India’s grand old party gets non-Gandhi president after 24 years

New Delhi, Oct 26 (EFE).- Mallikarjun Kharge took charge of Indian National Congress (INC) on Wednesday, marking the first time in 24 years that the grand old party has a president outside the Nehru-Gandhi family as it seeks to revive itself from a constant decline.

Kharge took over from Sonia Gandhi, who claimed to be “very relieved” by this transfer of power and hoped the new leader would be able to check the party’s decline in popularity.

Kharge “is an experienced leader connected to the ground. Working as an ordinary worker, he has reached this height through hard work, dedication and single mindedness. I fully believe that the entire party will be inspired by him and it will get stronger under his leadership,” said Gandhi.

During the ceremony at the INC headquarters in New Delhi, Kharge, 80, promised to “fight all the challenges together” and work towards making an India that goes “above the differences of gender, caste and religion” and generates employment as well as promote “development, scientific temperament and democracy.”

Kharge, a member of the marginalized Dalit or “untouchable” community, defeated well known intellectual and legislator from the southern state of Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, by more than 9,000 votes in the party’s internal elections last week.

Sonia Gandhi had served as the president of the INC from 1998 to 2017, before passing on the reins to his son, Rahul Gandhi who occupied the post for two years.

However, Rahul resigned from his position after the party’s resounding defeat in the 2019 general elections to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Since then, Sonia had been serving as the interim president until the internal elections last week, when the INC members decided to support Kharge as the new leader as the Gandhis decided against contesting.

Kharge, who belongs to the southern state of Karnataka, faces a Herculean task of arresting the decline of the INC, which has been progressively losing support among the masses since it lost power in the 2014 general elections to the BJP.

For this, Kharge must “prove that he is not controlled by the Gandhis,” as it is believed that somehow the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty will continue to exercise control from the shadows, political analyst S.Y. Surendra Kumar told EFE.

In a country as multicultural as India, the new Congress president has to be inclusive, accommodating all party members, and ensure the backing of all the people around him, the analyst added.

“Congress needs to be more active, proactive, and ensure that they will be able to gain some kind of benefit in this election by winning in a number of states and or even forming the government,” explained Kumar.

The upcoming regional elections next year would be a test for Kharge as it may serve to gauge the support of the people ahead of the general elections of 2024.

Most importantly, for the party that played a major role in India’s freedom struggle and finally its independence from British rule in 1947, the new leader must also ensure that the INC looks beyond its strategy of discrediting Modi and instead offers solutions to prevailing problems such as unemployment and environmental issues.

“Getting used to just bashing Modi policies, criticizing Modi, and other things, that is not the way, so they have to do something alternative,” said the analyst. EFE


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