INDIA: CONGRESS PARTY CONFIRM ELECTION OF SITARAM KESRI AS PRESIDENT
Date: 06/12/1997 04:00 AM
New Delhi, India, 12 June 1997 and file
1. New Congress leader Kesri with his supporters coming out to meet the press
3. Kesri with folded hands
4. Various of Kesri's victory celebrations with firecrackers
5. Fireworks at the Congress office
6. Kesri's supporters carrying his photograph, shouting slogans
7. People watching
8. Truck carrying Kesri's supporters outside the Congress office
9. Cameraman waiting outside congress office
10. Kesri walking into his house
11. Various of Kesri's victory posters being put up on the billboards
12. Posters being put up on the vehicles
13. Chandan Mitra
14. Cutaway of hand
15. SOUNDBITE: (English) Chandan Mitra, editor, Pioneer newspaper
16. Congress supporters shouting pro-Kesri slogans holding Sonia Gandhi's photograph
17. Various of Sonia Gandhi at a function - file 9 May
18. SOUNDBITE: (English) Chandan Mitra, editor, Pioneer newspaper
19. Various of polling for the Congress president's election - file 9 June
20. SOUNDBITE: (Hindi) Sitaram Kesri, Congress Party president - file 9 June
21. Drum beaters celebrating outside Kesri's house
22. Kesri meeting the press at his residence
India's Congress Party on Thursday confirmed veteran politician Sitaram Kesri had been elected as its president with an overwhelming majority.
But the vote was overshadowed by accusations that India's largest party has no interest in shedding its secretive, undemocratic ways.
The 80-year-old Kesri will replace former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who resigned when he was charged in a corruption case.
Rao had led the Congress Party to its worst defeat in general elections last year, but Kesri promised he would continue to work to improve the battered image of party.
For a congressman who made headway in the party by sheer proximity to the Nehru- Gandhi family, Sitaram Kesri has come a long way.
Kesri's landslide victory as Congress president - announced three days after the internal election was held - came as no surprise.
Congress Party leaders first named Kesri their leader last September after a series of secret discussions.
But the federal Election Commission ordered all parties to hold open organisational elections by the middle of the month as part of efforts to reform the political system.
Kesri's challengers - Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot - had accused Kesri of using his influence to stack the voting list.
His opponents also tried to tap the discontent among the party members who have seen their once proud Congress rejected at the polls and tainted by scandal.
But by securing more than 80 percent of votes polled, Kesri removed all question marks over his leadership.
Earlier this year, Kesri took over the party's leadership from former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Within three months, Kesri withdrew key support from the governing United Front coalition and staked a claim to form the government himself.
His decision set off a scramble for new alliances but Kesri was unable to find support to form the government.
Kesri has now promised his continued support for Prime Minister Gujral's ruling coalition.
But many feel he will soon start flexing his muscles again now that he is the legitimately elected leader of the Congress.
The party which governed India for all but four years since independence lost power in last year's general elections.
India's first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi were Congress stars.
Observers say that heading a leader-centric party at a time when many of its top leaders are facing corruption charges may not be easy for Kesri.
Known as a leader with little mass base, Kesri has contested and won a parliamentary election only once.
"I think Kesri has no charisma at all. If anything one should say it is negative charisma. But right now Congress doesn't have any other person who has even remotely the
charisma which the Nehru Gandhi family had. "
SUPER CAPTION: Chandan Mitra, editor, Pioneer newspaper
The Congress party has lacked effective leadership since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Many have looked to his widow, Sonia, to carry on the family tradition of party and national leadership, but she has shown little political ambition so far.
She only formally joined the party last month and has supported Kesri in the leadership fight.
"I don't quite see Sonia Gandhi coming upfront and dictating Congress policy by becoming an active participant in the working committee or taking over the party
presidentship as many people are demanding. Because I think the moment she does that the current mystique that attaches to her will be gone. "
Delegates representing the Congress Party's estimated 50 (m) million members participated in the election.
The delegates were chosen by local party officials.
For the Congress Party, it was the fifth internal election for a leader in its 112 year history.
In the past, the party leader was simply anointed by the most popular and therefore the most powerful Congress members.
Kesri is hopeful that the party under his leadership will regain its lost glory.
"I am ready to pay any price for the party. Congress is an institution. It has a relevance in today's times."
SUPER CAPTION: Sitaram Kesri, Congress Party president
The Congress is widely known to be a party which is basically welded together in pursuit of power.
But it remains to be seen whether the 81-year-old Congress veteran can stem the declining political fortunes of his party and deliver power to it once again.