The Congress on Thursday set the ball rolling for electing its chief by issuing a notification and a contest for the top party post appeared imminent after a gap of over two decades with senior leaders Ashok Gehlot and Shashi Tharoor looking set for an electoral face-off.
In comments seen as yet another indication that he may not contest, Rahul Gandhi told those willing to run for the party presidency that the post was not just organisational but also "ideological" and that the person occupying it must remember that it represents a belief system.
Gandhi also batted for the "one-man, one-post" concept in line with the Chintan Shivir reforms earlier this year. His assertion came a day after Gehlot hinted that he would like to continue as the chief minister even while assuming the post of party president.
Gandhi's definitive remark indicated that Gehlot may have to quit as chief minister if he takes on the mantle of party president but suspense persisted over whether he would get a person of his choice to helm the Rajasthan government, or the post would go to his bete noire Sachin Pilot.
In a first indicator of leaders taking sides in the upcoming contest for the top post, Congress leader Gourav Vallabh backed Gehlot and hit out at Tharoor over his probable AICC president poll bid, saying his "only major contribution" to the party was to send letters to Sonia Gandhi when she was hospitalised.
Vallabh's remarks were a reference to the letter sent by a group of 23 leaders, including Tharoor, to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking large scale reforms in the party.
"The choice is very simple and clear," said Vallabh, who is also a party spokesperson but he asserted his comments were as a Congress worker and not spokesperson.
Responding to a question at a presser in Kochi on what would be his advice to those contesting the poll, Gandhi said, "You are taking on a position, which is a historic position, and it is a position that defines and has defined a particular view of India. The Congress President is not just an organisational post, the Congress president is an ideological post."
"It is a belief system. So, my advice would be that whoever becomes Congress president should remember that he represents the set of Ideas, he represents a belief system and he represents a vision of India," Gandhi said.
On the issue of one man one post concept, Gandhi said, "Jo humne Udaipur mein decide kiya, woh Congress party ka ek commitment hai. Toh I expect that commitment will be maintained (What we decided in Udaipur that was Congress party's commitment. I expect that commitment will be maintained)."
In his remarks, Gandhi also said the media only asks about internal polls from the Congress and not from the BJP, SP or BSP.
"I would like to point out one thing that it is interesting to me that everybody asks the question about when the Congress party election is going to take place, who is going to fight the Congress party election? But, you do not do this about any other political party in the country. You do not ask this question about the BJP, RSS, the communists, Samajwadi, the BSP," he said.
"I am saying this with a significant degree of pride, because we are the only political party in this country that does this," he said.
Following the three-day Udaipur brainstorming session in May, the party had decided on a number of reforms, including limiting one post to one person.
After over two decades, the Congress is set to see a contest for the post of party chief with Gehlot and Tharoor looking set to enter the fray.
Several senior leaders' names such as former Union minister Manish Tewari, former Madhya Pradesh chief ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, Mukul Wasnik and Prithviraj Chavan, were doing the rounds as possible contenders, but many of them privately ruled out running for the top post.
Meanwhile, the Congress' central election authority issued a notification for the AICC president poll, setting the ball rolling for electing the successor to the longest-serving party chief Sonia Gandhi.
In the notification issued, chairman of the Central Election Authority Madhusudan Mistry, under the power vested in him by provision of Article XVIII of the Constitution of the Indian National Congress, announced the election of the president of the party to be held as per the given schedule.
According to the notification, 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 on October 1, while the last date of withdrawal of nominations would be October 8. The final list of candidates would be published at 5 PM on October 8.
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.
Over 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee delegates will vote in the poll. The party had also assured leaders that those wanting to file nomination will be able see the list of all 9,000 delegates from the office of central election authority at the AICC office from September 20.
In the notification, Mistry, under the power vested in him by provision of Article XVIII of the Constitution of the Indian National Congress, announced the nomination form will be available at the AICC Office, 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi.
The upcoming poll 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.