or the Indian National Congress (INC), will have a brand-new president on Wednesday,
October 19. Battle-worn having lost election after election for eight years,
the Gandhi family leadership, is seemingly at least, taking a back seat, giving
a non-Gandhi to lead the party to the 2024 Union elections. Formally, Sonia
Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka have no horse in the race. They have
neither endorsed Mallikarjun Kharge nor Shashi Tharoor. There is, however, a
broad understanding that Kharge is the ‘establishment candidate’.

Also Read | Mallikarjun Kharge vs Shashi Tharoor in Congress president polls: A cheat-sheet

himself, has only stopped short of mentioning it. In several interviews, the
80-year-old Karnataka Congress leader, has maintained that he will keep
consulting with the Gandhi family while taking decisions if he were to become president.
Tharoor, who has always been a bit of an outsider in the Congress scheme of
things, has, decided to strike out on his own. The 66-year-old UN
diplomat-turned politician, has taken a strong position to lead the party out
of the shadow of the Gandhi family if he were to become president.

The Gandhi
family, or the Nehru-Gandhi family, has always been critical to the Congress,
especially since Independence. But loyalism to a Gandhi is in many ways part of
the Congress’ DNA. Before the Nehru-Gandhi family became the mainstay of the
party of India’s freedom movement, there was another Gandhi, whom Gen-Z would
call the OG Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma, who had his own
issues with loyalty when it came to the question of finding a president of the
Congress party.

Chandra Bose vs Pattabhi Sitaramayya

The year
was 1939, the heyday of India’s freedom struggle and the Congress was in the
midst of internal presidential elections. Subhash Chandra Bose, already a
stalwart of India’s freedom movement who would later go on to initiate an armed
rebellion against the British, stood for the elections.

Also Read | Congress presidents since Independence: A list

Bose’s candidature for the party president post was not something that sat well
with the rest of the Congress leadership. It is said that many senior party
leaders sought to dissuade Bose. But Bose, once a student activist who had
slapped a British professor for misbehaving with Indian students, stayed the

To counter
Subhash, Gandhi, by then the official vanguard of the values of the Indian
freedom movement, propped up Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya
was a leader from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. A Gandhi-loyalist Sitarammaya eventually
went on to become president of the Congress post-independence. He was a doctor
by profession.

It was Subhash
Chandra Bose who won the elections. But Gandhi regarded Sitarammaya’s defeat as
his own. This led to so much pressure on Bose that he had to eventually resign
from the president’s post and then from the party itself.

As Congress
seeks to reinvigorate itself on the altar of inner-party democracy, it would do
well to recall how this chapter in its history casts Congress as a party and
the role it has to play in world’s largest democracy.