Cong poll: Gehlot out? Nath, Wasnik, Kharge, Digvijaya among possible candidates

Updated on Sep 27, 2022 01:11 PM IST

Gehlot is believed to have lost favour following the rebellion of 92 lawmakers ostensibly loyal to him against the possible elevation of his rival Sachin Pilot as his successor in Rajasthan

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. (PTI Photo)
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. (PTI Photo)

Senior Congress leaders currently in Kerala as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra have discussed the party’s turmoil in Rajasthan as it has cast a cloud over the party’s upcoming presidential election and discussed alternative candidates for it with just four days left for the nomination process. People aware of the matter said the names of a few senior leaders were discussed in case Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot opts out of the race.

The party’s top leadership has scrambled to contain the crisis that threatens to derail Congress’s presidential poll. Senior leaders such as Kamal Nath, Mukul Wasnik, Mallikarjun Kharge, or even Digvijaya Singh could be candidates for the Congress president’s post, said a leader.

Nath, who met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday, insisted he has no interest in the post.

HT on Tuesday reported Gehlot may not even be a candidate, or at least may not have the backing of the Gandhi family unless an amicable solution to the rebellion was found within the next few days.

READ | Rajasthan crisis: Gehlot denies hand in legislators’ rebellion

Gehlot is believed to have lost favour following the rebellion of 92 lawmakers ostensibly loyal to him against the possible elevation of his rival Sachin Pilot as his successor. The rebellion has been seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the Gandhis.

READ | Sonia Gandhi seeks Rajasthan report, Team Gehlot's ‘indiscipline’ in focus

A second Congress leader maintained an alternative candidate should ideally be from north India, the key battleground between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

“South India is represented well in the party hierarchy. Rahul Gandhi is an MP [member of Parliament] from Wayanad [Kerala]...KC Venugopal [from Kerala] is the general secretary organisation and Kharge [from Karnataka] is the Leader of Opposition [in Rajya Sabha],” said the second leader, seeking anonymity.

Shashi Tharoor, the other candidate set to contest, is unlikely not get the backing of the party’s central leadership.

A section of the party believes Gehlot should not be considered for the Congress presidential poll and other candidates be explored. Some other leaders maintain that the poll could be held after the Rajasthan issue is resolved.

Gehlot is unlikely to file nomination papers sooner for the poll as the situation remained fluid.

READ | BJP maintains a close watch on Rajasthan, prepares for early elections

Gehlot appeared initially keen to juggle both responsibilities but seemed reconciled to stepping down as chief minister after former president Rahul Gandhi reiterated the Congress would stick to the one person, one post rule. Pilot was widely seen as the leadership’s choice to replace him.

The 92 lawmakers gathered at the residence of minister Shanti Dhariwal, a Gehlot loyalist who also has chief ministerial ambitions, on Sunday when central observers Ajay Maken and Mallikaarjun Kharge landed in Jaipur to hold a Congress legislature party (CLP) meeting.

The meeting was to virtually formalise the transfer of power from Gehlot to Pilot in the state by passing a resolution authorising Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to pick the next chief minister.

READ | Amid Rajasthan crisis, Rahul Gandhi attacks centre: 'Do Hindustan…'

Some wanted the party to make an exception and allow Gehlot to continue. Others insisted on someone from Gehlot’s camp as the chief minister.

The CLP meeting was scuttled as the lawmakers drove to the residence of speaker CP Joshi and handed in a joint resignation letter even as the observers and Pilot waited at the chief minister’s residence.

On Monday, Maken said the rebel lawmakers want a decision on the selection of the chief minister after the Congress presidential poll and that Gehlot’s successor should be from among those lawmakers, who stood with the government during Pilot’s rebellion in 2020.

The observers were asked to hold meetings in groups, instead of one-on-one as sought by the high command.

The rebels said there was a conspiracy to remove Gehlot but left a window of reconciliation open.

Until the weekend, it appeared all but certain that Gehlot will take over as the next president, and step down from his current job.

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