NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Sunday began his election campaign for the post of Congress president. He is facing party MP Shashi Tharoor from Kerala as his opponent. Kharge said he had spoken to Tharoor to have a consensus candidate but things didn't work out. The election for the Congress president will be held on October 17 and votes will be counted on October 19.
"I am starting my election campaign on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. I have always fought and struggled for my ideology and ethics. I have been Leader of the Opposition, minister and MLA for several years. I want to fight again now and take forward those same ethics and ideology," said Kharge.
"I am not contesting solely as a Dalit leader. I am contesting as a Congress leader and will continue to do so," he said, adding that it was at the insistence of senior party leaders that he decided to fight for the party president’s post.
Giving reasons for his decision to contest for the top post of the party, Kharge said since Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi did not want to contest, he was asked by his senior colleagues to contest the elections.
"I am not fighting against anyone. I'm fighting for the ideology of the Congress. I entered the polls not to oppose anyone but to strengthen the party," he said. Mr Kharge added that, given the "one person, one post" principle of the Congress, he resigned as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha on the day he filed the nomination.
Tharoor said he would be open to the idea of a public debate with Kharge as it would evoke people's interest in the party in a manner similar to the recent British Conservative Party leadership race. Talking about what he brings to the table, Tharoor said he has a proven and credible track record in leading at the highest levels of organisations, whether it has been at the UN or the All-India Professionals' Congress.
Tharoor said the answer to the Congress' current challenges lay in a combination of effective leadership and organisational reforms. In terms of organisational reforms, the former Union minister said, he has outlined a set of priorities that he believes can help strengthen the Congress and take on the machinery of the BJP.
"Since our current situation is widely deplored, it may be an advantage not to be burdened by the baggage of having spent too much time in the present party organisation and be able to approach it from a fresh perspective," the 66-year-old leader said.
However, Kharge said, "The status quo and the change that Mr Tharoor has been talking about will be decided by the delegates and the All India Congress Committee. One person will not be taking the calls; they'll be taken collectively."