Ashok Gehlot makes it official: Will contest for Congress top post

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Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot Friday officially announced his decision to contest for the post of Congress president and left the decision on his successor in the state to the party leadership. Gehlot is set to face off against Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor for the top post.

The election for the Congress president post will see a contest after a gap of 22 years. The nomination process begins Saturday. With Rahul Gandhi not contesting, the party is looking at the prospect of a non-Gandhi at the helm for the first time in two-and-a-half decades. Gehlot said he tried to convince Rahul to return as Congress president in vain during his meeting with him Thursday.

“He (Rahul) told me that ‘we have decided that no member of the Gandhi family will contest this time’. He made it very clear. He said he knows that everybody wants him to take over as Congress president…he respects that…but for some reasons it was decided that a person outside the Gandhi family should become Congress president this time,” Gehlot told reporters Friday.

He said he has decided to contest. “I will fix the date (to submit the nomination papers) after going (back to Rajasthan), but I have decided that I will have to contest. It is a question of inner party democracy in the organisation and let us make a new start,” he said. Gehlot said it was very important for the Congress to emerge as a strong opposition given the situation in the country.

“And for that we will make every possible effort. All my colleagues in the Congress… even if they contest… it doesn’t matter… After the results, I believe we should all work together to strengthen the Congress at the block, village, district levels and also move forward based on our ideology so that we emerge as a strong opposition,” he added.
On his successor as chief minister, Gehlot said: “It will be decided by our general secretary in charge Ajay Maken and Congress president Sonia Gandhi… If I become the President… then what should be the process to be followed there (Rajasthan)… when that process should take place… all these things will be decided by them.”

The signal emanating from the Gehlot camp is that he is keen to continue as chief minister till the counting day on October 19. Former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, one of the main contenders for the chief minister’s post, appears confident he will be asked to take over.

The Congress, meanwhile, asked all its spokespersons, television faces and office-bearers of the communication department to refrain from commenting on any of the candidates contesting the elections. The direction by AICC general secretary in charge of communication Jairam Ramesh came after national spokesperson Gourav Vallabh took to Twitter Thursday to throw his weight behind Gehlot and slam Tharoor.

In an internal communication, Ramesh wrote: “I would strongly urge all Spokespersons and office bearers of Communications Department of AICC to refrain from making any comment of any kind on any colleague of ours contesting the elections for the post of Congress President.”

He said “we all have our individual preferences but our job is to highlight (that) the Congress is the only political party to have a democratic and transparent system in place for election to the post of its President (and) the Congress is the only political party in India to have an independent Election Authority to conduct organisational elections.”

“A person wanting to contest needs no nod from anybody to do so except from 10 PCC delegates for filing nomination form. The election authority ensures free and fair elections. Spokespersons have to ensure that elections are seen to be free and fair. If elections have to be held on October 17th so be it. We welcome it. Even so the focus of the entire party organisation should be and indeed is to make the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has already evoked tremendous response even more of a resounding success,” he wrote.