Kharge plays perfect foil to Rahul as Cong braces for 2024

While Rahul has led the party’s biggest ever mass contact program successfully, Kharge’s new found aggression against BJP has added to the Congress’ fire power. Gandhi scion has also been careful in not stepping on party president’s toes by staying off his turf, writes Amit Agnihotri

The Rahul Gandhi-Mallikarjun Kharge combo appears to be working fine in driving the grand old party which is bracing for nine assembly polls this year ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Over the past years, the grand old party had been lying low as it had suffered several electoral losses both at the state and at the central level and was desperately looking for ways to revive the Congress across the country ahead of 2024.

Besides the organizational issues, the party was also facing the leadership issue as former party chief Sonia Gandhi suffered from ill health and Rahul Gandhi was reluctant for a second term.

A plan was then chalked out to hold a brainstorming session in Rajasthan’s Udaipur in May where over 400 leaders, both young and old, debated and finalized a blueprint for 2024.

Rahul Gandhi would launch a nation-wide yatra and the party would elect a new president. Rahul started his yatra from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7 and in October, Kharge was elected the new party chief.

Since then, Rahul has led the party’s biggest ever mass contact program successfully, which will help the party get additional votes, while Kharge has been managing the organization which needed regular supervision.

The veteran has revived the earlier practice of holding open house sessions at the Congress headquarters where party workers can come and meet the party president without an appointment. The move is expected to take the top party official closer to the ground level functionaries.

Rahul, on his part, has braved the rough life of being on the road for the past 130 days and has reduced the gap between the voters and the grand old party.

The Rahul-Kharge arrangement appears to be working fine for the grand old party though the critics had raised questions over the Congress opting for an 80-year-old to helm the party affairs and deploying a 53-year-old on a 3,500 km long foot march.

As the yatra comes to a close, in the party’s internal assessment, the march has been able to achieve its objective of setting a counter narrative of social cohesion against the alleged divisive politics of the BJP.

During the march, the party got ample opportunity to flag the three basic charges it had levelled against the Centre’s policies. That the central policies were creating growing economic disparity while leading to social disharmony and centralization of politics.

“Demonetisation, wrong GST were not the policies. Demonetisation and wrong GST were weapons to destroy small and medium businesses. This is the reality. Second reality, the billionaires of India cannot provide employment in this country. Small and medium businesses of Ludhiana can provide employment to this country. If they are strengthened, if they are helped, then Ludhiana can compete with China. This is the factual position, but nobody extends any help to you. There is no vision, there is no thought process in this direction. Be it the government of Punjab or the government of India, they talk about nonsensical things,” Rahul said in Ludhiana.

“The aim of the yatra is to show the country another way, the way of love, the way of brotherhood, the way of affection and to stand steadfastly against the hatred, violence and fear that is being spread in India, pitching one brother against another, making one religion fight another, instigating one caste to fight other,” he said.

As a byproduct, the foot march has also been able to give an image makeover to Rahul Gandhi who had suffered a smear campaign from his rivals. During the yatra, Rahul mentioned several times how the BJP had spent thousands of crores to distort his image but the yatra had demolished that false image.

Another plus has been that the party workers who had been lying low for years, are now charged up to carry on political activities.

While Rahul had been attacking PM Modi directly since 2014, Kharge’s new found aggression has added to the Congress’ fire power. Immediately after taking over as party chief, Kharge has addressed several rallies, some along with Rahul, to launch vigorous attacks on the Centre and the ruling BJP.

“The BJP does not think about the people’s problems. They are only focused on the next election,” Kharge said at Pathankot.

Showing mutual respect, while Rahul has been avoiding questions where the Congress president ought to take a decision, Kharge has been reminding the party leaders and workers alike that they should fully support the young leader’s initiative.

“Rahul Gandhi has awakened the youth of the country about the problems like unemployment and price rise. Under his leadership, we had formed seven state governments but the BJP toppled those governments through money power, fake promises to our leaders and by threatening them with ED and Income Tax cases. They talk of democracy but they toppled democratically elected governments that we had formed with the support of people,” Kharge said at Panipat.

“They take the name of God but tell so many lies that hardly any prime minister or home minister would have told so many lies till date. They are leaders of liars,” he said.

Kharge also slammed Union Home Minister Amit Shah for announcing that the Ayodhya temple would be ready by Jan 1, 2024, the year of the next Lok Sabha polls.

“Who are you…are you the mahant of the temple or the priest of the temple. Everyone has faith in Lord Ram but why do they say that the temple would be inaugurated on January 1 as elections will be held in May. Let the priests of the temple speak..let the saints speak. You are a politician, your job is to secure the nation, maintain law and order, feed people and ensure fair prices to farmers,” said Kharge.

The Congress president echoed the views of Rahul Gandhi when he slammed the BJP for doing nothing during the freedom struggle and said that the saffron party was only benefiting from the work done by the grand old party.

The veteran has also countered the BJP’s targeting of Jawaharlal Nehru, something that Rahul could not do personally being his great grandson, by reminding PM Modi that he was enjoying the fruits of Parliamentary democracy nurtured by the first prime minister of the country.

“You ask what we have done in 70 years. If we had not protected democracy, you would not have been here,” said Kharge.

Kharge was not the Congress president when the yatra started on September 7, 2022, but as party chief is now organizing a big rally in Srinagar on January 30, 2023 to mark its culmination. Kharge, who is also trying to build opposition unity ahead of the 2024 national elections, has invited 23 like-minded parties for the Srinagar rally.

Kharge also asked the party units in states to hoist the national flag along with Rahul Gandhi on January 30 in a show of solidarity.

“The Bharat Jodo Yatra has received an overwhelming response from millions of people and has spread Rahul Gandhi’s message of love and unity among citizens of the country. The tremendous support from all sections of the society and heartful involvement of the people has made this a historic Yatra and a game changer in Indian politics,” AICC general secretary in charge of Organization KC Venugopal said.

“To mark the culmination of Yatra, Rahul Gandhi will unfurl the national flag at JKPCC headquarters at 10 am on 30th January, 2023. As desired by the Congress President, all Pradesh Congress Committees, District Congress Committees and Block Congress Committees will also hold flag hoisting functions at the same time on 30th January at their respective party offices or important sites, in solidarity with the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” he said.

Kharge also showed a perfect understanding with Rahul when the former party chief distanced from yatra coordinator Digvijay Singh’s controversial remark on the 2019 Pulwama terror attack.

Once the yatra is over, both Rahul and Kharge are expected to revamp the party organization and prepare it for the 9 assembly polls this year as well as the 2024 national polls.