India’s opposition Congress party elects new president

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s main opposition Congress party on Wednesday elected Mallikarjun Kharge as its new president in a contest that the Nehru-Gandhi family, who have ruled the party for more than two decades, did not contest. .

The party has struggled to regain support since being routed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party in 2014.

Kharge, 80, from the southern state of Karnataka, was backed by key party leaders….

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s main opposition Congress party on Wednesday elected Mallikarjun Kharge as its new president in a contest that the Nehru-Gandhi family, who have ruled the party for more than two decades, did not contest. .

The party has struggled to regain support since being routed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party in 2014.

Kharge, 80, from the southern state of Karnataka, was backed by key party leaders. His challenger, Shashi Tharoor, 66, spent nearly 30 years at the United Nations before joining the Congress party in 2009.

Kharge received over 80% of the vote, local media reported.

The party’s acting chairwoman, Sonia Gandhi, and her son, Rahul Gandhi, announced last month that no family members would seek leadership of the party at this time.

Their decision to appoint a new leader ahead of upcoming key elections reflects the party’s need to shed its image of a family dynasty, analysts said. Since Modi came to power, Congress has suffered landslide defeats in a host of national and state polls. Rahul Gandhi resigned as party chairman after dismal results in the 2019 national elections.

Kharge was seen as the favorite of the Nehru-Gandhi family, while Tharoor emerged as an outsider rallying to change within the party.

“At least it’s not someone from the family, but you can’t expect such a presence of the Gandhi family to go away – their presence will continue to be the focus,” said Mahesh Rangarajan , professor at Ashoka University.

Both the family and the party are at a pivotal moment, he added, as they face their toughest competition yet from Modi’s ruling party. “The question is, can they reverse the trend? How will the party find its message? That’s the real challenge,” Rangarajan said.

Tharoor earlier complained to the party election authority that the competition was unfair because some senior party leaders had urged delegates to vote for Kharge. But on Wednesday, Tharoor congratulated Kharge after the results were announced. “It is a great honour, a huge responsibility to be Speaker of Congress. I wish Mallikarjun Kharge every success in this task,” the Press Trust of India news agency said.

The party has been led by non-family members in the past, but Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been at the helm since 1998.

Modi has regularly denounced the Congress party’s family dynasty.

The family has produced three of India’s 15 prime ministers since independence, starting with Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, who served as the country’s first. Two of them – her grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and her father, Rajiv Gandhi – were murdered. The party ruled India for over 60 years after India gained independence from British colonialism in 1947.

Rahul Gandhi is on a 3,500 kilometer (2,185 mile) walking tour of Indian cities and towns over the next four months as he tries to rejuvenate the party and win popular support ahead of elections in the State of Himachal Pradesh and Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The results are likely to impact the country’s next national elections, scheduled for 2024.

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