'Feeling relieved', says Sonia Gandhi as Kharge formally takes over as Congress president

"I am confident Congress will be inspired and strengthened by Mallikarjun Kharge's leadership," outgoing party president Sonia Gandhi said. 

'Feeling relieved', says Sonia Gandhi as Kharge formally takes over as Congress president

New Delhi: As veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge formally took over as Congress president, outgoing party president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday (October 26, 2022) said that she is "feeling relieved". The 75-year-old, who is the longest-serving Congress chief, said that she did her duty as party president to the best of her ability. She also said that the biggest satisfaction is that the new party president is "very experienced". 

"I am confident Congress will be inspired and strengthened by Mallikarjun Kharge's leadership," Sonia Gandhi said while speaking at an event where Kharge formally took over as the Congress president. 

She, however, said that the grand old party faces "many challenges" but with unity and strength it will move forward to tackle them as it has done before.

"My biggest satisfaction is that the new Congress president is very experienced and has risen from being an ordinary worker to such heights through his hard work," she said.

"I did my duty as Congress president to the best of my ability and now feeling relieved as I would be free from this responsibility," she added.

Earlier in the day, Mallikarjun was handed over the certificate of election to the top post at a function at the AICC headquarters in Delhi.

Kharge was handed over the certificate of election as the Congress president by the party's central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry.

Along with Sonia Gandhi, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were also present at the event which was attended by several top party leaders.

Kharge, notably, is the first non-Gandhi to head the party in over two decades. The last non-Gandhi Congress president was Sitaram Kesri, who was unceremoniously removed in 1998 just after two years into his five-year term.

He defeated Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor in a direct contest for the president's post in the grand old party after the Gandhis opted out of the race.

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, and paid tributes to the leaders.

Who is Mallikarjun Kharge, the new Congress president?

Mapanna Mallikarjun Kharge, a staunch Gandhi family loyalist from Karnataka and the new Congress president, is a leader with more than 50 years of experience in politics. The 80-year-old is also the second AICC President from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa and also the second Dalit leader after Jagjivan Ram to hold the post.

Born in a poor family at Varavatti in Bidar district on July 21, 1942, he did his schooling and BA as well as Law in Kalaburagi. He was into legal practice for some time before plunging into politics. Married to Radhabai on May 13, 1968, they have two daughters and three sons. One son, Priyank Kharge is an MLA and a former Minister in Karnataka.

Kharge was elected MLA nine times in a row and saw 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. That Kharge was unconquerable at the hustings was mirrored until the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which he bucked the Narendra Modi wave that swept Karnataka, particularly the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, and had won from Gulbarga with a margin of over 74,000 votes.

He has won from the Gurmitkal assembly constituency nine times before he plunged into the Lok Sabha poll arena in 2009 and has been a two-time MP from Gulbarga parliamentary segment.

Kharge has played multiple roles in different ministries that has enriched his experience as an administrator. He has also served as the leader of the opposition in the Karnataka Assembly and President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

Kharge was also the leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019 but could not become the leader of the opposition, as the grand old party could not get the post as its numbers were less than the mandated 10 percent of the total number of seats in the Lower House.

He has served as Union Cabinet Minister for Labour and Employment, also Railways and Social Justice and Empowerment- in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. He had also held various portfolios in successive Congress governments that governed the state.

He was Home Minister of Karnataka in one of the most trying times, under S M Krishna as the Chief Minister, as the tenure saw the kidnapping of Kannada thespian Rajkumar by the notorious poacher Veerappan and the Cauvery river water conflict, both of which had created a law and order situation in the state.

Kharge was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka in June 2020 and was the 17th Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House until recently, ahead of his resignation from the post to contest the Congress' Presidential election.

Challenges before new Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge

Mallikarjun Kharge has taken charge of Congress at a time when it faces a tough challenge from Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ousted the grand old party from many states. For Kharge, the current assignment has come at a time when the party is at a historic low, electorally.

With the Congress now remaining in power in only two states -- Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- on its own and as a junior partner in Jharkhand, his first challenge is to bring the party to power in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, which go to polls in the next few weeks.

In 2023, Kharge will face the onerous task of leading the Congress in nine assembly elections, including in his home state of Karnataka.

Kharge's election has also come at a time when the party is reeling under internal rumblings and high-profile exits after a series of electoral debacles and has been reduced to a shadow of its former formidable self.

He also faces the challenge of restoring the Congress' primacy in the opposition space, implementing radical reforms the party pledged at the mid-May 'Chintan Shivir' in Udaipur and maintaining his independence in the face of insinuations that he is a candidate of the Gandhis and would seek their approval in all decisions.

(With agency inputs)

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