Congress presidential candidate Mallikarjun Kharge won the election for becoming the party chief with 7,897 votes, while Dr Shashi Tharoor got 1072 votes, and 416 votes were rejected. Former Union minister Mallikarjun Kharge is poised to take over the leadership of the Congress party after Diwali.
Since Sitaram Kesri was abruptly ousted from his post just two years into his five-year term, the party has not been led by anyone outside of the Nehru-Gandhi family in 24 years. The party’s rout in the 2019 general election can be attributed to Rahul Gandhi, who stepped down two years after his unopposed election in 2017. Kharge will replace Sonia Gandhi, who stepped in as interim president after Rahul resigned.
Having served for 10 years as a Union minister, Kharge announced plans for organising reforms in the party, including 50 percent representation for those under 50 years of age, at all levels. There are just over 18 months until the next general election, and political experts believe that the Congress party needs to undergo major reform in order to compete with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. It is expected that the 80-year-old veteran will move quickly in his new role. His responsibilities will include leading the party structurally and organisationally.
Kharge was raised in a low-income household in the Varavatti village of Bidar district in Karnataka, where he completed his schooling, BA, and law degree. He was a practising law attorney before entering politics. As the creator and current chairman of the Siddharth Vihar Trust, which constructed the Buddha Vihar complex in Gulbarga, Kharge practises Buddhism.
He joined the Indian National Congress in 1969, later rising to the position of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee president. Dr Tharoor positioned himself as the candidate of change during the Congress party’s presidential elections, but Kharge garnered attention as the clear front-runner due to his alleged closeness to the Gandhis.
During his tenure in the Union government, he served as the cabinet minister over the ministries of employment and railroads. He has also served as the Leader of the Opposition in both Houses of the Parliament. However, the current assignment is expected to be the toughest of his career, as the BJP’s fortune has risen since 2014 under PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, while the grand old party has declined. In the current 543-member Lok Sabha, the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 353 seats in the 2019 election, while the Congress’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won only 91 seats. Additionally, the party only now controls two states out of the majority of the states it once controlled.
Kharge’s importance in his state may be shown in the fact that during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he defied the Narendra Modi wave that swept Karnataka, especially the Hyderabad-Karnataka area, and won from Gulbarga with a victory margin of over 74,000 votes. In his native state, where he is well-known as “Solillada Saradara” (a leader without defeat), Kharge is now the second AICC president from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa, and the second Dalit leader to hold the position after Jagjivan Ram.
The career of 80-year-old Kharge, a politician with more than 50 years of experience who was elected to the Gulbarga district assembly nine times in a row, has steadily risen from his humble beginnings as a union leader. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Kharge, who has been in politics for several decades, suffered his first electoral defeat. By a margin of 95,452 votes, Umesh Jadhav of the BJP defeated the seasoned politician in his home seat.
To take on the BJP, Kharge will need to overcome a number of obstacles. He will first need to demonstrate that he is in fact in charge of the party, and is not merely acting as a stand-in for the Gandhi family. Before the vote on Monday, he told the Indian Express that he might not always consult the Nehru-Gandhi family, but he would do so because they had management experience with regard to the party. He will also have to deal with divisions within the Congress as some top figures have recently either departed the party or voiced their displeasure with how it is being mismanaged.
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