Though a third candidate KN Tripathi, former minister of Jharkhand, has also filed his nomination, the main contest, however, will remain between Kharge and Tharoor.
With 9100-odd delegates who comprise the electoral roll, counting of votes will take place on October 19.
Similarities between Kharge and Tharoor
Both Kharge and Tharoor are non-Nehru-Gandhis. Whether Kharge or Tharoor wins, a non-Nehru-Gandhi would become the All India Congress president (AICC) president after 24 years as incumbent party chief Sonia Gandhi has been holding the post since April 6, 1998 except when her son Rahul Gandhi succeeded her between 2017 and 2019.
Both Kharge and Tharoor come from South India – Kharge is a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka while Tharoor is a Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala. Both of them are also non-Hindi-speaking.
Both Kharge and Tharoor have been controversial.
Kharge was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the alleged Rs 5,000-crore money laundering case linked to NAtional Herald for seven hours in August. His interrogation took place after that of Rahul and Sonia in the preceding months.
Earlier, a Lokayukta complaint was lodged against Kharge in 2014 alleging that he owned assets worth Rs 50,000 which were disproportionate to his known sources of income.
According to Karnataka BJP, the charges against Kharge included illegal appointments to the posts of 1,427 engineers, 300-acre coffee plantation in Chikkamagaluru district worth over Rs 1,000 crore, a huge complex in Bannerghatta worth Rs 500 crore, a building near MS Ramaiah Medical College worth Rs 25 crore, a house worth Rs 50 crore in his daughter’s name, a farmhouse near Kengeri Gate built allegedly on 40 acres of government land, 17 acres of land on Bellary Road, a three-storey building in Indira Nagar and two houses in Sadashivanagar.
In a 2018 tweet, the Karnataka BJP alleged that Kharge ensured his personal welfare in the name of Dalit welfare. It asked Rahul whether the Congress could have appointed a taint-free politician as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. “What happened to the investigation? Why is Lokayukta refusing to share details of the investigation? Was this one of the reasons why Lokayukta was destroyed in Karnataka? Answer Mr Siddaramaiah (former Karnataka chief minister)! It’s time for change,” it said.
You have just left K’taka. If you look in your rear view mirror, @OfficeOfRG you will find your LOP mired in corrup… https://t.co/kQAuakGxQU
— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) 1518528915000
As far as Tharoor is concerned, he had to resign as the Union minister in April 2010 over allegations of misusing his position to buy shares in an IPL cricket franchise.
He found himself in the thick of controversy over the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar in a Delhi hotel in January 2014 under mysterious circumstances. He was charged with abetment to suicide of his wife and marital cruelty. He was acquitted of the charges in August 2021.
However, there are at least four differences between Kharge and Tharoor.
1. Congress’s undeclared ‘official’ candidate
Kharge is believed to have the backing of the Nehru-Gandhis. He is their old-time favourite.
He has been propped up after the efforts of the Nehru-Gandhis to field Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot ended in a fiasco causing a major embarrassment to them.
Kharge himself was unaware of his candidature till late on September 29. This was revealed by Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh who had called on him after collecting nomination papers for himself on October 29. However, he withdrew his candidature after he learnt from the media the next morning that Kharge was in the race.
Kharge was reportedly told by a senior party leader late on October 29 night that the Nehru-Gandhis wanted him to file his nomination the next day, which was the last date to do so.
While no prominent leader was present when Tharoor filed his nomination, a battery of senior Congressmen accompanied Kharge to the party headquarters to file the nomination papers.
Kharge filed 14 sets of papers while Tharoor filed five and Tripathi just one. Each set comprises 10 proposers. So, while Tripathi had only 10 proposers, Tharoor had 50 proposers despite having decided much in advance to contest the election. As against the two, Kharge had 140 proposers in a short span of a few hours.
The proposers included AK Antony, Ashok Gehlot, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Abhishek Singhvi, Ajay Maken, Bhupinder Hooda, Digvijaya Singh, Tariq Anwar, Manish Tewari, Prithviraj Chavan, Vinit Punia, Salman Khurshid, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Deepender Hooda, Narayanasamy, Pramod Tiwari, PL Punia and Rajeev Shukla.
Though Tharoor was a part of G-23 – the group of 23 dissenting leaders who had written a letter to Sonia in 2020 demanding reforms to bring about transparency in the leadership – the other dissenters such as Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and Bhupinder Hooda abandoned him and rallied behind Kharge instead.
That Kharge is a favourite of the Nehru-Gandhis is borne out from the fact that he was appointed the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha between 2014 and 2019.
After Kharge lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress gave him a Rajya Sabha seat and made him leader of opposition of the upper house.
2. Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist
Kharge is considered to be a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist having played an active role in the protests held by the Congress when Rahul was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for five days and over 50 hours in June and Sonia for three days in July.
He was present during the protests on the streets. He was also detained a number of times for several hours during the protests. He has taken the lead in defending Sonia and Rahul and holding several press conferences in Delhi.
Recently, he was chosen to visit Jaipur as a central observer along with AICC general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken to hold Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting and select Gehlot’s successor as its leader.
The visit, however, bore no fruit as the loyalist MLAs defied Kharge and Maken and refused to attend the CLP meeting convened twice. The two central observers termed the behaviour of these MLAs as “indiscipline”. They returned to Delhi and submitted their report to Sonia following which Gehlot tendered an apology to her.
On the other hand, Tharoor is not known to be a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist. He is considered to be a dissenter.
Tharoor is a member of G-23. He has been vocal in demanding inner party reforms. Most recently, he, along with Manish Tewari and another Lok Sabha MP Karti Chidambaram had demanded making the electoral roll public for the Congress president’s election.
3. Veteran Congressman
Kharge, 80, is a veteran Congressman with a long political background. He has been associated with the Congress since 1969, when he was the president of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee.
He was a nine-time MLA from 1072 to 2009 and two-term Lok Sabha MP from 2009 to 2019. He lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in June 2020.
He has also held several posts in the party such as general secretary of Karnataka Congress and AICC and Congress Working Committee (CWC) member.
As far as Tharoor, 66, is concerned, he is relatively a new entrant to the Congress having joined the party in 2009.
He is a three-term MP from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala consecutively since 2009. He is also the chairperson of All India Professionals’ Congress (AIPC).
4. Administrative experience
Kharge has considerably longer administrative experience in the government than Tharoor. He was a Union minister holding the portfolios such as labour, employment, railways and social justice in Manmohan Singh government between 2009 and 2014.
He was a cabinet minister in Karnataka as well.
Tharoor has been a Union minister twice in 2009 and 2012. On both the occasions it was for a brief period.
Author of 23 books, he was a Union minister of state (MoS) for external affairs from May 23, 2009 to April 18, 2010. Again, he was MoS for human resource development from October 28, 2012 to May 2014.
Tharoor served in the United Nations for 29 years from 1978-2007 in different capacities, including as an under secretary general.
In 2006, he contested the election for the post of the UN secretary general to succeed Kofi Annan. However, he withdrew after South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-moon emerged as the favourites of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.