Congress presidential poll: All you need to know about expected outcomes
With a non-Gandhi at the helm for the first time since 1998, the party expects to counter criticism over dynastic politics ahead of the 2024 national polls
The Congress is set to get its first non-Gandhi president since 1998 with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Shashi Tharoor expected to contest the poll for the party’s top post next month. Some leaders expect the party to emerge stronger while others remain sceptical about possible dual power centres as the Gandhis are seen as the glue that binds it together. Here are some of the expected positive outcomes and problems:
With a non-Gandhi at the helm for the first time since 1998, the party expects to counter criticism over dynastic politics ahead of the 2024 national polls.
Gehlot, 71, who comes from the Other Backward Class (OBC) background, is also widely seen as the best choice to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi in terms of caste equations. OBCs account for the largest chunk of voters in the country.
Gehlot’s elevation is expected to improve Congress’s standing in north India, too, ahead of polls in six key states in the region, where the Congress and the BJP are in a direct contest.
The party’s structure is heavily titled towards the southern India. Rahul Gandhi represents Kerala’s Wayanad in Lok Sabha. Mallikarjun Kharge, the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, is from Karnataka. General secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal, who holds the party’s second most important post, is from Kerala.
The party is expected to make a fresh start and look at newer ways of tackling the BJP under the new leadership following two successive defeats in national polls. It has not won a single assembly election for the last two years.
Gehlot’s election will signal the party’s attempt to maintain a balance between the young and senior leaders. If Tharoor is elected, it is expected to send a message that the party believes in democratic values and even a rebel can be the head the party. Tharoor was among the leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party’s functioning.
Many insiders fear a non-Congress president will only lead to a dual power structure as it will be extremely difficult to overcome the influence of the Gandhi family. The Gandhis have set up the entire leadership structure over the last 24 years. They are expected to exercise influence by remaining active in key decision-making bodies such as the Congress Working Committee.
Getting a grip and gaining acceptance among the rank and file will be another challenge for the next Congress president as the party machinery has been tuned to the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The new leader will require the support of the family and needs to hit the ground running immediately with less than two years to prepare the party for the 2024 polls. The task is expected to be more challenging for a non-Gandhi party chief as the Congress has been unable to create a new narrative and revamp the organisation.
A key political strategist said the new Congress president will have an uncertain future if the party fails to deliver in the 2024 election. The Gandhis usually remained insulated from electoral failures as the party shifted the blame to the state-level leaders or factionalism. Gehlot or Tharoor are unlikely to enjoy the same luxury.