Mallikarjun Kharge elected Congress president; party gets its first non-Gandhi chief in 24 years

Mallikarjun Kharge elected Congress president; party gets its first non-Gandhi chief in 24 years

Hummingbird News Desk

NEW DELHI, 19 OCT: Veteran politician from Karnatak and former Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge was today elected president of the Indian National Congress defeating his rival Shashi Tharoor by a massive margin, thus becoming the first non-Gandhi leader of the 137-year-old party after over two decades.

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Out of a total of 9385 votes, Kharge, considered a loyalist of the Gandhi family, polled 7897 votes while the MP from Thiruvananthapuram received 1072 votes. Some 416 votes were invalid, Congress Central Election Committee Chairman Madhusudan Mistry said after counting of votes.

 “I hereby declare Mallikarjun Kharge as the elected president of Congress,” Mistry announced amid thunderous applause by Congress leaders and workers at the AICC headquarter.

The 80-year-old Kharge, a nine-term Karnataka MLA and a three-term MP (twice Lok Sabha and currently Rajya Sabha) was always a firm favourite in the straight contest against Tharoor in the party poll held after more than two decades.

While the figure for Tharoor was a little over the 10% mark of the total votes polled, his performance was impressive considering that Kharge was seen as the “establishment candidate,” backed by the Gandhi family.

“It is a great honour & a huge responsibility to be President of @INCIndia & I wish @Kharge ji all success in that task. It was a privilege to have received the support of over a thousand colleagues, & to carry the hopes & aspirations of so many well-wishers of Congress across India,” tweeted Tharoor.

A little before that, his poll agent Salman Soz alleged extremely serious irregularities in the election process in Uttar Pradesh and demanded the declaration of all votes in the state invalid.

Soon after the result was announced, outgoing Congress President Sonia Gandhi, accompanied by her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, visited Kharge’s residence and congratulated him on his victory. Other party leaders also made a beeline to Kharge’s residence with flowers and bouquets.

”Congratulations to Mallikarjun Kharge ji on being elected as the President of @INCIndia. The Congress president represents a democratic vision of India. His vast experience and ideological commitment will serve the party well as he takes on this historic responsibility,” senior leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

Rahul said he would report to the new Congress president who would decide his role in the party. “He (Kharge) will decide what will my role be and how I am to be deployed,” the Congress MP said even before the announcement of the result of the election.

Kharge is the first non-Gandhi to head the Congress in 24 years after Sitaram Kesri was unceremoniously ousted in 1988 through a Congress Working Committee resolution that appealed to Sonia Gandhi to become the party chief. Sonia had become a primary member of the Congress only a year ago at the AICC Kolkata plenary in 1997.

The election in the party took place three years after Sonia agreed to temporarily lead it when her son Rahul stepped down, owning responsibility for the party’s debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Although the Gandhis gave an impression that they were neutral in the poll process, it was quite evident that Kharge enjoyed their unofficial support. While Kharge received a rousing reception at PCC offices in various states he visited for campaigning, Tharoor complained that there was an uneven playing field for him.

Kharge was a last-minute entrant in the race for the party presidentship after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who was being backed by the Gandhis, dropped out of the contest when the MLAs loyal to him revolved against the central leadership’s decision to shift him to Delhi to pave the way for his bete noire Rajesh pilot to succeed him.

Kharge’s elevation is considered strategic by senior party cadres. He is seen as a tall SC leader, who is soft-spoken and has risen from humble beginnings after joining politics in 1972.

However, he is also clearly seen as the ”Yes Man” of the Gandhi family. He has already gone on record to say that he would seek the advice of the Gandhis and “there is no shame in doing so.”

With his elevation to the top post in the party, Kharge has his task cut out. The morale of the Congress workers is down due to the humiliating defeats suffered by the party in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019 and the subsequent state Assembly elections.

The onus will now be on Kharge to unite the 137-year-old organisation and make it ready for the electoral battles ahead. Even its diehard supporters acknowledge that the Congress faces a herculean task with the Narendra Modi magic still continuing to sweep most parts of the country. The coming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will be the first acid test for him.

(With inputs from The Statesman)

Tags: #MallikarjunKharge #ShashiTharoor #Congress #NonCongressLeader

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