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Mallikarjun Kharge May Solve Leadership Wars & Gather Dalit Support in Karnataka

Mallikarjun Kharge's elevation as party president is being seen as huge benefit for the Karnataka Congress.

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Around 9,500 members of Indian National Congress voted to elect the new president of the party and Mallikarjun Kharge emerged a winner on Wednesday, 19 October. Kharge is expected to lead the party in the election year 2024.

But he may also play a role in Karnataka Assembly elections expected to be held in 2023. When The Quint spoke to Congress leaders, they said that Kharge’s victory was most needed for the Karnataka unit, that it would help mitigate the differences between the leaders in the party and also retain the party's traditional votes in the state.

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Mallikarjun Kharge: An Uncontested Legacy 

Mallikarjun Kharge has been a Congressman since early 1960s, when he actively participated in party events as a student leader. He soon rose up the ranks and made a name for himself in the party.

He was elected Member of Legislative Assembly nine consecutive times, starting from 1972 till 2008, and has won the Lok Sabha elections twice in 2009 and 2014 from Kalaburagi constituency.

However, after his first defeat in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, he was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha and made the Leader of Opposition in the Upper House. 

A senior Congress leader, Kharge also comes with the vast experience of working with different governments. He has been a minister six times at the state level and has also handled the portfolios of Railways and Labour & Employment as a union minister under Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

Born in the pre-independence times in a Dalit household, Mallikarjun Kharge is the first graduate of his family. He is a person with staunch Nehruvian principles and is also close to the Gandhi family.

Having a reputation of being straightforward, he is considered a "no nonsense man" when it comes to politics, and his fight against Shashi Tharoor has also made him the second politician from Karnataka to lead the grand old party, after veteran Lingayat leader S Nijalingappa helmed the party in 1968. 

Good Days Ahead for Karnataka Congress with Kharge Leading the Charge?

Karnataka Congress which is often embroiled in leadership contests, will get a much needed morale boost with Kharge’s elevation as the president of INC.

Speaking to The Quint, BK Hariprasad, Leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Council said, "The differences between leaders that is often raised in the media are not fuelled by the leaders themselves, but by their followers. Now, with somebody like Kharge, who has more than five decades of experience in public life, leading the party, the Congress will help streamline the processes and further discipline its cadres."

However it is indeed difficult to control the two stalwarts of the party in Karnataka – DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah.

In an interaction with The Quint, A Narayana, a political scientist based in Bengaluru said, “Kharge’s elevation alone cannot iron out difference between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar. The intervention of the Gandhis will be essential. However, Kharge will be crucial in bringing together other leaders of party in the state."

Congress cadre and grassroots workers have also been happy with the kind of response the party is getting for its Bharat Jodo Yatra, 40 percent Commission Sarkara, and PayCM campaigns.

Given that these social media campaigns are being headed by Priyank Kharge, the son of Mallikarjun Kharge, there is a high possibility that the workers could convert this positive atmosphere to a victory by challenging BJP in the upcoming elections.

Out of the 39 Assembly constituencies in the Kalyan Karnataka region, Congress had won 19 seats in 2018, making it the most the dominant party in North Karnataka.

Now, with Kharge who hails from Kalaburagi becoming the president, votes from Raichur, Ballari (undivided), Koppal, Yadagiri, and Bidar are expected to consolidate in favour of the party.

This is because Mallikarjun Kharge played a major role in granting special status to six districts of the Kalyan Karnataka region under the Article 371-J of the Constitution when he was a minister in second United Progressive Alliance government.

Speaking about Kharge's contributions to the state, senior Congress leader BK Hariprasad added:

"This is not a question of Karnataka. Kharge was the leader of Congress in Lok Sabha and is the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha. He has won nine times in Karnataka and has a lot of experience in public life. He is not as articulate as Shashi Tharoor, but is known for his political acumen. Apart from knowing the nitty-gritties of social realities, Kharge is a very sharp policy maker who worked for social justice. This will hugely influence not just Karnataka, but the country as a whole."
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Kharge As President Will Help Mobilise Dalit Community in Karnataka

Apart from being tasked with running the party at the national level, Mallikarjun Kharge is also entrusted with to task of revive Congress' Dalit support.

In Karnataka, the scheduled castes who form 17 percent of the population is the largest voting block the Congress can depend upon. However, the traditional vote-bank of Congress has been divided ever since the BJP started accommodating the leaders from among Left Dalits into active politics.

In an interaction with The Quint, Priyank Kharge, son of Mallikarjun Kharge and head of communications in Karnataka Congress said, "Cases of atrocities have peaked under BJP rule in Karnataka. The community is unhappy with the way the Bommai government is handling things. More than elections, Congress party and our president Mallikarjun Kharge are interested in bringing social justice."

Sources in the Congress party also revealed to The Quint that the rise in number of atrocities against Dalits has forced several Dalit organisations to tacitly back the Congress during elections. Organisations such as Dalita Sangha, Dalita Sanghrasha Samithi, Dalit Sene have extended their support to Bharat Jodo Yatra and other campaigns initiated by the Congress in opposition to the BJP, which is also carrying out a yatra in North Karnataka.

"BJP has always accommodated people from the higher strata of the Dalit community and have ignored the artisan and labour communities altogether. This is nothing but tokenism. On the contrary, Congress has always stood with Dalits, other backward communities and minorities. Kharge being made the president will bring in a positive outlook for the party again."
BK Hariprasad, Leader of Opposition, Karnataka Legislative Council

Many of the scheduled castes in Karnataka continue to be bitter about the fact that Kharge was denied the post of chief minister thrice in Karnataka. However, with Kharge becoming Congress president the community could get energised, Congress' Karnataka leadership hopes.

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