New Delhi, Sep 21 (PTI) The Congress' central election authority will issue a notification for the AICC president polls on Thursday, setting the ball rolling for electing the successor to the longest-serving party chief Sonia Gandhi.
After over two decades, the Congress is likely to see a contest for the post of party chief with Shashi Tharoor looking set to enter the fray after his meeting with Sonia Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot indicating that he will throw his hat in the ring if Rahul Gandhi does not agree to take on the party's reins.
The process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30.
The date of scrutiny of the nomination papers would be October 1, while the last date of withdrawal of nominations would be October 8.
The election, if there is more than one candidate, will take place on October 17, while counting of votes, if necessary, and the counting of votes and the declaration of results would be on October 19.
Even though there is no clarity on the contenders, the likelihood of a Tharoor versus Gehlot contest is high.
Gehlot on Tuesday told Congress MLAs in Rajasthan that they will be asked to come to New Delhi if he decides to file his nomination for the party president election.
But he also said that he will first visit Kochi to persuade Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Congress' Bharat Jodo Yatra there, to contest for the post.
Gehlot made the remarks at a Congress Legislature Party meeting at his official residence in Jaipur, according to state cabinet minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas.
The upcoming polls would certainly be historic as the new president would replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi took over.
The party last saw a contest for the post in November 2000. Jitendra Prasada had lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2000 and prior to that Sitaram Kesri had defeated Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot in 1997.
With Rahul Gandhi likely to stick to his earlier stance of not taking on the mantle of party president, it seems the party will have its first non-Gandhi president in over two decades.
Also, with Sonia Gandhi asserting that she would remain neutral in the polls and there would be no "official candidate" it could be a keener contest than the one in 2000.
Tharoor on Monday met Sonia Gandhi and expressed his intention to contest the upcoming AICC chief polls, while the Congress president conveyed that she would stay "neutral" in the elections, according to sources.
Sonia Gandhi welcomed the idea of more people contesting the polls and dispelled the notion that there would be an "official candidate", they said.
The feedback by Sonia Gandhi on Tharoor's desire to contest is being seen by many as an encouragement to him to contest and he could announce his candidature in the next few days.
Amid hectic activities ahead of the polls, around 10 PCCs have come out in support of Rahul Gandhi's elevation to the top post so far, even as party General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Tuesday that such measures have no binding effect.
"Entire party is immersed in making Bharat Jodo Yatra a success. Even so, it's important to reiterate that any member is welcome to contest for Congress President. This is a democratic and transparent process.
"Nobody needs anybody's nod to contest, especially that of party leadership," Ramesh had tweeted.
Congress general secretary K C Venugopal met party president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday and is learnt to have discussed the AICC chief's election
Echoing Ramesh, he said anybody can contest the Congress president's poll which will be free and fair as well as transparent.
"Whoever wants to file a nomination, can file it. We have said it will be an open election, anybody can contest, free and fair election, definitely it will be a transparent election," he told reporters here.
Rahul Gandhi had resigned as Congress president after the party suffered its second consecutive defeat in parliamentary elections in 2019.
Sonia Gandhi, who took over the reins of the party again as interim president, had also offered to quit in August 2020 after criticism by a section of leaders, referred to as G-23, but the CWC had urged her to continue.