Gandhi loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge officially takes charge as Congress president
Veteran Congressman Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday took over reins of the Congress Party as its first non-Gandhi President in over two decades. He paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat before reaching the party headquarters. However, Kharge didn't only get the top party post but a slew of challenges, including nine state elections and the 2024 fight to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Why does this story matter?
- Kharge was elected President of the Congress in the party's sixth presidential election since India's independence. However, it was not without reservations.
- Sonia Gandhi was convinced to return as interim president in 2019 after Rahul Gandhi resigned due to election setbacks.
- The recent elections come after the 137-year-old party suffered a succession of defeats in state elections, prompting calls for revamping the party's operations.
Kharge's significant first pledge
Soon after taking charge, the 80-year-old leader made a significant announcement, saying the party will give chance to young leaders. "We decided at the Udaipur 'Chintan Shivir' to reserve 50% of the party structure for those below 50 years of age. We will move forward with that, with support from all of you," he declared.
Big challenges to fight out in Himachal, Gujarat
The new Congress chief's first challenge would be to prepare for assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. After five years of BJP control in the Himalayan state, the party appears optimistic about regaining power. Gujarat, PM Narendra Modi's home state, will also have elections shortly. However, Congress is running a low-profile campaign there as the chances of unseating the BJP seem less.
Holding on to the fort in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh
A tougher challenge awaits Kharge in 2023. The year will see nine assembly elections, including in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the only two states where the Congress has a chief minister. Rahul Gandhi's five-month 'Bharat Jodo Yatra will likewise conclude in 2023. Notably, Kharge is noted for never losing an election since 1969, with the exception of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Living up to the expectation of party cadre
As many regional parties see fewer opportunities in allying with a weaker Congress, Kharge also faces the difficulty of regaining the party's status as the main opposition. He could be required to carry out reforms inside the party that was promised at the Congress 'Chintan Shivir in Udaipur. Such steps gain significance amid claims that Kharge is a favorite of Gandhis, nominated by them.
No qualms about seeking 'guidance' from Gandhis: Kharge
Earlier, Kharge had trashed speculations of being the "official" candidate, saying the perception of a proxy party chief endorsed by the Gandhis was perpetuated by the media. He added that he might not consult the Gandhis on every decision but had no qualms about seeking their "guidance" and suggestions as they have experience in leading the party, and he believed in a collective approach.
Appointed after popular support
Kharge was elected as the president post of the Congress party on October 19, the first non-Gandhi to lead the party in 24 years. The former Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha, Kharge was in the race against Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor. Kharge amassed around 7,000 votes as compared to Tharoor receiving only around 1,000 votes.