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Kharge got the ‘crown of thorns’… What challenges will the new Congress president face immediately?

New Delhi: Mallikarjun Kharge, who took over as the new president of the Congress on Wednesday, would not be exaggerating if this responsibility is called a ‘crown of thorns’ as on one hand he has to improve the party’s electoral performance. It also faces the challenge of strengthening the party’s hold among the common people. His tenure has come at a time when the Congress is at its worst electorally and has faced crushing defeats in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. Apart from this, the party has lost about 10 elections since 2020. Along with this, it is also facing tough competition from the regional parties of the opposition.

Kharge has to revive the party organization and prepare the Congress for the electoral battle, while also focusing on eliminating factionalism in the states.

With Kharge taking over as party president, the 137-year-old party intends to shed its image as a family-run organisation. Attacking ‘dynastic political parties’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently alleged that such parties are the biggest threat to democracy.

While Kharge faces the challenge of restoring Congress dominance among opposition parties, he is also tasked with implementing the reforms announced by the party at the Chintan Shivir held in Udaipur in May.

Jagjeevan Ram led the Congress in 1969 and Kharge is the second Dalit leader to hold the post in 50 years. After 24 years, someone outside the Gandhi family has become the president of the Congress.

Kharge was also the Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and was appointed as the Chief of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). Kharge was the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019. In June 2020, Kharge was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka and was until recently the Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House.

Kharge has taken over at a time when the Congress is in power on its own in only two states, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and will have to immediately contest assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

The immediate challenge before Kharge is the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In both states, it has to compete with the aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

He will have to prepare for nine assembly elections next year, including in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and his home state of Karnataka. He was a nine-term MLA in Karnataka and held almost all key positions in the party and government, though he never became the chief minister of the state.

After these initial electoral challenges, a crucial test for Kharge will be to restore the Congress’ dominance in the opposition ahead of the 2024 general elections.

Kharge has assumed the post of party president at a time when the party is facing internal strife and many senior leaders have left the party.

He will also have to deftly face the “old vs. new” challenge within the party as the party has promised to give 50 percent of the posts to the younger generation leaders.

After Kharge took over as Congress president, the BJP on Wednesday wondered if it would be made a scapegoat if the opposition party failed to perform in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

Acknowledging the current challenges, Kharge said that there will be elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat as well as other states and Congress workers will have to stake their all to defeat the BJP.

“We have to perform strongly in these states and we need everyone’s strength and energy to succeed in these states,” Kharge said.

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