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan did any election happen? It was known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go the son. I congratulate the Congress on their 'Aurangzeb Raj.' For us, the well-being of the people matters and 125 crore Indians are our high command," he said.
The prime minister also said that the Congress leaders admit that it is not a party but a "kunba" (family).
Congress' defence on BJP's 'dynastic politics' barb
Congress leaders hailed the day as "historic", while the BJP took jibes on the 'farcical election procedure' noting that there were no other claimants to the post to challenge Rahul.
The Congress, however, defended itself against the BJP's attacks.
Taking a swipe at the BJP, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said several parties, including the ruling party which has no history of uniting the country, had issues with the nomination.
"There cannot be a bigger joke than the current ruling party talking about democracy. Those who don’t believe in democracy, in people, those who have to trust in machines to win votes are preaching to us on democracy," he said.
Anand Sharma described it as a "historic moment" and said there are challenges before the country as the government had failed to deliver. "Rahul will accept the responsibility in continuity with the established traditions of the Congress. We want to make this absolutely clear that it is a conscious and considered decision of the Congress party," he said.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said Modi was "suffering from Rahul Gandhi phobia".
Surjewala also said that Modi's "love for Shehzad, Shahzada (BJP chief Amit Shah's son Jai Shah) and Shourya (National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's son)" is well known to the world.
"But will Modi ji tell when he will answer the questions of his own senior party leaders like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha?" he asked.
Rahul's much awaited appointment also comes just ahead of the elections in Gujarat, which goes to the polls on 9 and 14 December. According to this Firstpost article, the Assembly elections, will be seen as a tough testing ground for Rahul, who has suffered blame for previous electoral routes.
In 2014, the Congress was reduced to its lowest-ever tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and has since suffered a series of electoral defeats at the state level.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 21:12 PM