Gandhi family has taken two steps backward after putting one step forward when it decided to stay off the party’s president post. Shashi Tharoor, who filed his nomination despite the fact that Sonia Gandhi did not keep of her word on neutrality in the contest, had to unconditionally apologize for using the wrong map of India in his manifesto. Tharoor told the NDTV earlier that Sonia Gandhi encouraged him to contest promising to maintain neutrality. However, Sonia was never neutral. First she asked Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to file nomination and then changed her mind after the MLAs loyal to Gehlot embarrassed her by revolting and refusing to meet her emissaries in Jaipur.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh played a brief role in the predictable drama posing as a candidate. He even asked Mallikarju Kharge on Thursday if the latter was in the contest. Then the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh went to Shashi Tharoor’s residence and hugged him. All this hype without a meeting with Sonia. Kharge assured Digvijay that he had no plans to contest. But after Venugopal called the Opposition leader in Rajya Sabha and conveyed Sonia Gandhi’s decision to field him, Kharge had no option but to quit the post of Opposition leader and file the nomination posthaste. Sonia decided on Kharge after meeting Gehlot. There were rumours that Mukul Wasnik would be the choice of Gandhis. Kharge is a senior leader and a known Gandhi loyalist while Wasnik was among the dissident G-23. KN Tiwari of Jharkhand is in the fray for name sake.
Nothing would have happened even if Shashi Tharoor won or Wasnik made it. Neither of them would dare to defy Gandhis. It would have helped the so called G-23 to merge with the party’s mainstream. But Sonia Gandhi apparently does not trust them. She may be right after the revolt in Rajasthan by MLAs loyal to Ashok Gehlot, her diehard loyalist. Problem of insecurity has been haunting the Gandhi family. Any leader with a little bit of independent thinking cannot be entertained.
If elected, which is only a formality, Kharge would be the second Congress president from Karnataka, the first being the redoubtable Nijalingappa who was part of the Syndicate which opposed Indira Gandhi in 1971 presidential elections. Nijalingappa, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Morarji Desai, Atulya Ghosh and SK Patil were the prominent leaders of the Syndicate who challenged Indira by selecting Sanjeeva Reddy as the candidate for the post of president. Indira, in turn, made VV Giri fight the election as her candidate. Giri won and the syndicate was demolished in due course. Kharge is the second Dalit leader (although he does not like to be called Dalit all the time and insists that he be called a Congressman) after Jagjivan Ram who also deserted Indira Gandhi in a midnight coup just before elections in 1977. Jagjivan left the Congress along with HN Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy to float Congress for Democracy. The party was later merged with the Janata party. But Kharge is not going to do any such thing. He is considered a safe bet to continue Gandhis’ grip on the party. He is a venerable loyalist.
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Kharge is a Buddhist and is the founder-chairman of Siddharth Vihar Trust which built Buddha Vihar complex in Gulbarga. One of his three sons, Priyanka Kharge, was a minister and is an MLA. He has two daughters.
Mallikarjun Kharge, 80, lost election only in 2019 in his 50 year long career as a Congressman. He remained undefeated (Solillada Sardara in Kannada which means a leader who knows no defeat) till 2014 in Karnataka. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1969 and got elected nine times to Vidhan Sabha from Gurmitkal constituency. In 2009 and 2014, he was elected to Lok Sabha from Gulbarga. He was a member in the cabinet headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Whether it is Kharge or Gehlot or Wasnik, the party chief would be nominal and Rahul Gandhi will be calling the shots. The walkathon would make him a strong leader. Of the three, Kharge is the senior most leader who does not court controversies and believes in smooth sailing. He suits the Gandhis most.