Senior leaders Shashi Tharoor and Ashok Gehlot, who are set for an electoral contest for the post of Congress president, not only possess contrasting demeanour but have had an equally disparate political journey.
While Rajasthan Chief Minister Gehlot has announced his candidature, former Union minister Tharoor has also made his intentions clear by getting the nomination forms collected on Saturday.
On one side is 71-year-old Gehlot, a grassroots politician connected with the Congress from student days, an organisational man who always toes the party line and a mass leader, and on the other is 66-year-old Tharoor – articulate, erudite and suave – who is known for speaking his mind and joined the Congress in 2009 after a long stint at the United Nations.
The contrast is not limited to their demeanour and thinking but also their backgrounds – while Gehlot was born to Babu Laxman Singh Daksh, who was a professional magician and used to travel to different cities to perform, Tharoor was born in London and had a phenomenal education background.
Gehlot is a graduate in science, a postgraduate in economics and has studied law.
Tharoor has studied at premier institutions in India and the US, including St Stephen’s College in Delhi and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts.
Tharoor completed a Ph.D. in 1978 from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Gehlot rose through the ranks of the party, starting from his NSUI days as a student leader and slowly working up the ladder.
Tharoor, however, made a lateral entry into politics following a long career at the United Nations, which included serving as senior adviser to the Secretary-General, in addition to his role as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Gehlot was NSUI’s Rajasthan president from 1974 to 1979 and went on to become the Jodhpur City Congress Committee president from 1979 to 1982. He was then elevated as the state Congress committee’s general secretary.
He was first elected to Parliament in 1980 and went on to win Lok Sabha elections four more times. At the Centre, Gehlot served as a minister of state in the ministries of tourism, civil aviation, sports and textiles, in different stints between 1982 and 1993.
Since 1999, he has represented the Sardarpura assembly constituency in Rajasthan, winning five consecutive terms in the House.
On the other hand, Tharoor entered politics after he announced his retirement following his second-place finish in the 2006 selection for UN Secretary-General to Ban Ki-moon, and was elected to Parliament in 2009.
He has been a very active parliamentarian and has won three Lok Sabha elections on the trot from Thiruvananthapuram, but has not served on party organisational posts, while Gehlot is a veteran who has also served as AICC general secretary in-charge organization.
Gehlot is not considered as effective a communicator as Tharoor who has a reputation of being a formidable orator when speaking in English and is quickly picking up Hindi too.
However, the Rajasthan chief minister scores on account of his simplicity and people’s connect.
Also, while Gehlot is a hardcore politician who is known to eat, sleep and breathe politics, Tharoor is a man of many parts – an author, politician, and a former international civil servant – straddling several worlds of experience.
Gehlot is known to be a Gandhi family loyalist, always politically correct and toes the party line, while Tharoor likes to speak his mind and was among the group of 23 leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking large-scale party reforms.
While Gehlot’s popularity is more among farmers and low-income groups, Tharoor’s popularity is high among the middle and upper classes.
Gehlot is an old-school politician who likes doing things the traditional way and is a master at realpolitik, while Tharoor is more driven by innovation and novel ideas.
Tharoor was a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. Till 2013, he was India’s most-followed politician on Twitter, until being overtaken that year by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, his social media escapades have often attracted criticism as well, especially in the early days of his political debut, like with his ‘cattle class’ comment for which he had to later apologise.
Gehlot has shown he can outsmart his rivals with his political manoeuvring and Tharoor has a way with words and an ability to impress with his novel approach but the winner of this keenly-watched battle will be known on October 19.
According to a notification issued by the party on Thursday, the process for filing nominations for the election will be held from September 24 to 30.
The date for scrutiny of the nomination papers is October 1, while the last date for withdrawal of nominations is October 8.
The final list of candidates will be published at 5 pm on October 8.
The polling, if needed, will be held on October 17. The counting of votes will be taken up on October 19 and the results will be declared the same day.
More than 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates will vote in the poll.