Cong prez polls: Will G23 leaders stage a coup against the Gandhis?
New Delhi, Sep 21: As Congress prepares to hold its first presidential election in 22 years, Shashi Tharoor is gearing up to fight for the party chief post setting the stage for a high voltage contest in which Ashok Gehlot is speculated to be his potential opponent.
Even though Tharoor, one of the G-23 leaders, who has been vocal about bringing reforms within the party, met Sonia Gandhi on Monday in the context of his plans to file his nomination papers, the interim chief has reportedly asserted that she would remain neutral during the entire election process.
Her indication to Tharoor that she will stay neutral is seen as an attempt to send a message that the elections will be free and fair, given the fact that the G-23 leaders have been raising questions on the fairness of the process.
Meanwhile, Congress had earlier signalled that party's interim president had asked Gehlot, frontrunner for Congress chief's post, to lead the party. While it is learnt that Gehlot is the top choice, the Rajasthan Chief Minister was reportedly reluctant and said he will first try to convince Rahul Gandhi to contest as he was the top and unanimous choice for the party president post.
While, there is no dearth of ambition in the Congress, the fate of the last non-Gandhi-Nehru party president may give present-day party functionaries some pause before throwing their hats in the ring.
It was none other than Sitaram Kesri. He served as Congress' party president from 1996 to 1998, at a time when the party was also out of power at the Centre. However, according to reports, he was unceremoniously removed through a coup orchestrated by Gandhi family loyalists to make way for Sonia Gandhi.
Sitaram Kesri was a Gandhi family loyalist since the time of Indira Gandhi, but he is believed to have become disenchanted with the Nehru-Gandhis. That is because of his ambition to become prime minister came to a nought when Sonia Gandhi took charge of the party. She joined the party in December 1997 at its plenary session in then Calcutta. She addressed her first election rally in Tamil Nadu, the state where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. By that time it was clear that the Congress could only function under Sonia Gandhi. Demands were being made in the Congress party asking Sitaram Kesri to step down so Sonia could take over. The transfer of power in the grand old party is often termed as the bloodless coup. It was dramatic and executed by the use of force.
Sitaram Kesari was reportedly locked up in the bathroom at Congress headquarters in Akbar Road so he could not stop Sonia from entering the office with her supporters to take over as party president. She remained at the helm for nearly two decades -- till 2017 when her son Rahul Gandhi was elected the party chief unopposed.
As things stand now, it would be interesting to see if the G23 leaders, who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020, seeking organisational reforms in the party, would coup against the Gandhi family. If at all Rahul Gandhi bows down to the mounting pressure to throw his hat in the ring or says Gehlot is his choice, then the dream to hold free and fair Congress presidential polls would end with a thud. However, if the Gandhi family decides to remain neutral, Tharoor can fancy his chance since Gehlot, despite being a senior leader of the party, lacks the charm and intellectual calibre that of Tharoor, which many feel is what the party needs at this stage.