India’s Congress party likely to get first non-Gandhi chief in 25 years

NEW DELHI (Reuters): India’s main opposition Congress party is likely to elect a new party president from outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for the first time in nearly 25 years, as it looks for a reset ahead of the next election to compete with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Formed 137 years ago during India’s struggle for independence from Britain, Congress was thumped by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last two general elections.

Many senior Congress leaders have quit to form their own party or to join the BJP, blaming the weak Congress leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the son of ailing party president Sonia Gandhi, who took charge temporarily in 2019.

The party has ruled the country for much of India’s independent history, mostly led by a member of the Gandhi family.

Around 9,000 party delegates will vote for a new president. Gandhi family loyalist Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan state, and Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker from the southern state of Kerala and a former top UN official, could file nominations this week, party sources said.

“The election authority of the party started the election process on Sept. 22 for which polling will happen on Oct. 17 if there is more than one candidate,” said Pranav Jha, secretary at the Congress’s Election Authority.

The party has unanimously elected a president for a term of five years, except in 1937, 1950, 1997 and 2000, when elections were held as there was more than one candidate, Jha said.

Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, led the party uninterrupted for nearly two decades until 2017.

Rahul Gandhi, who took over from her but resigned in 2019 following the drubbing by Modi’s party, has declined to stand in the party election.

He is currently leading the party’s five-month-long protest march against rising prices and what it calls Modi’s divisive politics.