A day after Congress leader Gourav Vallabh taunted Shashi Tharoor over his probable AICC president poll bid, the party, on Friday, urged all its spokespersons and communication department office bearers to refrain from commenting on any colleague contesting the elections.
In the first indicator of leaders taking sides in the upcoming contest for the top post, Vallabh had also voiced support for another contender, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who many believe has the backing of the current leadership.
According to sources, AICC general secretary in-charge Communications, Jairam Ramesh, in a message to all spokespersons and office bearers of the communication department, said, "I would strongly urge all spokespersons and office bearers of communications department of AICC to refrain from making any comment of any kind on any colleague of ours contesting the elections for the post of Congress president."
"We all have our individual preferences, but our job is to only highlight that the Congress is the only political party to have a democratic and transparent system in place for election to the post of its president," he said.
"A person wanting to contest needs no nod from anybody to do so except from 10 PCC delegates for filing nomination form. The election authority ensures free and fair elections. Spokespersons have to ensure that elections are seen to be free and fair," Ramesh said.
"If elections have to be held on October 17th so be it. We welcome it. Even so the focus of the entire party organisation should be and indeed is to make the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has already evoked tremendous response even more of a resounding success," the sources quoted the Congress general secretary as saying in his message.
Vallabh is also a party spokesperson but he asserted his comments were as a Congress worker and not spokesperson.
"Like crores of workers, my first wish is that Rahul Gandhi ji should provide his leadership to the Congress and the country. But if Rahul Gandhi ji remains steadfast on his decision (of not taking up the Congress chief post) and one has to choose between the two names that are appearing in public discussion, then there is no comparison between the two," Vallabh had said in a series of tweets in Hindi.
On the one hand, there is Gehlot who has the experience of being a Union minister, three times chief minister, five times MP, five times MLA, and who has defeated Narendra Modi-Amit Shah in a direct contest and who has had 45 years of "spotless" political life, he said.
"On the other hand there is Shashi Tharoor sahib who has made only one major contribution to the party in the last eight year—sent letters to Congress president Sonia Gandhi ji when she was hospitalised, this act caused pain to crores of party workers like me. The choice is very simple and clear," he had said.
Vallabh's remarks were a reference to the letter sent by a group of 23 leaders, including Tharoor, to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking large scale reforms in the party.
In a late night tweet, Tharoor posted former US president Theodore Roosevelt's famous speech known as "The Man in the Arena".
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat," Roosevelt had said in the speech posted by Tharoor.
Many saw the post by Tharoor as his response to Vallabh and other critics, as well as a reference to his probable All India Congress Committee (AICC) presidential post run.
After over two decades, the Congress is set to see a contest for the post of party chief. Gehlot and Tharoor are being seen as the likely contenders.
The Congress' central election authority on Thursday issued a notification for the AICC president polls, setting the ball rolling for electing the successor to the longest-serving party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Tharoor, on Monday, had met Sonia Gandhi and expressed his intention to contest the upcoming AICC chief polls, while the Congress president conveyed that she would stay "neutral" in the elections, according to sources.
Sonia Gandhi welcomed the idea of more people contesting the polls and dispelled the notion that there would be an "official candidate".