The election was not about ‘me’ but ‘we’: Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress president-elect

In his manifesto the newly elected party president committed himself to implement the resolutions adopted by the party at Udaipur, among them ensuring half the party posts for those below age of 50

The election was not about ‘me’ but ‘we’: Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress president-elect

Naheed Ataulla

A self-made man Mallikarjun M Kharge, the newly elected president of the Indian National Congress, is a practising Buddhist and is a polyglot, having proficiency in as many as six languages, namely Marathi, Urdu, Telugu and Hindi besides Kannada and English.   

The second Congress president from poll-bound Karnataka after S. Nijalingappa in 1968, he is also said to be the second ‘Dalit’, after Jagjivan Ram in 1969, to be elected party president.  

The former hockey, football and Kabaddi player, Kharge has a degree in Law and was union labour minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. Widely known in Karnataka as ‘Solilada Sardara’ or the undefeated warrior, the very first election he lost in his political career spanning 50 years was in 2019. He had earlier won 12 consecutive elections to the assembly.   

‘Not one to chase positions’, Kharge was thrice within sniffing distance of becoming the Karnataka chief minister; but each time someone else was chosen over him. But he took the reverses in his stride and remained loyal to the party, stoically refusing to voice even disappointment that he might have felt. 

In 2013 he lost in the secret ballot held to elect the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), which would have made him the chief minister. Remarkably, nobody seems to know how many votes were polled by Siddaramaiah, the eventual winner, and how many by Kharge.   

At the age of seven, he had to flee from his village in Bidar district with his father, following attacks by the private army of the Nizam of Hyderabad. He was returning home from the field where his father was an agricultural labourer, when Kharge saw his house set on fire. He lost his mother and sister in the tragic accident. 

Kharge chose to make Kalaburagi, a district adjoining Bidar to start his political career.  He became the legal advisor to MSK mills in Kalaburagi and a trade union leader of Samyukta Mazdoor Sangh in 1969. The same year he joined the Congress and headed the party's Kalaburagi city unit. 

In 1972, Kharge made his debut into electoral politics from Gurmitkal, a reserved constituency (till 2008) in Kalaburagi district. He represented Gurmitkal till 2008, when the constituency became unreserved and opted for Chitapur, a constituency which is now represented by his son and former minister Priyank Kharge. 

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress high command was looking for potential winners for the Lok Sabha polls as the BJP was consolidating its position in Karnataka and  had formed  the first  party government  in the South. Kharge was asked to contest for the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat.  He represented the parliamentary constituency twice in 2009 and 2014.  

A practising Buddhist, he established the Buddha Vihar in Kalaburagi, which has a Buddhist temple and a spiritual centre.  All his five children have Buddhist names or are named after children in the Nehru-Gandhi family. Rahul Kharge, one of Kharge's sons, said his father has been busy throughout his life whether he was in power or not. `` He would be away from home and  our mother would take care of us,'' he added. 

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