With Mallikarjun Kharge, Gandhis made a shrewd move
With the blessing of the Gandhis, Mallikarjun Kharge will almost certainly win the election as President of Congress. Why is this choice trashed?
First of all, Ashok Gehlot, the ideal candidate as far as Gandhis are concerned, had to be ejected from the election due to his large-scale uprising in Jaipur. On Thursday, Digvijaya Singh emerged as a contestant. But on Friday it was Mallikarjun Kharge who replaced him on the front of the stage and now there will be a contest between Shashi Tharoor and him.
Mallikarjun Kharge was chosen by the “High Command” party for these five reasons:
1. Right now the party needs a unifier. Mallikarjun Kharge, 80, has the stature and seniority to speak to congressional leaders of all ages. Rahul Gandhi does not enjoy the trust of many veteran party leaders. Most senior leaders who left Congress, as well as those who formed the G23, have very little confidence in its leadership. When he resigned after the 2019 election, he wrote that he was fighting on his own. Congress needs an old hobbyhorse right now.
2. Mallikarjun Kharge is not controversial. He is not like Digvijaya Singh who always makes headlines for the wrong reasons. Digvijaya Singh would have been a disaster as president. He is accused of undeniably appeasing Muslims. Whether it’s the Batla House episode or his “respectful” statement about Osama Bin Laden or his derogatory reference to an activist from his own party, he has created unnecessary polemics that have damaged the Congress. Even before he filed his nomination, BJP leaders had started reminding people of his past. Mallikarjun Kharge has no such background.
3. Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit chief from Karnataka, is a trusted lieutenant of the Gandhis. In his long political career, he has always followed their dictates. In the past, he could have applied to be Chief Minister of Karnataka after Congress won the state, but he did not. After the Ashok Gehlot fiasco, it was imperative for the family to choose someone they could blindly trust.
4. For Congress to succeed in the 2024 elections, it would have to do well in South India. Mallikarjun Kharge comes from Karnataka who votes next year. The BJP government led by Basavaraj Bommai is in deep trouble. His own party lacks confidence in his leadership and that leaves Congress with a great opportunity to wrest the state away from the BJP. The election of Mallikarjun Kharge as President may increase the chances of Congress in Karnataka.
5. Mallikarjun Kharge’s biggest USP is his last name. He belongs to the Dalit community. He is a respected figure not only in his home country, but also nationally. The Congress was once the darling of the Dalit community. Along with the Brahmins and minorities, the Dalits were part of a formidable social coalition that kept Congress in place. The Congress lost its social base, especially in northern India, with the rise of Mandal politics and the Mandir movement in 1990. Brahmins, along with other upper castes, moved to the BJP and the Dalits aligned significantly with the BSP in UP. and marginally in other Hindi speaking states. UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats. The erosion of Brahmin and Dalit votes in the UP is one of the reasons for the pathetic performance of the Congress in the UP. In the last UP assembly elections, despite Priyanka Gandhi leading its efforts, the party won 3% of the vote.
The election of Mallikarjun Kharge could be a small step to rekindle Dalits’ confidence in the Congress. It is like the appointment of Draupadi Murmu as president. In a democracy that is primarily defined by identity politics, electing Mallikarjun Kharge could be a big deal.
One could argue that a similar logic was put forward when Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit leader, was appointed Chief Minister of Punjab. But the Congress lost Punjab not because it chose Channi but because it did not eliminate Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was determined not to let Channi win. He was seeking revenge for not being appointed chief minister himself. But Kharge is not Channi. He is a more astute politician, and there is no Siddhu at the national level in Congress.
Many people say Kharge will turn out to be a rubber stamp and the real power will lie with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. The Gandhi family is at the heart of the Congress, like it or not. Just as the BJP cannot survive without the RSS, Congress needs the Gandhi family.
(Ashutosh is the author of “Hindu Rashtra” and editor of satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.