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Chief Ministers who rose to become Congress presidents

by | Sep 30, 2022 | India

Among those who relinquished the chief ministership to become party president was then Karnataka chief minister S Nijlingappa (1968-69). It was, however, a decision that he went on to regret.

New Delhi: Ashok Gehlot has declared that he was out of the race for the Congress President’s post, but India’s grand old party does have precedents when serving chief Ministers have relinquished responsibilities in a state to take charge as the organisation’s top boss.
The Gandhi family has held the Congress President’s post for a total of 42 years in the last 75 years since Independence, with the non-Gandhi’s having held the post for 33 years. Sitaram Kesri was the last of the non-Gandhi’s to have held the post after he defeated Sharad Pawar And Rajesh Pilot in a contest in 1997. Sonia Gandhi took charge as the party president in 1998 and has held the post almost continuously, except for the brief period between 2017 and 2019, when Rahul Gandhi held the position. Of the 16 Congress Presidents since 1948, five have been from the Gandhi family. Of these, Sonia has been the longest serving. Non Gandhis that have held the post include names such as Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Jagjivan Ram, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Devkanta Barua and P V Narsimha Rao.
Among those who relinquished the chief ministership to become party president was then Karnataka chief minister S Nijlingappa (1968-69). It was, however, a decision that he went on to regret. As Nijlingappa wrote in his autobiography, “My Life and Politics”: ” For many reasons, I still repent the decision. It would have been better from all points of view, if I had stayed on as Chief Minister of Mysore and not accepted the onerous responsibility”. Several years earlier, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had moved Saurashtra Chief Minister U N Dhebar as Congress President in 1954. In Dhebar’s case, it was known that the Saurashtra state would be merged with Bombay; which happened in 1956. K Kamraj also gave up Chief ministership in 1963 to become the Congress President, handing over the chief ministership to M Bhaktavatsalam. Kamraj, interestingly, was the last Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Srinanda Jha
Srinand Jha
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Journalist by accident, rail, travel and political buff by choice - dissenter by compulsion. Interested in policy and governance.