Ashok Gehlot or Shashi Tharoor? Battle lines drawn as race for Congress president post hots up

As the battle for Congress presidential polls intensifies, the battle lines seem to be drawn between Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor.

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Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (L) and Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor (R)

Congress is set to see a contest for the post of party president after two decades. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Thiruvanathapuram MP Shashi Tharoor are being seen as the likely contenders.

As the battle for the Congress presidential poll intensifies, the party quarters are buzzing with action -- a mega Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) panning out in the south and hectic visits in the national capital over polls for the party chief.

The buzz is natural for a battered and bruised party that has been struggling for political oxygen. The Congress has been a butt of political sarcasm and Rahul Gandhi has been mocked and vilified. At the core of the BJP’s ruthless attack is the allegations of dynastic politics and this time round Congress seems to be taking the bull by the horns.

A MEGA CONTEST IN THE MAKING

Two years after G-23, a group of rebels, raised a hue and cry over the need for a full-time president, the party is moving towards electing a new president and it is now clear it is going to be a non-Gandhi. On Thursday, the Congress' central election authority issued a notification for the All India Congress Committee (AICC) presidential polls, setting the ball rolling for electing the successor to the longest-serving party chief, Sonia Gandhi.

The battle lines seem to be drawn between veteran leader Ashok Gehlot and Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor. Both are contrasting personalities as different as chalk and cheese. However, Gehlot's stature, experience and his mass following have pitched him as a hot favourite far ahead of his probable competitor Shashi Tharoor.

The latter is now on the receiving end from the battery of Congress loyalists who consider him a relative outsider and an ‘international man’.

ALSO READ| 'He is an international man, want Rahul': Shashi Tharoor gets no support from home turf for Congress polls

VILIFICATION OF THAROOR

The severest criticism has come from his home turf, Kerala. Leaders have been unsparing in their comments, and many have given veiled warnings of him facing a boycott back home. "Tharoor is a relative newcomer he should not contest, so what if he is from Kerala , KPCC will only support the person with Gandhi’s back," said a KPCC leader .

Senior Congress MP K Suresh hit out at Tharoor and said," He is an international man. There should be a consensus candidate. We are still requesting Rahul Gandhi to become Congress president’. This despite Rahul ruling out the possibility. I think it is a good thing if it is a contest . You do not ask this question to the BJP , the Communists or SP or the BSP .We are the only political party that is doing this, and I think this is a matter of pride’ said Rahul Gandhi in a presser."

Surprisingly, the economics expert of the party, Gaurav Vallabh, who hails from Rajasthan, took to Twitter to hit out at Shashi Tharoor. An otherwise politically measured Gaurav said the choice for whom to vote was crystal clear.

‘Shashi Tharoor’s only major contribution to the party in the past eight years was to send letters to Sonia Gandhi when she was hospitalised’ he tweeted, saying it hurt the sentiments of party workers like him. He went on to elaborate about the ‘distinguished’ politician Gehlot was with a spotless political career.

It is an irony that the Congress is boasting of a free and fair internal election, but the vilification of Tharoor is a bitter reminder of the treatment meted out to those who dared to challenge the Gandhi family in the past.

ALSO READ| Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Gehlot face-off in race for Congress chief?

It was not long ago when none other than Jairam Ramesh had come to the defence of Shashi Tharoor. ‘For seven years my friend and colleague Shashi Tharoor was harassed and subjected to vilification, abuse, and mental torture. Today, he stands vindicated and the MoSha duo, along with their hatchet, stand totally exposed. Jai Ho judiciary. All is not lost yet’ he tweeted . but life has come full circle as Tharoor seems to be in the firing line of his own colleagues.

CONTRASTING CHARACTERS

The comparison could not be more drastic between the two contenders. Ashok Gehlot has earned the reputation of a Gandhi family loyalist, a yes-man and rooted to the grassroots. He has prolific experience in politics and has been a man of organization.

Tharoor is an erudite speaker of international fame and holds mastery over the English language. His Tharoorism has made him a rage but his stint in the congress only started in 2009. While Gehlot started almost thirty years earlier, gaining the goodwill of being a true Gandhian.

THIRD HAT IN THE RING?

‘Tharoor is a red herring. He is not a serious candidate; the thing is that he went ahead to meet Mrs. Gandhi without even discussing it with any in the G23. What does that mean? ‘said a leader, part of the G 23.

Most of the members of the G23 have already switched sides and a handful are left. And even though they feel betrayed, there is a sense of accomplishment that finally the party presidential polls are finally happening.

ALSO READ| Can Gandhis' 'neutral' stand ensure 'free and fair' Congress presidential polls?

Many are unable to digest Tharoor’s’ s hastiness and feel he is more of a compromise candidate and could withdraw before the 30th September, the last date to withdraw nominations.

So, speculation is rife that Manish Tewari, former Union Minister, and MP could also be a challenger. ‘This is a chance, you get to move across the country, every PCC and voice your concerns at least. The issues plaguing the party. We will take up a principled stand before it’s too late ‘said a leader not willing to be quoted.

The rebel group could meet anytime soon to officially designate a candidate, stemming from the disbelief that he saw it more as a personal milestone after having contested in the United Nations.

The election, if there is more than one candidate, will take place on October 17. The counting of votes and the declaration of results would be on October 19.

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