Shashi Tharoor, the first non-Gandhi Congress president in more than two decades, was snubbed by party representatives in Tamil Nadu today. In Chennai, the 66-year-old sought the support of the state’s more than 700 congressional representatives who could vote in the election. But only about a dozen people attended the meeting at the party’s state headquarters in Chennai, Sathiamoorthy Bhavan.
Party sources said attending Mr Tharoor’s meeting could be seen as a departure from the “official” candidate apparently approved by Gandhi. That candidate was Mallikarjun Kharge, entering in the 11th hour after frontrunner Ashok Gehlot pulled out.
“If they were afraid to attend my meeting, it was their loss. We could have had a constructive exchange,” Mr Tharoor told reporters in Chennai. “Gandhi has clarified that they have no official candidate. We will dispel the myth that Hargar is the official candidate,” he added.
Mr Tharoor was the first leader in Congress to declare his candidacy. He did so after meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
In an interview with NDTV last week, Mr Tharoor said Mrs Gandhi told him “you are very welcome to the race”. She assured him that there would be no “official candidates” because her family would remain neutral.
However, Ashok Gehlot, a longtime loyalist of the Gandhi family, was quick to announce his candidacy and instantly rose to the top of the race.
A twist followed, with Mr Gallot saying he was reluctant to move out of Rajasthan. After Rahul Gandhi made it clear the party would stick to its “one man, one office” rule, followers of Mr Gallot launched an open rebellion. Mr Glott, disliked by the main central leader and Gandhi, said he would not be in the race.
Mallikarjun Kharge, who was picked at the last minute, had suggested that there should be a “consensus candidate”. But there was no positive response.
Mr Tharoor, part of the G27 leaders who demanded organizational change in a bombshell letter to Sonia Gandhi in 2020, has been keen on the race.
Responding to a question about how Congress could weaken itself by expelling stalwarts across India and seeing them as a threat to the leadership, Mr Tharoor said: “I will empower the national leaders. I believe a strong national leadership will A stronger foundation for Congress. It’s a national effort.”
“In the 50s and 60s, when Jawaharlal Nehru was a very powerful prime minister, we had very powerful chief ministers like Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, BC Roy and Atulya in Bangladesh Strong states like Ghosh, SK Patil in Maharashtra and YB Chavan, Vallabh Pant in Govind Uttar Pradesh. We have many examples of strong state leaders, National Party did not suffer from it but it did benefit,” he said.
He also added that he would “invite the BJP’s former Congress leaders to return”.
The election for the President of Congress will be held on October 17 and the votes will be counted on October 19.