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Still settling in, Kharge braces for Unholy Trinity

Within a month of new Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge taking over the reins, the vulnerability of the Grand Old Party was exposed. Even as the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ gains popularity and the party is aggressive on social media in a bid to begin Rahul Gandhi’s makeover, the rebuilding has failed to mask the inconsistencies in the Congress.

Three developments point to this. Firstly, although Rahul Gandhi has agreed to campaign for Gujarat polls from November 22, one name is missing from the list: Shashi Tharoor. It is a well known fact that Tharoor is popular among the youth and could have come in handy in Gujarat polls. However, the experienced leader is conspicuous by his absence.

Sources close to Tharoor say he was invited by the NSUI to campaign in Gujarat but had to cancel because he was not a star campaigner. His aides say this was expected, as the party may have welcomed him contesting the presidential polls, but the more than 1,000 votes he garnered prove his popularity within the party — a fact that didn’t sit well with the top brass. A few leaders close to Tharoor say his omission from the list of campaigners is deliberate and mischievous. “Are they afraid he would overshadow the Loyalists?” one of them asked.

The second incident is the list of coordinators attached to the office of the president of congress, reflecting a mix of continuity, change and loyalty. Naseer Hussain, the MP from Karnataka, is close to Kharge and also handled his election campaign. Pranav Jha, who has headed the media department under Randeep Surjewala, continues his experience. The other two names are interesting though.

Gurdeep Sappal, who managed Rajya Sabha TV, is close to the Gandhis and is believed to have a good handle on media and strategy. Gaurav Pandhi was in charge of social media in the Punjab polls, but the party performed poorly there and there were complaints that the team could not match the aggression of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). However, Pandhi is considered close to some in Rahul Gandhi’s office and this is one of the reasons for his appointment.

The third development is disturbing. The ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ is coming into Rajasthan towards the end of the month, but the decision on the chief minister is yet to be sorted out. Top congressional sources told News18.com: “There is no pressure on us to resolve the Rajasthan issue before the Yatra reaches the state. We are sure that both Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot will work together to make the event a success. Just like Milind Deora, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan did in Maharashtra.”

But there is a problem. Ajay Maken, who was in charge of the state, has resigned. Sources say he is upset that leaders facing disciplinary action for missing the September 25 CLP meeting have now been put in charge of the Yatra. The decision on the crown of the CM is also a long time coming. Sachin Pilot had recently said that if disciplinary action is taken, it should be resolved quickly, as in his case.

While this is still in its infancy, there are many challenges for Kharge, the most immediate being the state polls. Although Kharge is seen as more approachable than the Gandhis, overcoming the rifts is no easy task.

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