Video Producer: Akanksha Pandey
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge, has been elected the 98th President of the Indian National Congress. He is a nine time MLA from Gurmitkal in Karnataka and two-time MP from Gulbarga, besides having been a minister at the Centre and in Karnataka.
His election is historic in several ways:
He is the first Dalit president in 50 years. The last one was Jagjivan Ram in 1970-71
He is the first president from Karnataka since S Nijalingappa in 1969
The first from outside the Gandhi family since 1998.
But what will a Kharge presidency mean for the Congress?
1. Emphasis on Unity
One highlight of Kharge's campaign in the Congress presidential election was the active support he got from most of the erstwhile G-23 members such as Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Prithviraj Chavan.
This is despite the fact that Kharge's competitor Shashi Tharoor was also among the 23 letter writers.
Kharge is known to be a more conciliatory leader towards the letter writers compared to the earlier favourite for the party president's position Ashok Gehlot, who had openly criticised them.
As president, Kharge may take steps to address their concerns and accommodate as many of them as possible in a respectable way.
2. Ideological Continuity
Kharge becoming president would mean a great deal of ideological continuity from Sonia Gandhi's tenure. He has consistently taken a clear stand on issues related to secularism and this is likely to reflect in his presidency as well.
Coming from Bidar district and being MP from Gulbarga, both places with a sizable Muslim population, Kharge has a close engagement with members of the community and is known to understand their concerns.
3. Rahul Gandhi to Remain the Party's Main Face
Even as the presidential election was underway, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has been continuing, with Rahul Gandhi as its main face. This seems a indication of what lies ahead - that Kharge would manage the organisational and day-to-day affairs of the party and Rahul Gandhi would continue to be the main political face.
Kharge is also known to be close to Rahul Gandhi and the latter is likely to continue having a great say in party affairs.
For the record, however, Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday 19 October that his role is for "the new party president to decide".
4. Status Quo in Terms of Party Functioning.
Unlike Tharoor, Kharge did not release a manifesto during the presidential election campaign and said that the Udaipur Declaration from the Chintan Shivir earlier this year is his manifesto. This was an indication that on organisational matters, there is likely to be a great degree of status quo.
However, a number of new positions are being explored - such as multiple working presidents. There could also be some changes in the party organisation.
The Congress Working Committee could be reconstituted. Kharge could also appoint some new general secretaries as well. It remains to be seen to what extent he replaces present incumbents.
Another challenge before Kharge would be on what to do in Rajasthan. Will Gehlot loyalists who were served show-cause notices be punished? Will Gehlot also face action? And how will the new Congress president accommodate Sachin Pilot?
5. Focus on Karnataka
Two elections are already coming up in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, followed by Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland in early 2023. But Kharge's real test as party president would come in the summer of 2023 when his home state Karnataka goes to polls.
Winning Karnataka is crucial for the Congress as forming a government there would help it greatly in terms of finances in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Kharge becoming party president could give some benefit to the party. His main challenge would be to solve the leadership question in the state and balance between two strong claimants - former CM Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president DK Shivakumar.