Mallikarjun Kharge: Congress’ new president Mallikarjun Kharge’s test begins now

The trial of Mallikarjun Kharge would begin along with his tenure as Congress President in the shadow of Sonia Gandhi and her children. Given the sophisticated working style of the congressional establishment and the instincts of congressional leadership, he must carefully tread the “Gandhi path” that connects 24 Akbar Road to 10 Janpath-12 Tughlak Lane, the axis of family power and its beneficiaries.

The visit of Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to Kharge’s residence shortly after his election on Wednesday showed the family’s support for him and touted the “new protocol”. Rahul Gandhi’s congratulatory phone call to Kharge and his desire to serve as a “Congress Sepoy” conveyed the same message. The proof of the pudding, however, lies in the food, and in Kharge’s case, the functional autonomy his presidency would be given.

Kharge is an emergency president because none of the Gandhis-Vadra trio were willing to lead the party. His frantically cemented candidacy after Ashok Gehlot’s departure makes him the ‘substitute’ who scored the goal. Regardless of his luck, Kharge has to deal with the trio through a strange and difficult phase. The Gandhis did not leave the lead satisfied or on a winning note. Aside from Sonia Gandhi’s UPA stint in power, the turmoil in Congress since 2014 has raised questions about the family’s brand equity. After Sonia Gandhi’s presidency in 1999 saw the number of congressmen drop to a low of 114 Lok Sabha seats, it took the support of over a dozen allies for the party to win 145 LS seats in 2004 – marginally more than Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri , were presidents – to bring Congress back to power, although the party gained 61 seats in 2009 after a 5-year UPA stint in power. Since then, the Sonia-Rahul leadership delivered the lowest LS record in Congress at 44 in 2014, and Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka combined brought the party to the second-lowest record of 53 in 2019. Congress was also reduced to controlling just two state governments.

The Gandhis would therefore be under pressure to salvage their careers. Since the Gandhi siblings are only in their early 50s, they would want to control the levers of Congress. Because of this, several leaders believe that the “first family” tactically stepped back for Kharge ahead of the third encounter with Narendra Modi in 2024.

Although Rahul said Wednesday Kharge will determine his role, he has already opted to remain the de facto leader of Congress with the Bharat Jodo Yatra amid the presidential election. For her part, Vadra, although General Secretary of UP, will lead the congressional campaign in Himachal Pradesh. Only her mother has resigned as interim president. The group of senior Congress leaders would therefore continue to pay homage to the “first family” under the Kharge presidency, just as they did during Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister. It would be interesting to see if all three Gandhis would be in the CWC.

Kharge can physically keep open the congressional president’s office, which remained mostly locked during Sonia-Rahul’s tenure. But will he be given real freedom to choose his organizing team, including the CWC – and to decide whether to hold elections to 12 CWC beds – AICC secretariat and PCC chiefs? Equally, can he fend off any attempt to burden him with AICC working/vice presidents or a political secretary reporting to someone else? Will he similarly lead the congressional parliamentary party or will another change be made for Sonia to continue or for Rahul to take the post? Kharge’s occupational hazards will soon be known. While he no longer has an opportunity to consult Rao or Kesri on the processes that non-Gandhi Congress Presidents have faced, he could catch up by learning from Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister. Mallikarjun Kharge: Congress’ new president Mallikarjun Kharge’s test begins now

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