“Gandhi-approved” candidate Mallikarjun Kharge is new Congress President

NEW DELHI: Mapanna Mallikarjun Kharge, a staunch Gandhi family loyalist from Karnataka, has become the Congress’ first non-Gandhi president in 24 years.The 80-year-old leader succeeds Sonia Gandhi at the grand old party’s highest office.

Mr Kharge, 80, widely seen to be the “Gandhi-approved” candidate in a contest against Shashi Tharoor, won 84 per cent of the votes cast on Monday.
Though Mr Kharge made a last-minute entry into the contest, his landslide victory was never in doubt. He won 7,897 votes while Shashi Tharoor finished with 1,072. Sober by temperament and nature, Mr Kharge has never landed in any major political trouble spot or controversy.
Mr Kharge takes over from Sonia Gandhi, who agreed to temporarily lead the party when Rahul Gandhi stepped down in 2019, taking responsibility for successive general election defeats. Like every Congress leader is inclined to do, Mr Kharge was about to visit Sonia Gandhi at her 10, Janpath home when it was decided in a meeting that given the occasion, it should be the other way round.
Even before the results were announced, the confirmation came from Rahul Gandhi at a press conference in Andhra Pradesh. “I can’t comment on the Congress president’s role, that’s for Mr Kharge to comment on,” Rahul Gandhi said on the new president’s role while he remains the face of the party. “The president will decide what my role is and how I am to be deployed… that you have to ask Kharge ji and Sonia ji,” he said. He also said he would “report to” Mr Kharge, like every party member.
When the results were announced, celebrations erupted at the Congress office, the kind not seen in years as the party suffered defeat after defeat.Mr Kharge, who is close to the Gandhis, has promised reforms but few expect radical changes on his watch. His rival Shashi Tharoor built his campaign around change but lost, as expected.
He said the elections, irrespective of the outcome, had “ultimately strengthened the party”. “I look forward to working with Congress colleagues to face the challenges ahead. I believe the revival of our party has truly begun today,” Mr Tharoor said in a statement.
The Gandhis, blamed for the party’s inability to win elections, stayed out of the contest and insisted that the new Congress chief should be someone outside their family. Since Independence, the Congress has mostly been led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, who were elected unanimously. Elections were held only six times as there was more than one candidate – starting in 1939 when P Sitaramayya, backed by Mahatma Gandhi, lost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
A leader with more than 50 years of experience in politics, he is also the second AICC President from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa and also second Dalit leader after Jagjivan Ram to hold the post. Mr Kharge was elected MLA for nine times in a row, seeing a steady rise in his career graph from humble beginnings as a union leader in his home district of Gulbarga (renamed as Kalaburagi). He joined the party in 1969 and went on to become President of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee.
That Mallikarjun Kharge was unconquerable at the hustings was mirrored until 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which he bucked the Narendra Modi wave that swept Karnataka, particularly Hyderabad-Karnataka region, and had won from Gulbarga with a margin of over 74,000 votes. He has won from Gurmitkal assembly constituency nine times before he plunged into the Lok Sabha poll arena in 2009 and has been a two time MP from Gulbarga parliamentary segment. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the veteran leader was defeated by BJP’s Umesh Jadhav in Gulbarga by a margin of 95,452 votes.
For Mallikarjun Kharge, popularly known as “solillada Saradara”, (a leader without defeat), this was the first electoral loss in his political life spanning more than five decades. A hard-boiled Congressman and loyal to the core to the Gandhi family, Mr Kharge has played multiple roles in different ministries that has enriched his experience as an administrator. He has also served as the leader of the opposition in Karnataka Assembly and President of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.
He was Home Minister of Karnataka in one of the most trying times, under S M Krishna as the Chief Minister, as the tenure saw kidnapping of Kannada thespian Rajkumar by the notorious poacher Veerappan and the Cauvery river water conflict, both of which had created a law and order situation in the state.

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