Rama Krishna Sangem
Mallikarjun Kharge, 80, has been elected as the 98th president of Grand Old Party, Congress. Will he be able to bring the party back to power at the Centre? is a question uppermost the minds of not only Congress cadre, but all those interested in politics in the country. Even Kharge, a soft spoken Dalit leader from Karnataka, himself can’t say Yes to this question.
But, definitely we can say that his election may be helpful to see a turn around in the fortunes of Congress in the coming general elections slated to be held in April/May 2024. In an election that saw use of secret ballots, Kharge polled around 7,800 votes as against his rival, 66 year old Shashi Tharoor’s 1,070 tally. So, this is a decisive and emphatic victory for Kharge.
There is a lot of gap between them. Kharge is a veteran in politics, while Tharoor is still seen as a lateral entrant. Kharge is a Rajya Sabha MP with tenure till 2027, while Tharoor is a Lok Sabha MP, who faces elections in less than two years. Kharge is a known loyalist of Sonia-Rahul Gandhis, Tharoor is not a dissident, but known for his independent ways of style of functioning.
Why Rahul opted out of race?
When organisational elections were announced early this year, most of Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) have passed resolutions urging Rahul Gandhi to take up the president post. After Rahul quit the post following party defeat in 2019, Sonia Gandhi stepped in as a temporary president. But, her health is not in good condition. It’s obvious that the situation was like Rahul or someone else. Rahul decided to step aside and allow a loyalist.
Rahul’s decision is primarily driven by two factors: To counter criticism from BJP and within the party. BJP top brass, like PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have targeted Gandhi family saying: “Look, the first family (Gandhis) will not allow anyone else to become the party president, whereas in BJP anyone can become a president – Rajnath, Gadkari, Shah and Nadda.
At the same time, Group of 23 Congress leaders led by Ghulam Nabi Azad too demanded that the reins of Congress must be handed over to someone outside Gandhi family. Of course, most of the group have left the party much before the elections. But, the stigma is still there. Rahul wanted to reply to them by allowing a senior to take up this post. Kharge fits the bill.
Already, Kharge was the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha. Now he will take up the highest post of Congress president. Digvijay Singh or someone will replace him in the Upper House. Bengal MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is Congress leader in Lok Sabha. So, all major posts will be out of the hands of the Gandhi family now. Rahul Gandhi wants it.
He wants to erase the allegation that Gandhi family is a power monger. When he came to Hyderabad and interacted with media at Tourism Plaza in August 2018, he replied to a question saying: “PM post is not with our family since 1989″. When I asked whether his mother was not doing back seat driving to Manmohan Singh as PM, Rahul Gandhi said: “Definitely not, she never interfered in the government”.
Rahul aims PM post
Now, Rahul Gandhi is aiming to become Prime Minister after 2024 elections. We don’t know whether Modi will be defeated, but Congress has pinned hopes on Rahul to lead the party. For this, two things may work for the party. 1. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Pada Yatra, 2, A loyalist occupying the post of Congress president. This time, BJP cannot accuse him of doing Parivarwadi politics.
Even if Rahul becomes PM, the party can showcase PV Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh – as non-Family PMs from Congress. Rahul Gandhi has cleared his legacy burden as of now. It will be over to Kharge to lead the party from the front. We have seen, how Sonia took over Congress president post from Sitaram Kesri in 1998. And now handed over the baton cheerfully to Kharge.
It is too early to say, whether it is just a pause or end of Gandhi family’s clout in the Congress party. There are instances in Congress where loyalists turned against Gandhis and challenged their supremacy. S Nijalingappa, a veteran Karnataka Congress leader was handpicked by Indira Gandhi to become Congress president in 1968, but soon he turned against her. Of course, Kharge may not do that to Sonia-Rahul.