By Sushil Kutty
Mallikarjun Kharge assumed the office of Congress President on October 26, 2022. He beat Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor in an election that was fixed to elect him. At the time Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was still on his Bharat Jodo Yatra and the entire attention was on the Gandhi scion. Nobody took Kharge seriously. Not even as a Dalit face of the Congress. Yet it was a momentous time in Congress history. If anybody in the Congress could be considered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s equal, it wasn’t the just-elected Congress President.
Just like BJP President JP Nadda, who is another rubber-stamp party president, the first time that two national political parties do not have effective heads. Both Kharge and Nadda take their orders from their hierarchical juniors and that too is momentous. Congress general-secretary, organization, KC Venugopal wields more power in the party than Mallikarjun Kharge.
Yet there are “Kharge team” members who say Kharge has often “caught Venugopal by surprise”. How Kharge handled day to day shenanigans was taken as how much of a power-centre Kharge was. Point is nobody worth his Congress salt cared. Kharge has remained out of the shadows of Rahul Gandhi. True, he often makes weighty statements, like “reservations for OBC women and nationwide caste-based Census will be taken once Congress is in power” but that is about all. In the year since he took charge of the grand old party, Kharge is yet to leave his stamp.
That the likes of Syed Naseer Hussain and Gurdip Singh Sappal, both team Kharge members, have made it to the Congress Working Committee hasn’t made a whit difference to the tight Congress ship. Every Congress President had satellites but only those orbiting the “Gandhi family presidents” were more than figureheads. If Rahul Gandhi has left Kharge to his decisions, ”not intervening”, as some Congress leaders put it, it’s because the “high command” did not want to intervene/oppose.
Fact of the matter is, Kharge’s “team” has to be kept busy. Yet ask how effective members of the team are and the answer is a no-brainer. That said, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have “their man” in Mallikarjun Kharge, the safest bet to ensure the Gandhi family remains “high command” through all the “thicks and thins”, carry out the high command’s orders without murmur, settle state level leadership tussles, like that between Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar in Karnataka. The question remains, however, whether Kharge’s appointment as Congress President was why Congress won the Karnataka assembly elections? The answer is, then what was Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra for?
In the first anniversary of the Kharge presidency, he is being feted and credited for settling the Siddaramaiah-Shivkumar row; that but for Kharge the two would have entered a suicide pact. Bunkum. If not Kharge, it would have been somebody else with the Congress president’s mantle. With the “high command” – the Gandhi Family – always having the final word, it does not matter who is Congress President. The Congress had an emphatic Karnataka victory because it was time for the BJP government to go. There is no need to turn Kharge into a hero that he isn’t.
Kharge, who is 81, is a non-Gandhi party president and that in itself limits his clout. That the likes of KC Venugopal will lower their guard is unimaginable. Kharge cannot make a turn without somebody in the close “family circle” keeping an eye on what he was up to. Let’s not stray, Kharge couldn’t be Prime Minister if the INDI-Alliance trumps the NDA. Will he be chosen like Manmohan Singh? Maybe not, because this is another age and time and Rahul Gandhi whose time it is has been aging. Mallikarjun Kharge is there for a purpose but it is not to cut/step into Rahul Gandhi’s turf. For that much at least, Kharge does not have a “mind of his own”.
To say that Kharge is “accommodating” and plays for “consensus” is to severely limit the hold that the Gandhi Family trio has on the Congress. At best, Kharge is a housekeeper and caretaker. Telling the truth about the Congress and its working style does not mean Kharge stands insulted. If not Mallikarjun Kharge, it would have been somebody else. Ashok Gehlot understood and he did not want to be Congress Chief because he “understood”. Shashi Tharoor understood but he was too dangerous for the Gandhi Family to win the mantle and therefore Kharge got the mantle. (IPA Service)