Mallikarjun Kharge elected as Congress' first non-Gandhi president in over two decades

Kharge will replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi had taken over.
Congress party's new president Mallikarjun Kharge. (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)
Congress party's new president Mallikarjun Kharge. (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

NEW DELHI: Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge became the first non-Gandhi President after 24 years by defeating his opponent Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor by a margin of over 6,000 votes.

Out of the 9,385 votes polled in the Congress presidential polls, Mallikarjun Kharge got 7,897 votes, Shashi Tharoor secured 1,072 votes, and 416 votes were declared invalid, the party's Central Election Authority (CEA) chairman Madhusudan Mistry said.

Kharge won with eight times more votes.

Soon after the election results were announced, Tharoor congratulated Kharge in a letter and termed the election as a ‘true celebration of inner-party democracy.' "The revival of the party has begun today," Tharoor said.

Kharge will replace Sonia Gandhi, the longest-serving party president who has been at the helm since 1998, barring the two years between 2017 and 2019 when Rahul Gandhi had taken over.

With no Gandhi family members in the fray, the election came three years after Rahul Gandhi resigned from the top post citing the Lok Sabha poll debacle in 2019.

Kharge will take charge on October 26.

MP Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said the president was the 'supreme authority' in the Congress and whoever got elected to the post would decide on the way forward (for the party). "President is the supreme authority in the Congress and everyone reports to him. My role - I am very clear - Congress president will decide what my role is and how I will be deployed," he remarked as Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Andhra Pradesh.

Congress central election authority chairman Mistry on Monday expressed satisfaction with the party's presidential polls process, saying it was "free, fair and transparent". He also said it was a secret ballot and no one would get to know who voted for whom.

The election is significant for the party as an internal election to the top post is taking place after nearly two decades.

The last election for the post of Congress chief was held in 2000 when Sonia Gandhi defeated her opponent Jitendra Prasada by an overwhelming majority.

Meanwhile, congratulations poured in for Kharge from many senior leaders and celebrations erupted outside AICC headquarters in the capital.

Outgoing Congress president Sonia Gandhi also visited Kharge at his residence here soon and congratulated him. She was accompanied by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

In his congratulatory message, Rahul Gandhi said Kharge represents a "democratic vision" of India.

"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," Gandhi said on Twitter.

A festive atmosphere prevailed at the Congress headquarters with party workers carrying flags and posters, which prominently carried the pictures of Rahul Gandhi, moved around joyously beating drums.

There was also a sizeable crowd of party supporters in anticipation of the announcement of the organisation's next helmsman.

Some old-timers recalled that the crowd, including big media presence, and overall festive atmosphere were a reminder of the scenes during poll wins, something which has been far and few between for the party in recent years.

A leader with more than 50 years of experience in politics, Kharge is also the second AICC President from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa and also the second Dalit leader after Jagjivan Ram to hold the post.

Kharge was elected MLA for nine times in a row, seeing a steady rise in his career graph from humble beginnings as a union leader in his home district of Gulbarga (renamed as Kalaburagi).

He joined the party in 1969 and went on to become President of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee.

Earlier in the day, after the counting of votes began, the Tharoor camp alleged extremely serious irregularities in the poll process.

In a letter to CEC Madhusudan Mistry, Tharoor’s campaign team member Salman Soz said, "The facts are damning and the election process in UP is devoid of credibility and integrity."

He also alleged the use of unofficial seals for ballot boxes and the presence of unofficial persons in polling booths.

Later in a tweet, Soz said that the CEA has assured fair inquiry into the allegations. “After discussions with CEA, we have agreed for the counting to continue and our team looks forward to the results,” he tweeted.

However, in reply to media queries, Mistry said that the CEC has prepared a point-by-point reply to the complaints raised by the Tharoor camp. He also said that the letter shouldn’t have been made available to the public.

Even during the campaign, Tharoor raised allegations of preferential treatment by his senior colleagues several times and approached the CEA on the same.

80-year-old Kharge with more than 50 years of experience in politics was largely seen as the candidate backed by the top leadership in the Presidential election. While Tharoor rooted for reforms in the party, Kharge promised to follow the Udaipur Chintan Shivir resolutions to bring changes in the party.

Kharge, a senior Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka, is seen as a hardcore loyalist of the Gandhi family. He resigned as the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, on October 1, 2022, to contest for the President post of Congress.

Though many senior leaders hailed the election as the beginning of inner party democracy, they also expressed apprehension about the elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and cast doubts that the President would act as a rubber stamp. The immediate challenge for Kharge will be the performance of the party in the upcoming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, said a leader

Of the total 9,915 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates that formed the electoral college to pick the party chief in a secret ballot, over 9,500 cast their ballot at PCC offices and the AICC headquarters, Mistry had said at a press conference after the polling ended on Monday.

Electors in the Congress presidential polls had been asked to put a tick mark against their candidate in the ballot paper after Tharoor's team took up with the party's top poll body the issue of its earlier directive that voters write "1" to reflect their preference. This, the team said, might lead to confusion.

Ahead of the polling, Kharge had said he would have no shame in taking the advice and support of the Gandhi family in running the party affairs, if he becomes its president. Tharoor, meanwhile, said that some colleagues were telling party workers that they know who Sonia Gandhi wants elected".

(With inputs from PTI)

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express