Breaking the decades-long tradition of vesting under the hands of the Gandhi family, the Congress party has elected its first non-Gandhi chief in 24 years as 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge has become the new president of the party. Kharge, winning the presidential race with a huge vote share by defeating Shashi Tharoor, will be steering the grand old party in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
On Wednesday - October 19, the Congress party declared that senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge will take over the helm from Sonia Gandhi as the influential Gandhi family has stepped aside from exercising the direct command, though they will from now pump in their power from behind the screen. The Congress party held the election for the president on Monday - October 17 and the results have marked a new beginning for the party.
On Monday, over 9,000 delegates, who formed the electoral college in Congress, voted to pick the new leader and the race was between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor (66) with the former holding a good advantage. It was visible when the results were announced as Kharge became the new president by securing 90% of votes from the electoral college. While the veteran leader is flooded with wishes from several leaders, let's take a look at the political journey of Kharge, who rose from a grassroots level to the helm of one of India's biggest political parties.
- Mapanna Mallikarjun Kharge is a native of Karnataka and he was born to a poor family. Being a law graduate, Kharge practised as a junior in Justice Shivaraj Patil's office and fought cases for labour unions before plunging into politics.
- Known for being a staunch labour leader, Kharge entered politics as a student union leader when he was elected as the General Secretary of the student body at his alma mater. In the midst of fighting for the rights of labourers, he joined the Indian National Congress in 1969 and became the President of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee.
- From then, though he faced setbacks, there was no turning back from his political trajectory. He was first elected to the Karnataka assembly in 1972 from the Gurmitkal constituency. He won from the same seat for the second consecutive time five years later and became the Minister of State in Karnataka. In 1980, Kharge was appointed as the Revenue Minister of Karnataka.
- Gurmitkal has become inseparable from Kharge's life as the constituency sent Kharge to the assembly over five times. In 1994, he was elected for the sixth time from Gurmitkal and became the Leader of the Opposition in the assembly, which has become a major political breakthrough for him in leading a party.
- During the kidnapping of famous actor Rajkumar by the brigand Veerappan, Kharge was the Home Minister of Karnataka and in 2004, he entered the assembly for the eighth consecutive time. Interestingly, Kharge was the front-runner for the post of Chief Minister of Karnataka several times after the 2000s but the apex role was evasive from him. It would be a major setback for Kharge as he has neither been the Chief Minister nor would he become one in upcoming years.
- In 2005, Kharge was appointed the President of the Karnataka Congress Committee. In 2008, he was elected to the assembly for the record ninth consecutive time and he was appointed as the Leader of the Opposition in the same year. Later, in 2009, he contested in the Lok Sabha polls and became an MP from Gulbarga and this victory opened gates for the national politics.
- In the 2014 general elections, Kharge won from Gulbarga for the second consecutive time and in June of that year, he was appointed as the Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha. However, there was a setback five years later when he was defeated by the BJP candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, there was no turning back from national politics for Kharge.
- In June 2020, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka at the age of 78 and in 2021, he was appointed as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. For the first time in his career, Kharge resigned from this post only to add another historical feather to his cap. He stepped down as he contested the party's presidential race.
- When Kharge announced his run to the top post, it was strongly predicted that he will win the race and his loyal conduct towards the Gandhis has got reminisced. He got the backing of senior leaders and secured a historical victory of being a new face for the grand old party.
- Kharge is a notable Dalit leader in the country and as he has now become the Congress president, he has scripted many firsts including the first non-Gandhi chief of Congress in 24 years and the first Dalit leader to take over the helm in 50 years.
It is pertinent to note that Kharge has contested elections 12 times including for the assembly and for the parliament and of these 12 times, he won eleven consecutive times from the 1972 Karnataka assembly polls to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Notably, Kharge has become the second Congress leader from Karnataka to get elected as the party's president. Going forward, Kharge would drive onto several ordeals and challenges to revive the beleaguered political base of the party and to lead the party in several assembly polls next year and in the 2024 general elections.