New Delhi: Congress President Malikarjun Kharge is being considered as the potential prime ministerial candidate for the Opposition alliance in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This move aims to present a formidable challenge to the BJP, led by the incumbent Prime Minister. Kharge, a prominent leader from Karnataka, brings several noteworthy aspects to the table, including the fulfillment of a long-standing demand for a Dalit occupying the country's highest executive position.
Why Rahul Gandhi proposed the idea
Although those privy to the developments are hesitant to disclose specific details, a senior leader revealed that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is the driving force behind the idea. It is becoming more evident that Rahul Gandhi's primary goal is to defeat the BJP rather than attaining the prime ministerial position. This intent was explicitly expressed during his recent visit to the United States, where he emphasised that the battle is between the ideologies of Gandhi and Godse. Despite this, some leaders persist in asserting that Rahul Gandhi is still vying for the prime ministerial seat.
Various theories and speculations are circulating within political circles and the media regarding the postponement of the scheduled meeting of opposition parties on June 12 in Patna. However, the fact remains that both the Congress party and top leaders from opposition parties, such as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, were not in favor of conducting the meeting without sufficient preparations on critical matters like establishing a common agenda and selecting a prime ministerial candidate.
Why Kharge's nomination could prove a masterstroke
The potential nomination of Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate would be a strategic move by the Congress, comparable to catching opponents off guard in a cricket match. This decision could also prove advantageous in revitalising the political prospects of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in terms of Lok Sabha representation with 80 seats. It may render leaders like the four-time Chief Minister Mayawati less influential or redundant in the state's political landscape.
The decision to postpone the June 12 meeting in Patna, reportedly influenced by the Congress and the DMK, has sparked numerous theories and speculations. Some interpret this postponement as a sign of potential divisions within the opposition unity framework.
Why Patna meeting was rescheduled
As per the JD-U, the postponement of the meeting was aimed at facilitating the maximum participation of top leaders. Nitish Kumar, in line with this, expressed his desire on Monday for all party chiefs capable of making decisions to attend the meeting scheduled for June 12. However, since the desired level of participation was not materializing, it was decided to reschedule the meeting for a later date, after June 22.
However, there are reports suggesting a "lack of consultation by Nitish Kumar" regarding the decision to schedule the meeting on June 12. It appears that no consultations were conducted regarding the selection of the new date. Some opposition leaders have expressed the opinion that Nitish Kumar should have consulted with all the parties involved before finalising the date for the meeting.
Intelligence agencies and the ruling BJP are closely monitoring the developments within the opposition camp. Nitish Kumar, who has experienced political affiliations with the BJP in the past, has now assumed the role of coordinating with regional leaders and national parties such as Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, and the Left.
Why Nitish is hopeful
According to some observers, Nitish Kumar may also be harboring aspirations of becoming the consensus candidate for the opposition camp.
Up until now, Nitish Kumar has conducted individual meetings with leaders from various parties, including Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress, Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi from AAP, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal representing TMC, and Sharad Pawar from the NCP.
While Nitish Kumar belongs to the 'Kurmi' community, which is classified as Other Backward Class (OBC), Kharge comes from a 'Dalit' background. Despite this, Kharge has not extensively capitalized on his caste identity. However, his appointment as the Congress chief coincided with a time when there was an increasing focus on Dalit politics, with the BJP making significant efforts to appeal to this segment of the population.
Why conditions favour Kharge
Observers suggest that even a mere indication that Kharge could be the prime ministerial candidate may serve as a decisive factor for the Congress party, which is eager for a strong presence on the national stage and in need of a successor.
Although Kharge's caste background can be influential in India's caste-driven politics, his prominence has grown significantly following the success in Karnataka, positioning him as a patriarch figure within the Congress party. At 80 years old, Kharge holds the distinction of being the first non-Gandhi leader to occupy the position in several years. Within the Congress party's extensive history, he is the third Dalit leader to hold the significant role, with Damodaram Sanjivayya being the first and Jagjivan Ram being the second.
Following their success in Karnataka, the Congress party is now focusing on challenging the BJP in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. The outcomes of these states' elections will demonstrate whether Kharge, whose presence had a calming influence on the Karnataka unit, can effectively manage various factions within the party, particularly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It will be a test of his leadership skills to maintain unity and harmony among the different factions.
If the Congress does manage to make a dent in the three Hindi heartland states, it would be seen as another feather in Kharge’ cap.
Why no Dalit PM?
Dalit leaders have consistently raised the question regarding the absence of a Dalit Prime Minister in India. This issue gained attention during a recent exchange of words between the BJP and Congress concerning the appointment of Indian-origin Rishi Sunak as the United Kingdom Prime Minister in 2022. Mayawati, the leader of the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), targeted both political parties, questioning why India has never had a Dalit Prime Minister.
“After Indian-origin Rishi Sunak’s historic appointed as British Prime Minister, here in India a Twitter war going on between the Congress and the BJP. Allegations and counter allegations are levelled everywhere, but no one is discussing about that political rights and justice due to which no ‘Dalit’ has been able to become Prime Minister in the country so far,” she had said.