Editorial: Under Kharge, Congress can hope for revival

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, October 02, 2022, 10:56 PM IST
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Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge | ANI Photo

They say the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The Gandhis believed they had a loyal gofer in Ashok Gehlot who when made Congress chief would do their bidding. Mr Gehlot in all probability would have obeyed the 10 Janpath remote control, but he was loath to hand over the chief ministerial gaddi in Jaipur to his bête noire Sachin Pilot. So, in order to foil the plan to hand over Rajasthan to Mr Pilot he orchestrated a show of defiance. His 100-odd MLAs declined to pass a one-line resolution authorising the high command to name the leader of the Congress Legislature Party, an obligatory exercise which detracts from internal democracy in the party. However, what the MLAs did amounted to rebellion in the Gandhi lexicon. Sonia Gandhi was unwilling to forgive Mr Gehlot for this singular act of defiance. Thus, he was no longer acceptable as Congress chief. Now, Digvijay Singh espied a chance to head the party. Shashi Tharoor was already committed to contest no matter who his rival was or what the outcome would be. The hurried search to replace Mr Gehlot as the family’s chosen one to become the Congress chief eventually threw up Mallikarjun Kharge’s name. For once by sheer default the Gandhis had zeroed in on the most suitable person to lead the party. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha has experience, maturity, understanding of national affairs, and commands the respect of fellow Parliamentarians. Besides, he is a good speaker both in English and Hindi. Handing him the charge of the main opposition party at a time when it is going through one of the lowest points in its long history is the best thing that could have happened to the Gandhis in a long time. They need not fear insubordination or defiance from Mr Kharge. His long record as an 11-time MLA and minister in Karnataka and later as a central minister or even as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha testifies to his ability to seek cooperation and consensus rather than confrontation and controversy. He will bring to the position of the Congress President much-needed gravitas and respect. In sharp contrast to the party leadership in recent years, Mr Kharge can be relied upon to speak with authority and knowledge on domestic and foreign affairs. In other words, unlike Rahul Gandhi no gaffes would come from Mr Kharge’s mouth. Indeed, should the Gandhis be wise, they would try and project Mr Kharge as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. At 80, Mr Kharge, a Dalit by birth and a lawyer by profession, does not pose any threat to the Gandhi scion who still has a couple of decades of active politics ahead of him in which he can try and get his act together.

Changing the popular narrative from ‘Modi versus Rahul’ to ‘Modi versus Kharge’ will immediately lend the contest a certain quality, a certain seriousness which was lacking in what the BJP was prone to dismiss as ‘Modi versus Pappu’. Also, Mr Kharge can be expected to resolve the long-festering factionalism in his home state where state party head D K Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah are at loggerheads. Given the not-so-satisfactory performance of the BJP government led by the lightweight Basavaraj Bommai, should the Congress put up a united face it stands a good chance in the Assembly poll due next year. Above all, Mr Kharge as Congress chief can more competently lead negotiations for the formation of a united front to take on the BJP than would have been the case if either Rahul Gandhi or Mr Gehlot were to head the Congress. It is so because Mr Kharge’s stature and his serious mien demands respect. Indeed, one makes bold to say that the Opposition may not resist projecting Mr Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate of the proposed united front which they certainly were not ready to do in the case of Rahul Gandhi. The onus is now on the family to allow Mr Kharge a free hand so that he can revive the fortunes of the party. Leaders of other regional parties who were beginning to espy their prime ministerial chances, what with the Congress refusing to put its own house in order, will have to now scale back their ambitions with the advent of Mr Kharge as the leader of the main Opposition party. It is a good thing for the health of the polity. As for Rajasthan, even if Sonia no longer wants to see Mr Gehlot continue as CM, her hands are tied, as it is not Mr Pilot but Mr Gehlot who has the numbers. Punishment for him can wait.

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