By end of day, Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as the Congress’ next president in place of his mother Sonia Gandhi is expected to be official. Today is the last day for filing nominations and the last chance for anyone in the party to challenge Mr Gandhi to an election for the post. That is not expected to happen.
Mr Gandhi, who has been the Congress’ vice-president for almost five years, filed the nomination papers at the party’s 24 Akbar Road headquarters in Delhi after 10.30 am, with the who’s who of the party present. Sources said Sonia Gandhi was the first proposer in one of four sets of nomination papers that the 47-year-old leader will file. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was first proposer in another set.
Top Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, A K Antony, P Chidambaram, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ahmed Patel signed the papers as proposers. Also the party’s six chief ministers, among them Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, earlier seen as having been opposed to Rahul Gandhi taking his mother’s place to lead the party. “It is a good sign for the party and I’m sure he’ll do extremely well,” Mr Singh said, also adding, “He has already performed and for the last few days we have been following him and the way he is drawing crowds in Gujarat.”
Mullapally Ramachandran, the chairman of the Congress’ Central Election Authority, said no one in the party has so far sought to contest against Mr Gandhi since the process of nominations opened on Friday. “So far 90 nomination forms have been given out to state unit delegates. No application for nomination has been submitted so far and tomorrow is the last date for filing nominations,” Mr Ramachandran told news agency Press Trust of India on Sunday.
If Mr Gandhi remains the only candidate at the end of Monday, he will be announced Congress chief. Sonia Gandhi has been the party’s longest serving president, having led the party for 19 years since 1998.
The handover, for years expected to be a smooth transition in a party were the Nehru-Gandhi family has rarely been challenged for leadership, became controversial after a Congress leader from Maharashtra said the internal election to elect the party chief was “rigged.” Shehzad Poonawalla indicated he would have liked to contest the election, alleging that it is a sham since Rahul Gandhi enjoys an “unfair advantage”.
He also wrote to Mr Gandhi demanding that he resign as party vice president, enter a televised debate and “be judged on merit” rather than on his surname. Mr Poonawalla, 30, alleged on Sunday that he has an audio recording on a phone call where senior Congress leader Manish Tiwari advised him to rollback his rebellion for the sake of his political career.
Shehzad Poonawalla was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an election rally in Gujarat, which begins voting this week in an assembly election bitterly fought between the BJP and the Congress. “A few days ago in Navsari I had said there are three polls whose results are certain. The Uttar Pradesh local polls, the Gujarat polls where I said BJP will win, and the Congress president election, where one family will win,” the Prime Minister said.
He said the Congress tried to “muzzle” Mr Poonawalla, adding, “Those who have no internal democracy can’t work for people… I want to tell this youngster Shehzad – you have done a brave thing but this is sadly what has always happened in the Congress”.
The Congress has dismissed the criticism. “There has been criticism on whether the Congress election is democratic or not. I would say that this is such an election which is being supervised by the Election Commission of India,” said party spokesperson Sushmita Dev, insisting there is “full transparency” in the party’s internal elections, which is conducted according to rules prescribed by the poll panel.