Gehlot meets Sonia, pulls out of the race to become the next Congress president

Updated on Sep 30, 2022 04:16 AM IST

HT has learnt that the topic of contesting was broached with Kharge, and that he met Sonia Gandhi on Thursday evening, when she asked him to be ready to file his nomination on Friday, if needed. Though reluctant to enter the fray, the 80-year-old left the decision to her, a second person said.

Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot interacts with the press after meeting with Sonia Gandhi at her residence, in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 29, 2022. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times)
Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot interacts with the press after meeting with Sonia Gandhi at her residence, in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 29, 2022. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times)
By, New Delhi

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Thursday pulled out of the race to become the next Congress president , tendered an apology, and said Sonia Gandhi would decide whether he will continue in the state, as he sought to quell the shock waves of a rebellion by his loyalists that cast a shadow on the party’s electoral and national plans.

As things stand, with just a day to go for the nomination process for the Congress presidential election, the stage is set for a contest between former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, though a section of leaders did not rule out a third candidate and some suggested that Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge could be persuaded to join the race.

Singh confirmed on Thursday that he will file his nomination the same day Tharoor is expected to submit his papers. Of the two, Singh is believed to have an edge in the poll, which was meant to showcase the party’s vibrant internal democracy and blunt criticism over dynasty politics until a shock rebellion on Sunday by 92 lawmakers close to Gehlot — who was then set to file his nomination for the election as the odds-on favourite — derailed those plans.

A senior Congress leader indicated late on Thursday that in a series of last-minute meetings after pushback among some leaders over Digvijaya Singh’s candidature, Kharge and another leader were vetted by the senior leadership. “You will know the person at 1pm on Friday,’’ said a person aware of the details. “I can only say that it is someone that none of you are aware of yet.’’

HT has learnt that the topic of contesting was broached with Kharge, and that he met Sonia Gandhi on Thursday evening, when she asked him to be ready to file his nomination on Friday, if needed. Though reluctant to enter the fray, the 80-year-old left the decision to her, a second person said.

Polling is scheduled on October 17, and result will be declared on October 19.

Earlier in the day, after one-and-a-half-hour-long meeting between Gandhi and Gehlot, the chief minister announced he was taking “full responsibility” for the fiasco and was hurt because the episode was touted as an exercise in his support.

“I met Rahul Gandhi in Kochi and requested him to fight the election (for Congress President). When he didn’t accept, I said I’ll contest but now after all that has happened, I have decided not to contest the elections,” Gehlot said.

Singh, who was part of the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra until Wednesday, picked up the nomination papers on Thursday and met Tharoor, who said the election will not be a “battle between rivals but friendly contest among colleagues”. Singh retweeted their photo and said, “I agree. Shashi Tharoor we are fighting the communal forces in India. Both believe in the Gandhian Nehruvian Ideology and shall fight them relentlessly come what may. Best wishes.”

While the two contenders looked upbeat, Gehlot — considered the initial choice of the high command for the next president — stressed on his credentials as a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist.

He also announced that Sonia Gandhi will decide whether he will continue as CM — seen as a bid to reinstate the authority of the Congress president. To be sure, Gehlot has overwhelming support in the state legislature, and any real move to remove him could destabilize the government.

“In the last 50 years, I have worked as a loyal Congress soldier from the time of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Sonia ji, be it becoming a central minister or state unit chief, general secretary or CM for the third time, I cannot forget that. The events that happened (on Sunday) have shaken all of us. Only I know how hurt I am because a message went that I want to remain CM,” Gehlot said.

“I have apologised to Sonia ji because a simple resolution, which is our tradition and which we always pass, a situation emerged that it could not be passed. I, as a CLP leader, whatever the reasons, could not get the resolution passed,” Gehlot added.

Party general secretary KC Venugopal, who was present when Gehlot met Gandhi at her residence 10 Janpath, later added that Gandhi will take a call on who would be the Rajasthan CM in “one or two days”. Gehlot’s rival, former deputy CM Sachin Pilot, also met Sonia Gandhi late on Thursday.

“I met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She listened to me calmly. The events in Rajasthan were discussed in detail,” Pilot said after the meeting.

“I have conveyed my sentiments, given my feedback to Sonia Gandhi. We all want to win the 2023 assembly elections for which we will have to work together. Our objective is that we ensure the Congress’ win in Rajasthan and other states,” the former Rajasthan deputy chief minister added. “I am confident that in the next 12-13 months we will once again form a Congress government through our hard work.”

The crisis began late on Sunday when central observers Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge landed in Jaipur to hold a Congress legislature party (CLP) meeting, which was to virtually formalise the transfer of power from Gehlot to Pilot in the state by passing a resolution authorising Gandhi to pick the next CM. But 92 lawmakers loyal to Gehlot, gathered at minister Shanti Dhariwal’s residence instead, and said they either wanted Gehlot to continue or have the chance to pick his successor. Eventually, the CLP meeting was scuttled as the lawmakers handed in a joint resignation letter.

Lawmakers close to Gehlot are opposed to the elevation of Pilot to the state’s top job if the former gets elected as the party chief because of the younger leader’s rebellion against the CM in 2020. Three lawmakers close to Gehlot have been sent show-cause notices.

But, on Thursday, even as Gehlot was meeting Sonia Gandhi, they remained defiant. “I will provide proof on who is a traitor and who is loyal. It will come before everyone,” said lawmaker Dharmendra Rathore, one of three Gehlot loyalists sent a show-cause notice by the party.

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