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In 1998, Sonia Gandhi took over a sinking convention. 24 years later, Kharge sails in the same boat but in deeper waters

It’s not every day that one witnesses the political miracle of a party, traced to its dynastic history, attempting to shake off the label and resurrect new (or perhaps old) blood from the ashes. When veteran Congresswoman Mallikarjun Kharge took over the reins of the Grand Old Party from Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, many were relieved, including Gandhi.

Bruised by the BJP behemoth and successive electoral losses, Congress faces the formidable task of reclaiming the main opposition party epithet and keeping its demotivated flock together. This means that Kharge must get underway as the party has less than two years to build support, enthusiasm and confidence before the 2024 elections.

For Kharge, this moment presents a challenge similar to that faced by Sonia Gandhi in 1998 when she was put in charge of a divided Congress and spent six long years fighting the “foreigner” and inexperienced tag before rejoining the party in 2004. power came.

In her maiden speech after taking charge of Congress in 1998, Sonia Gandhi had made it clear that she was not a savior. “We have to be realistic in our expectations. The revival of our party will be a long-term process that requires genuine hard work from each of us,” she said. The task for 80-year-old Kharge is no less daunting.

In 1998, Congress was in power in only three states: Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Mizoram. Cut to 2022 and the situation is worse – the party now has a government in just two states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

To make matters worse for Kharge, he must not only stop the victory car of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also tackle a new enemy: the Aam Aadmi party. Several others, such as the Trinamool Congress and the AIMIM, also lurk, hoping to cash in on the Grand Old Party implosion. For the veteran leader, the various parliamentary elections in the run-up to 2024, for example in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, may prove to be just an exercise ahead of the crucial contest. At the helm of things, however, he would have to be quick to come up with a formula that can not only strengthen the framework, but also translate it into voices.

Another bugbear Kharge will face is the departure of promising faces from the party, especially in the run-up to the election. The loss of leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and Ghulam Nabi Azad not only weakened the party’s chances but also questioned the Gandhi’s ability to keep their house in order.

Decentralization and bridging the gap between the Old Guard and the Young Turks are also among Kharge’s responsibilities. The latest and most powerful example of this can be seen in Rajasthan, where fireworks between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot threaten to derail the government at regular intervals. Gehlot’s pitch as head of Congress also met resistance due to the power struggle and he was eventually forced out of the race.

The Grand Old Party must also realize that given the limited time it has to plug its holes, it will have to lick its wounds and extend a friendly hand to potential opposition allies – many of whom have taken over the previously reserved space and have posed. a hard fight against the BJP.

But the greatest of these ghosts will be Kharge’s need to prove that he is not a remote party leader. A stray comment from Gehlot on Wednesday appeared to rain on Kharge’s parade as the prime minister, congratulating the new president, said only Rahul Gandhi could challenge Prime Minister Modi and the government. “Up to the last moment, attempts have been made to make Rahul Gandhi the party chairman as only he can challenge Modi and the government. Today is a new beginning. We congratulate Mallikarjun Kharge Ji and will work to strengthen the party,” he said.

Political observers believe the dig is not new or unexpected. There are fears that Kharge’s efforts, if any, could be overshadowed by Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which aims to revive Congress across the country ahead of the 2024 elections. .

Perhaps it would then be best for Kharge to work on reviving the organization first by appointing strong vice presidents and working presidents to work alongside him. He also has the advantage of being a true “son of the earth” and can potentially bring communities such as the Dalits and tribes back into the Congressional crowd.

While Kharge’s elevation as the first non-Gandhi to head the post in 24 years is a momentous occasion for Congress, it will be an uphill battle for the veteran leader, much like Sonia Gandhi faced in 1998. Although Gandhi proved her courage and bravery regained the prestige and power of Congress in 2004, it will be a game of wait and see as Kharge sails in the same boat, but in choppy waters.

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