Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Monday claimed that the group of 23, or G-23, in the party never existed and was merely created by the media, ANI reported.

The Thiruvananthapuram MP made the statement in the context of his bid for the post of the Congress president, in which he is facing former Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

“There never was [a G-23 group],” Tharoor said. “It was a media idea.”

In August 2020, reports had said that 23 senior Congress leaders, including Tharoor, wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete transformation of the organisation. The signatories had urged Gandhi to address the leadership question in the party.

Tharoor claimed on Monday that several more leaders were contacted in connection with the letter, but only 23 were available to sign it.

“A couple of senior leaders wrote a letter, they invited a large number of people to support them,” the Thiruvananthapuram MP said. “They told me that by phone, they had contacted over 100 people who had expressed support.”

Tharoor said that on account of the Covid-19 lockdown, only 23 leaders were available in Delhi to sign the letter. “It [number of signatories] could have been a hundred, or less or more,” he claimed.

On August 30, Congress’ general secretary in charge of communications Jairam Ramesh also claimed that such a group never existed.

“G-23 is a figment of your [media’s] imagination,” he had said. “It never existed. Why you are going on perpetuating this mythology of G-23?”

Nevertheless, members of the purported group had criticised the functioning of the Congress on several other occasions as well. On March 16, eighteen members of the group had said in a letter that only way forward for the Congress was to adopt a model of “collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels”.

The letter had called on the Congress to “initiate dialogue with other likeminded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024”. Tharoor was among the signatories of the letter.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, a veteran leader and former Union minister who resigned from the Congress on August 26, was also said to have been a part of the G-23.

In his resignation letter, Azad had written that the Congress has lost the will and ability to fight for what is right for the country. This, he said, was because the party was running under the instructions of a small group of All India Congress Committee leaders.

No ideological differences with Kharge: Tharoor

Meanwhile, Tharoor also said that he had no ideological differences with Kharge and that the election for the president’s post was only a question of how to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party more effectively.

“Let me make clear that I agree with Kharge ji that all of us in the Congress wish to take on the BJP rather than each other,” he said. “There is no ideological difference between us.”

On Sunday, Kharge had said that he told Tharoor that it would have been better to have a consensus candidate for the post. Tharoor, he added, insisted that they should contest the election for the “sake of democracy”.

The election to decide the successor to the longest-serving party president Sonia Gandhi will take place on October 17. The results will be announced two days later.