'We're Gandhi's soldiers, we do not fear anyone': Mallikarjun Kharge takes over as Congress chief

Kharge, 80, takes charge of the party at a time when it faces a tough challenge from a formidable BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which has ousted the Congress from many states.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with former party president Sonia Gandhi during a ceremony for presentation of certificate of election to the former, at AICC Headquarters. (Photo | Parveen Negi)
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with former party president Sonia Gandhi during a ceremony for presentation of certificate of election to the former, at AICC Headquarters. (Photo | Parveen Negi)

NEW DELHI: Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday took charge as the Congress' first non-Gandhi president in 24 years, citing Rahul Gandhi's slogan 'daro mat' to energise workers and declaring that the party will demolish the government's "system of lies, treachery and hatred".

Handing over the reins of the party she has steered for almost two decades, Sonia Gandhi said "change is the rule of the world". "Today, I will be freed of this responsibility and this weight will be off me and that is why it is natural that I am feeling relieved," she said.

Kharge, 80, who defeated Shashi Tharoor to win the presidential election, takes over at a time the grand old party is struggling to find relevance.

With the Congress at a historic electoral low -- it is in power in just two states on its own -- his immediate task will be to lead the party to power in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where it faces an aggressive BJP and an eager AAP seeking to cut into opposition votes.

Acknowledging the challenges ahead, Kharge said elections will be held in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat as well as in other states and Congress workers would have to give it their all to defeat the BJP, which he accused of weakening democracy established by the Congress.

"We will have to strongly perform in these states and we will need everyone's strength and energy to succeed in them together," Kharge said at a function at the AICC headquarters here while stressing that the people want change.

Adding a personal, emotive note as he was handed the certificate of election to the top post, he said in Hindi, "It is an emotional moment for me and I would like to thank Congress people for making a worker's son and an ordinary worker president of the party."

New Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge assumes charge at AICC Headquarters, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)
New Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge assumes charge at AICC Headquarters, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)

Soon after the function, Sonia Gandhi escorted Kharge to the office of the Congress president she had occupied for long years.

Rahul Gandhi and a host of senior Congress leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh's Bhupesh Baghel, as well as those from the G23 grouping that had questioned the drift in the party were also present.

"We are Mahatma Gandhi's soldiers and we do not fear anyone. When Congress workers shed their fear from within, the biggest kingdom would bow before them. That is why I remember Rahul Gandhi's words of 'daro mat' and we will take forward this slogan," Kharge said to a rousing welcome from party workers, some who waved party flags in celebration.

"I know it is a difficult phase and everyone knows the manner in which efforts are being made to change the democracy established by the Congress in the country," he said.

Kharge, who served as a leader of opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha and later leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told party workers it is their responsibility to implement the blueprint prepared under Sonia Gandhi in Udaipur in May this year.

The veteran leader said the Udaipur Declaration's proposals such as 50 per cent party posts to be given to those below 50 years of age, filling up organisational vacancies, setting up public insight department and election management department, establishing political affairs committee in states, will be implemented.

"What kind of new India is this where youth are not getting jobs, farmers are being crushed under jeeps, atrocities taking place against women are rising, people are reeling under price rise but government is sitting with eyes closed, government is helping a few crony capitalist friends," Kharge alleged.

In this new India, he said, the government is sleeping but the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax department work for 24 hours to suppress the opposition.

Dalits, minorities and exploited people are being insulted and opportunities taken away from them, he alleged.

Asserting that the Congress' ideology is that of the Constitution, Kharge said many people not associated with the party also believe in its ideology and support it.

"Who thought that such a phase of politics will come where lies will prevail and rulers will weaken democracy. But I also know that we will demolish this system of lies, treachery and hatred," he noted.

"(Nathuram) Godse is called a patriot and (Mahatma) Gandhi is called a traitor, there are efforts to change Babasaheb's Constitution and replace it with Sangh's constitution," Kharge alleged.

He assured party workers that he will do everything possible to strengthen the organisation with his hard work and experience.

"Together we will build an India that will be enlightened, empowered and equal for every citizen. In this country, the Constitution will be protected and so will equal rights and opportunities of all and we will defeat those who spread hatred and be the voice of all. We have to fight against price rise, unemployment and hunger and protect the future of all Indians," he said.

Noting that it is an honour and privilege to be elected Congress president, he pledged to work hard, listen to the voice of every worker and build leadership at all levels of the party.

Kharge also hailed Rahul Gandhi for embarking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which he said has brought new energy to the country.

Addressing the gathering, Sonia Gandhi exuded confidence that the party will be strengthened under Kharge's leadership and successfully deal with the challenges it is facing.

"I have full faith that the party will get an inspiration and message from him (Kharge) and the party will be constantly strengthened under his leadership," she said in her remarks in Hindi.

"The biggest challenge is how do we successfully tackle the danger that has arisen to democratic principles of the country.

The way you have elected the new Congress president in a democratic manner, I am confident party workers and leaders in the same way will emerge as a force that will successfully deal with the problems of the country," she added.

New Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo | PTI)
New Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo | PTI)

The Congress, Sonia Gandhi said, has faced big hurdles in the past too but never accepted defeat.

Expressing gratitude for the love and affection she has received from everyone in the party, she said, "I will be conscious of this till my last breath. Kharge also lauded Sonia Gandhi's contribution to the party. You have worked hard selflessly to lead the Congress party and have always worked honestly. In this era where people do politics only for power, Sonia Gandhi has been an epitome of sacrifice which is unparalleled," he said.

"She will always remain our source of strength as the party gears up for the future challenges," Kharge added.

Ahead of his taking over, Kharge visited Rajghat and paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi.

He also visited the memorials of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram.

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