Last month, the Congress party's highest decision-making body announced elections for the post of party president – to be held on 19 October – after it registered a string of electoral defeats and saw a series of noteworthy resignations.
On Tuesday, 20 September, sources indicated that former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor would be running for the post of Congress president in what is meant to be a “free and fair election."
Meanwhile, after a direct 'request' from interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot entered the fray and has emerged as a frontrunner to become the next party president.
The electoral contest assumes significance after 19 years of Sonia Gandhi's tenure as party president, followed by the short and precarious tenure of her son, Rahul Gandhi.
Prior to this, the Congress has seen only two major contests for the seat since Independence. Here is a look at both of them.
1996: Sitaram Kesri vs Sharad Pawar vs Rajesh Pilot
The Congress, which had presided over the politics of an independent India for almost five decades, suffered a historic defeat in May 1996 and the BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee took office as the PM – for 13 days.
On the heels of this upheaval, which had led to then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao conceding his post, came Rao's resignation from the post of Congress president as well.
On 12 June that year, the Congress confirmed the electoral victory of Sitaram Kesri regarding the party's top post. Kesri had defeated his rivals, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot, by a staggering majority.
He secured over 80 percent of the votes, seeking to cement his leadership as unquestionable.
However, the electoral exercise was tainted by accusations that Kesri's win came as no surprise. Reports speculated that Kesri's name as the party leader was already agreed upon in a series of secretive meetings.
Morever, Pilot and Pawar also accused Kesri of using his influence to stack the voting list, reported AP.
2000-2001: Sonia Gandhi vs Jitendra Prasada
In 1998, after another batch of 'secret' meetings, the party unanimously organised the ouster of Kesri, and Sonia Gandhi, previously reluctant to run the party, was announced as president.
Two years later, as rebellion against Gandhi mounted within the party, a faction of senior leaders openly challenged her leadership.
In what was seen as the first challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family for the party’s top post, the former chief of Uttar Pradesh Congress and former Congress vice president Jitendra Prasada filed his nomination papers for the presidential seat.
Even as Rajesh Pilot, another senior leader campaigning for the post died in a car accident during that time, Prasada resumed his challenge.
In November 2000, Gandhi saw a landslide victory as Prasada garnered only 94 out of 7,542 votes.
Speaking to a reporter from India Today later that year, he said:
"After giving me an innings defeat, my sight possibly makes her (Sonia) feel reassured. The match was fixed behind my back, but I don't claim that I would have won if she'd played it straight."
Both seminal polls were marred by accusations of the Congress' autocratic and tight-lipped ways of choosing its party leader, and after 2000, Sonia Gandhi would continue her 19-year-long tenure as party president till 2017.
(With inputs from AP, The Telegraph, and India Today.)
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