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DC Edit | Many challenges loom for Kharge as state polls near


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

India's Congress party newly appointed president Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo: PTI)

With Mallikarjun Kharge was declared the new president of the Congress on Wednesday following the count of votes in the election for party chief, India’s party of Independence -- which has fallen on hard times in recent decades -- enters a new era. In the changed situation, outgoing president Sonia Gandhi, and her children Rahul and Priyanka, public figures in their own right, cannot exert official control in any manner or form. Will it be a brave new world for the Congress under Mr Kharge’s leadership?

The new Congress leader’s challenges are many. The most important will be to aim for victory for his party and its allies in the next Lok Sabha poll in 2024 against a deadly ideological and political foe that is known to run a well-oiled propaganda and election machine and also controls the levers of power. Along the way, Assembly elections are due in a number of states, including his home state, Karnataka. The time is short. The first charge on Mr Kharge will be to wrest Karnataka from the BJP and improve his party’s standing in other poll-bound states, including Gujarat, BJP’s stronghold.

A quick-fire organisational response is needed immediately on the part of the Congress leader to secure these aims, a galvanising of its energies, and the boosting of morale. Deeper changes in the organisation, such as holding election for the Congress Working Committee in order to a create a new-look top tier, along with the revival of the Parliamentary Board, are much needed but can wait until the key state polls are done.  

Conventional wisdom has it that the Congress cannot survive without the Gandhis at the helm. This certainly appeared to be the case in the short interregnum when the late Sitaram Kesri was president before Sonia Gandhi took on the mantle after winning her presidential election in the most emphatic manner possible. We live in different times, however. While the Gandhis were and remain the booster factor in the Congress the good cholesterol, so to say, they must be aware that in the present day the dynasty factor has been used as a powerful propaganda weapon against their party.

When she ceased to be president upon the conclusion of the Congress presidential poll, Mrs Gandhi noted that she was waiting for this day. This is a positive start. But the Gandhis cannot simply fade away. They must provide solace and quiet constructive support for the future steps the party may take under its new leader, strictly adhering to the protocols of discipline, written and unwritten. This will add lustre to the Bharat Jodo Yatra on which Rahul Gandhi, himself a former party president, has launched, enthusing his party and others.
The Gandhi family is esteemed in the post-Independence Congress because it has historically been seen to be above the fray in inner factional politics and matters pertaining to case, religion and language. It stayed neutral in the election for party chief being held after nearly a quarter century. After the poll, the losing candidate, the high profile and charming Shashi Tharoor who was billed in the media as the non-establishment candidate, called the Gandhis a pillar of strength for the party. As before, the Gandhis can bring to the party ideological energy and a democratic and modernist outlook.

Much is being made of Mr Kharge’s age -- he is 80 -- in some quarters. This is no handicap for a person with experience, and an awareness of the party’s past as well as imagination for the present.