Marking a generational shift, Rahul Gandhi is all set to take over as Congress President next week as he was the only candidate to file nominations before deadline expired on Monday for the post amid opposition jibes over dynasty politics in a contest with no one else in the fray.
The 47-year-old Gandhi, who will be the sixth Nehru-Gandhi scion to helm the party, filed papers at the Congress headquarters here amid cheers and celebrations by party leaders and workers. His mother and incumbent party President Sonia Gandhi signed the first nomination paper for election of her son.
He has been party Vice President for over four years since 2013.
Among the proposers of 89 nominations — all in support of Gandhi — was former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who called Rahul Gandhi the “darling” of the party. Manmohan Singh accompanied Gandhi when he filed the nomination paper.
The last date for withdrawal is December 11 when he may be declared elected since there is no contest. Scrutiny of the nomination will take place on Tuesday.
“Eighty-nine nominations from various states were submitted to the returning officer. Prominent Congress leaders filed nominations (on behalf of Gandhi) including the former Prime Minister, Congress Working Committee members, MPs, state Congress leaders,” Returning Officer Mullapally Ramachandran told reporters.
Though Ramachandran did not divulge details, sources said all the nominations were in favour of “one candidate” — obviously Gandhi.
Originally 90 nomination forms were issued but one could not be filed as there were not enough number of proposers.
However, the filing of nomination was not without controversy stoked by remarks of senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar who invoked the Mughal dynasty in the Congress Presidential election that Prime Minister Narendra Modi latched on to quickly to call it “Aurangzeb Raj”.
“When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir did any election happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan did any election happen? It was known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go to the heir,” Aiyar said, retorting to the “dynasty” jibes of the BJP on Rahul Gandhi’s election.
“But in a democracy elections are held. I openly invite (Shehzad) Poonawala to file the nomination and contest,” Aiyar said, adding no one had earlier heard of Poonawala.
Aiyar was replying to a question about BJP’s criticism following Maharashtra Congress leader Poonawala alleging that election for Congress President was a sham and Rahul Gandhi’s elevation was rigged.
Modi was quick to pounce on Aiyar’s remarks. Addressing an election rally in Gujarat, Modi said: “Aiyar, who never shies away from showing loyalty to one family, proudly said — When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir did any elections happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan did any election happen?
“It was known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go the son. I congratulate the Congress on their ‘Aurangzeb Raj.’ For us, the wellbeing of the people matters and 125 crore Indians are our high command,” he said.
The Prime Minister also said that the Congress leaders admit that it is not a party but a “kunba” (family).
Modi at a poll rally in Gujarat on Sunday lauded Poonawala for exposing lack of internal democracy in the Congress. “Those who have no internal democracy can’t work for people. I want to say to this youngster Shehzad – you have done a brave thing but this is sadly what has always happened in Congress.”
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said Modi was “suffering from Rahul Gandhi phobia”.
Surjewala also said that Modi’s “love for Shehzad, Shahzada (BJP chief Amit Shah’s son Jai Shah) and Shourya (National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s son)” is well known to the world.
“But will Modiji tell when he will answer the questions of his own senior party leaders like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha?” he asked.
Gandhi, who became the Congress Vice President in January 2013, will succeed his mother Sonia, the longest serving Congress chief who has helmed the party since 1998. He is the sixth in the Gandhi-Nehru family to head the party after his great great grandfather Motilal Nehru, great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi.
Hundreds of Congress workers and leaders from across the country supporters thronged the party office ahead of the filing of nominations.
A large crowd of party workers were seen requesting the guards for a chance to meet their leader as he made his much awaited move.
Earlier, Gandhi called on former President Pranab Mukherjee, who applied tilak mark on his head as a way of blessing.
On his elevation, Manmohan Singh said: “Rahul Gandhi is a darling of the Congress and he will carry forward the great traditions of the party.”
Noting that Sonia Gandhi served as Congress President for over 19 years, Manmohan Singh said: “It will be yet another chapter for the party.”
Among those who signed the various sets of nomination papers for Gandhi were Motilal Vora, Ahmed Patel, Tarun Gogoi, V.Narayansami, Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma, Jaipal Reddy, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Salman Khursheed, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Karan Singh.