A consensus builder, Mallikarjun Kharge “is not an ‘I’ specialist”

His ability to take everyone along with him while remaining in the background and without imposing himself is what appealed to the delegates, say Congress leaders

Outgoing Congress president Sonia Gandhi met and congratulated president-elect Mallikarjun Kharge at his residence in Delhi after the results were declared
Outgoing Congress president Sonia Gandhi met and congratulated president-elect Mallikarjun Kharge at his residence in Delhi after the results were declared

NH Political Bureau

Misunderstood by many as pliable, Mallikarjun Kharge is far from being one, says Syed Arshad, a Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee functionary, with a chuckle. There is steel behind the deceptively calm demeanour and he can be quiet while calling the shots, added Arshad.

Former union minister and  Karnataka chief minister M Veerappa Moily, AICC General Secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, has this to say about the Congress president-elect. “Kharge has no duplicity or hypocrisy in his mind. He has always been frank with people and will not hide or suppress anything. He will always call a spade, a spade. He is a team man. When he is heading a team, he will not allow any conflict. He has his own smooth way of hearing both sides and keep people on both sides with him. Patience is what he is also known for,” Moily says while recalling that Kharge was the best minister in the Devraj Urs government in the state.

A Congress MLC and whip in the Karnataka Legislative Council, Prakash K Rathod quips that Kharge is like the ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ in KPCC. He rarely raises his voice or loses his cool, Rathod recalls, adding that Kharge is known for his cautious and pragmatic approach to issues.  KPCC general secretary Milind Dharmasena, a Buddhist himself like Kharge, says he knows Kharge more as a Buddhist than as a politician.

"His concern for Buddha Dhamma (preachings) and the Sangha (order of monks) is well known, he says, pointing out that it was Kharge who took the initiative to establish a Buddhist spiritual and cultural centre in North Karnataka. Even while busy campaigning, Kharge was looking for two monks to preach in Kannada at the Buddha Vihar," says Dharmasena.

What made Mallikarjun Kharge secure an overwhelming number of votes in the Congress presidential election? What do Congress workers and leaders say about him? The reactions were varied and some of them are recorded here.

He loves to read. A trained lawyer, he likes discussing constitutional issues. He still loves to watch hockey on TV. He is a good listener. Don’t mistake his calmness as meekness; he can be stern and does not suffer fools. He is unfailingly polite but does not mince his words. He has the ability to make people feel at home with him. he will make for a great party president.

These were some of the reactions from people who have known Mallikarjun Kharge after he was declared on Wednesday to have won the election for the next Congress (INC) president.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), quipped a Congress leader not willing to be quoted, does not seem to know much about Kharge, despite his performance in parliament where he regularly embarrassed the treasury benches.

BJP leaders called him a puppet, a proxy and even a stooge of the Nehru-Gandhi family, this leader added, without much of a thought to his legislative, administrative and parliamentary record. But Mallikarjun Kharge is nobody’s puppet.

A Buddhist and deeply influenced by Ambedkar, Mallikarjun Kharge provided a glimpse into his personality when he wrote in his manifesto, “I do not like to market myself”.

He is active on social media and on the last two days he had been tweeting his strong disapproval of the manner in which the rapists of Bilkis Bano had been let off from prison. But possibly because he does not like marketing himself, the Delhi media too, largely ignorant of the leaders from the South, seem to know little about him.

K. Sudhakaran, president of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee recalled that he had known Mallikarjun Kharge for the past 20 years. He is a consensus builder, a selfless team player and likes to work quietly without much fuss. He is unlikely to alienate anyone, says Sudhakaran.

“I first got in touch with him when I was not holding any important position in or outside the party. Some of us approached him to raise the plight of some Malayalis in Karnataka. A Malayali family’s house was being taken over by a local land shark, I remember. Kharge immediately got in touch with the police and the administration and eventually, the family got back the house,” narrates Sudhakaran. He cited several other instances when Kharge helped out and kept in touch till the issues were resolved.

Gourav Vallabh, Congress spokesperson who was among those who handled Kharge’s campaign, says Kharge’s strongest point is his strong commitment to plurality, secularism and to the poor.

Like several other Congress leaders, Vallabh also points out that Kharge is not an ‘I’ specialist. He does not seem to have the word ‘I’ in his dictionary, quips Vallabh, who claims that Kharge would always speak of what ‘we’ can do. It is not  rhetorical, he means it, adds Vallabh.

But is his age a handicap? The question is dismissed by several Congress leaders, who point out that the party president’s job is not that of a wrestler. While his extensive and rich experience come through in conversations, they say the young Congress workers too surprisingly relate to him, are attracted to his ideas and his consultative and democratic style of functioning.

Reacting to the development, Charan Singh Sapra , working president of MPCC said, "It is the victory of democracy in the Congress. The kind of experience Mallikarjun Kharge brings is a mass one, I congratulate him on this victory. Also Dr Shashi Tharoor fought so well . Sonia Gandhi, our leader, has shown immense trust in the people of the party. Also her leadership in the party is commendable".

Sachin Sawant, former party spokesperson said, "The multifaceted Mallikarjun Kharge no doubt is a good choice and he will ensure that party shapes up well ." 

Said Avinash Pande, AICC general secretary in charge of Jharkhand, "This is a red letter day in the history of the party and we have proved to the world that we believe in democratic progress and can conduct a smooth and dignified election within the party. Kharge ji is a veteran of decades and I am sure he will take both the party and the nation in the right direction on the true path of inclusive democracy. As for the Nehru-Gandhis, they will continue to play a crucial role in the country. This family has contributed for decades not just to the party but the nation through every generation since before independence and they will continue to be the guiding light and spirit for both partymen and citizens for as long as they remain active in public life." 

(With inputs from Ashlin Mathew and Vishwadeepak in Delhi, Naheed Ataulla in Bengaluru, Santoshee Mishra and Sujata Anandan in Mumbai)

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