NEW DELHI: With the window for filing nomination papers for the presidential election shrinking, Congress on Tuesday stepped up efforts to get Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot to climb down from his position and accept being the nominee for the top AICC election while leaving the question of his replacement to party chief Sonia Gandhi.
The bid to rope in Gehlot, who is in the eye of a storm over the boycott of the legislative party meeting in Jaipur on Sunday, have been on for two days, and the party seems to be using a mix of persuasion and sternness to nudge him. Besides party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, senior functionaries Anand Sharma and Ambika Soni are learnt to have spoken with him. As the party finalises the candidate, party seniors have been asked to be present in Delhi on Sept 29 and 30, the last two days of nomination.
Veteran party functionary A K Antony, who was hauled to Delhi for an urgent meeting with the beleaguered Congress chief, exuded confidence that things would be resolved shortly. “Everything will be sorted out soon,” Antony said before leaving for Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday evening.
The persuasion efforts came as Congress slapped show-cause notices on Gehlot loyalists – senior state ministers Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi (also the chief whip) – for the boycott, accusing them of misleading the MLAs. Besides, Dharmendra Rathore, chairman of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, haAshok Gehlot tries to distance self from ‘parallel meeting’s been accused of making logistical arrangements for the boycott.
An anxious Congress is also keeping its “Plan B” ready, with some veterans back in contention – Mallikarjun Kharge, Digvijaya Singh, Kumari Selja, Mukul Wasnik, Meira Kumar. Having a Plan B makes sense because Gehlot seems reluctant to reconcile to the prospect of Pilot succeeding him.
Pilot rushes back to Delhi; Sonia meets raft of Congress leaders
Three Rajasthan Congress members – senior ministers Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi, and RTDC chairman Dharmendra Rathore – have been asked to respond to a show-cause notice in 10 days for Sunday’s boycott of the legislature party meeting in Jaipur.
The action was based on the report submitted by observers Mallikarjun Kharge and Ajay Maken, who have not blamed chief minister Ashok Gehlot directly but mentioned him in several places, it is learned.
Sources said Gehlot is being asked to resile from his rigid position on who should be the next CM (not Sachin Pilot), and leave the issue to the party chief. Interestingly, reports said Gehlot met MLAs and ministers after two days on Tuesday, and told them that while he was not interested in any position, his replacement ought to be chosen from among the 102 MLAs who stayed loyal to the party during the Pilot-led rebellion in mid-2020. Meanwhile, Pilot, who was camping in Jaipur, rushed back to Delhi on Tuesday evening.
The Congress brass stepped up activities to resolve the issue, which was reopened by the Jaipur fracas, well after Gehlot had been announced as the establishment’s candidate. Sonia summoned Antony, who had recently shifted residence to his home state Kerala in what is seen as virtual retirement after a long political innings. She also met MP unit chief Kamal Nath, Kharge, Maken and AICC general secretary K C Venugopal on Monday.
Meanwhile, there was much excitement when information surfaced that AICC treasurer and former Union minister Pawan Bansal had collected two nomination forms, with the buzz being that it was either for him or for a senior functionary. When asked, Bansal denied the report, claiming the forms were for Chandigarh Congress, which would be a proposer for the eventual presidential pick. Bansal is a senior party loyalist, and close to a couple of Congress veterans.
Congress gives QR-coded voting cards for prez polls
Amid uncertainty, Congress pressed ahead with preparations for the party’s presidential elections by distributing QR-coded voting identity cards to party chief Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan singh and Priyanka Gandhi. AICC central election authority chairman Madhusudan mistry, data analytics department chairman Praveen Chakravarty and AICC secretary BP singh visited the three leaders and handed them the cards.