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Mallikarjun Kharge, a Gandhi family loyalist, becomes new Congress president

DECCAN CHRONICLE | Ashhar Khan

Published on: October 19, 2022 | Updated on: October 20, 2022

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi greeting newly elected party president Mallikarjun Kharge in New Delhi. (AP)

New Delhi: Apparently backed to the hilt by the Gandhis, Mallikarjun Kharge trounced his rival Shashi Tharoor by a huge margin for the post of Congress president. Mr Kharge’s victory in the party presidential election ended the quarter century reign of the Gandhis (both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi). Of over 9,500 votes cast, Mr Tharoor could manage only 1,072 votes. While the Gandhis welcomed the new party chief, Mr Tharoor complained of "serious irregularities" in the conduct of the poll process in Uttar Pradesh. As the party insiders describe Mr Kharge as the "new front man" for the Gandhis, Rahul Gandhi tried to clear the air by saying his "role in the party will be decided by the new party president". He said in a press conference: "I am very clear as far as my role is concerned. The (new) president will decide what my role is and how I am to be deployed." Mr Kharge will take charge of his new role at the AICC office here on October 26.

Making the formal announcement, Madhusudan Mistry, the chairman of the Congress election authority, said: "As per Srticle 18D of the constitution of the Indian National Congress, I, Madhusudan Mistry, hereby declare Shri Mallikarjun Kharge as the president of the Indian National Congress," he announced. Responding to the complaint raised by Team Tharoor, he said: "We have made a point by point response to those queries after preparing a report. This is an internal matter and I would not be making our response public."

Congratulatory messages started pouring in for Mr Kharge. Outgoing psrty president Donia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi  Vadra visited the residence of Mr Kharge in the national capital to wish him. His election rival, Mr Shashi Tharoor, also visited Mr Kharge to congratulate him. Mr Tharoor said: "I wish Mallikarjun Kharge all success in that task. It was a privilege to have received the support of over a thousand colleagues, and to carry the hopes and aspirations of so many well-wishers of the Congress across India."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday congratulated Mallikarjun Kharge for being elected the new Congress chief. He said: "My best wishes to Shri Mallikarjun Kharge Ji for his new responsibility as President of INC. May he have a fruitful tenure ahead."

The 80-year-old veteran leader from Karnataka has become the second Dalit leader to lead the century-old party. Mr Kharge said on Wednesday: "We need to fight against every  conspiracy to kill democracy." He said the party election had strengthened democracy in the country.

Of the 12 elections he has contested, Mr Kharge has lost only once -- in 2019. He was elected to the Karnataka Assembly nine times consecutively, between 1972 and 2008. Eight of the victories came from Gurmitkal constitutency, when it was reserved for Scheduled Castes, and once from Chitapur.

The new president has his task cut out. Apart from resolving the crisis in Rajasthan, he also has to ensure that the party’s performance is good in the poll-bound states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh by snatching at least one of them from the BJP.