Taking charge as the first non-Gandhi Congress president in 24 years, Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday declared that the party will demolish the current regime’s “system of lies, treachery and hatred” and quoted Rahul Gandhi’s slogan ‘ daro mat’ as a morale booster for party workers.
Passing on the baton, outgoing party chief Sonia Gandhi, who steered the party for over two decades, noted that “change is the rule of the world”. “Today, I will be freed of this responsibility and this weight will be off me and that is why it is natural that I am feeling relieved,” she said.
Soon after Mr. Kharge formally assumed office, all the existing members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) tendered their resignation to allow the new president to have his own team. In keeping with the provisions of the party constitution, the new Congress chief constituted a 47-member Steering Committee to function until a new CWC is in place. All the previous CWC members, however, have now become members of the Steering Committee.
At least half of the new CWC members are expected to be elected. Senior leader Anand Sharma said that even Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs to be elected as well.
Mr. Kharge, 80, who defeated Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor in the presidential contest, was awarded the certificate of election at a function attended by a host of top leaders, including all the three members of the Gandhi family.
‘Icon of sacrifice’
The taking-over ceremony also acknowledged the contribution of Ms. Gandhi, whom the party described as an ‘icon of sacrifice,’ and lauded her role in converting the consensus and common minimum programme models into a political value and her political acumen in bringing different political-minded parties, groups and people on a single platform.
Soon after, Ms. Gandhi escorted her successor to the office of the Congress president that she had occupied for long years. Other leaders including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, his counterpart from Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, party general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Mr. Gandhi were also among those present.
The new Congress chief’s elevation comes at a time when the party’s electoral performance is at an all time low and his immediate task will be to lead the party into the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where it faces an aggressive ruling party in the BJP and an emerging Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that could cut into the opposition votes.
Getting down to business on day one of his new office, as The Hindu had earlier reported, the new Congress chief presided over a Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting to decide on potential candidates for the Gujarat Assembly polls. Ms. Gandhi too was part of the CEC meeting.
Earlier in the day, addressing his party colleagues, Mr. Kharge acknowledged the challenge the Congress faced in these States and urged party workers to give their all to defeat the BJP, that he accused of “weakening democracy ushered in by the Congress”.
“We will have to strongly perform in these States and we will need everyone’s strength and energy to succeed in them together,” Mr. Kharge told his party colleagues at the function to hand over his victory certificate.
Asserting that the Congress’ ideology is that of the Constitution, Mr. Kharge said,“[Nathuram] Godse is called a patriot and [Mahatma] Gandhi ji is called a traitor, there are efforts to change Babasaheb’s Constitution and replace it with Sangh’s constitution”.
“Who thought that such a phase of politics will come where lies will prevail and rulers will weaken democracy. But I also know that we will demolish this system of lies, treachery and hatred,” he asserted.
“We are Mahatma Gandhi’s soldiers and we do not fear anyone. When Congress workers shed their fear from within, the biggest kingdom would bow before them. That is why I remember Rahul Gandhi’s words of daro mat [don’t fear] and we will take forward this slogan,” Mr. Kharge said to loud cheers, waving of party flags from workers.
The veteran leader reiterated his commitment to implement Udaipur Declaration’s proposals such as 50% party posts to be given to those below 50 years of age, filling up organisational vacancies, setting up public insight department and election management department and establishing political affairs committee in every State.
Getting emotional after receiving his election certificate, Mr. Kharge said it was an honour and privilege to be elected Congress president and pledged to “work hard, listen to the voice of every worker and build leadership at all levels of the party”.
“Together we will build an India that will be enlightened, empowered and equal for every citizen. In this country, the Constitution will be protected and so will equal rights and opportunities of all and we will defeat those who spread hatred and be the voice of all. We have to fight against price rise, unemployment and hunger and protect the future of all Indians,” he said.
Attacking the government’s idea of new India, Mr. Kharge said, “What kind of new India is this where youth are not getting jobs, farmers are being crushed under jeeps, atrocities against women are rising, people are reeling under price rise but the government is sitting with eyes closed, and the government is helping a few crony capitalist friends”.
Dalits, minorities and exploited people were being insulted and opportunities taken away from them, he added.
The Congress chief said while the government slept over challenges, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Income Tax department worked for 24 hours to suppress the Opposition.
Addressing the gathering, Ms. Gandhi exuded confidence that the party would be strengthened under the new leadership and successfully deal with the challenges it was facing.
“I have full faith that the party will get an inspiration and message from him [Mr. Kharge] and the party will be constantly strengthened under his leadership,” she said, adding, “The biggest challenge is how do we successfully tackle the danger that has arisen to democratic principles of the country. The way you have elected the new Congress president in a democratic manner, I am confident party workers and leaders in the same way will emerge as a force that will successfully deal with the problems of the country”.
Elaborating on why she felt relieved after handing over the party’s reins to Mr. Kharge, Ms. Gandhi said she received love and respect of party workers and leaders over the years which was a matter of pride for her.
“I will be conscious of this till my last breath. But this honour was also a huge responsibility. I did my work as per my capability and capacity. Today, I will be freed of this responsibility, this weight will be off my shoulders, so it is natural that I feel relieved,” she said.